The Lord Jeffs, who have of late grown accustomed to dominating opponents physically, were matched against an able foe this time. The Middlebury Panthers were fast and strong on the ball. They were talented in the air, winning half (if not more) of the headers and had terrific field sense. Middlebury did not just get their heads on balls in the air, but directed them immediately to the feet of nearby teammates, helping to fuel an aggressive transition game. They were able to create space for themselves in the midfield, a zone Amherst usually commands and uses to create turnovers. The Panthers were skilled, practiced and well-coached.
But the Jeffs were by no means overwhelmed by their visitors from the north. Their defense, led by quad-captain Mike York ’04, Jeremy Kelley ’06 and Andrew Syfu ’05 in the middle, largely shut down the Panther attack. Smart positional play and an intimidating physical style characterized the Jeff D. Amherst defenders let overly zealous Middlebury attackers know that they were in enemy territory, and they could not feel entitled to take the space. On one occasion, York demanded that a Panther forward return to his half of the field with a light shove, an outstretched pointer finger and a cold stare. The forward complied.
Tough physical play did not, however, mean the game was without good scoring chances. Amherst keeper Greg Lockwood ’06 was challenged throughout and had to make some sprawling saves to keep his team in the game. His best save came in the first half, when a Panther attacker got a good look at the net from about 20 yards out and blasted a curving right-footed shot towards the left goal post. Lockwood dove to his right, knocked the ball out of the air and smothered the rebound.
Amherst, too, had its chances, but could not convert. Sophomore forward Joe Gannon, who has scored five goals this season, had a shot at an empty net from the top of the box, but pushed the shot wide right. Another great opportunity came to the Jeffs minutes later, but once again Amherst failed to score. The ball came to quad-captain forward Frank Perry ’04 in the penalty area, who found himself one-on-one with the goalie. Perry took his time and ripped it over the head of Panther goalie Craig Hirsh, but unfortunately the ball glanced off the bottom of the crossbar and was soon out of harm’s way.
The two teams continued the battle throughout the cold and the rain, but to no avail. Lockwood made 14 saves before it was all over and Hirsh 12. Afterwards, Lockwood attributed much of his success to the play of his teammates. “I thought the game just came to me and I was really excited and happy to be able to perform well for the boys and put up the zero on the scoreboard,” he said. “But that game really could have been disastrous if it weren’t for the rest of the boys in the back. Kelley, Syfu and York played with an immense amount of heart and performed well.”
Nevertheless, it was tough heading back to the locker room with just a tie. This was a big game, and Amherst didn’t get the win. “This group of guys has never beaten a Middlebury team,” said Lockwood. “Our captain, Mike York, touted the game as the biggest of his college career. In preparation, I think that we took the game very seriously. We know we could have won. We played really well and it was just unfortunate we didn’t get the three points.”
While Amherst and Middlebury were battling at Hitchcock Field, Williams was cleaning up against some of the conference’s lesser teams, namely Bates and Colby Colleges. Amherst, 3-0-1 in conference and 6-1-1 overall, will get a chance to make up the ground it lost to Williams this week with a pair of NESCAC games. Today the Jeffs journey south to Connecticut College, and on Saturday they’ll make the big trip north to take on Colby. Conn. is 0-4 in conference, and Colby is 1-3-1. This week will be a good opportunity for Amherst to win six points. Williams, meanwhile, has to battle Middlebury in Vermont.
Williams, 4-0-1 in conference, has risen to the top on the strength of their potent offense. In their five NESCAC games, the Ephs have registered 15 goals and allowed five. At the other end of the spectrum is Amherst, a scrappier team that has taken part in more close, low-scoring affairs. In their four conference games, the Jeffs have scored eight times, but have allowed only two goals.
In other NESCAC games, Trinity College edged Conn. 3-2, Wesleyan University shut out Colby 3-0 and Bowdoin College topped Tufts University 3-0.
In other action this past week, Amherst cruised to a non-conference win over Springfield College last Wednesday, 4-0. York continued his torrid scoring streak with a goal in the first minute of play. It was the defender’s third strike in four games. Gannon scored once, but forward Mike Wohl ’07 tallied two goals to leapfrog Gannon in the season scoring race. Wohl now has six goals and two assists. Dan Glenn ’05 got the win in net, making two saves in 80 minutes. Mohamed Zeidan ’07 worked 10 minutes in relief, but did not record a save.