Polar Bears devour Jeffs in sloppy home opener

Bowdoin started off the first quarter with the ball but didn’t come away with any points on a nine-play drive. The trio of linebacker Justin Roemer ’06, defensive back Mike Salerno ’07 and linebacker Greg Muecke ’07 was effective all day against both the run and pass. Each player had 10 tackles to his name, and Roemer chipped in an interception. The Polar Bear offensive attack managed to get into the endzone only once and was held to 10 points on the afternoon.

On offense in the first quarter, Amherst established its ability to run the ball. Tailback Ngai Otieno ’06, who had 191 yards rushing on the day, completed a number of nice runs that brought Amherst into scoring position. On its second drive, the Amherst offense progressed to the Bowdoin 31-yard line only to have quarterback Nick Kehoe ’07 sacked on one play before throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown. The 67-yard interception return was ironically half of the total yards racked up by the Bowdoin offense all day. Senior co-captain L.J. Spinnato blocked the extra point attempt by Bowdoin. The missed kick ended up being crucial, as it kept the Jeffs within a field goal in the last minutes of the fourth quarter.

After the Bowdoin score, the Amherst offense picked up where it left off. The Jeffs began the drive with junior Will Beeson spelling Otieno at tailback, but Beeson went down with a knee injury on his first carry. Dom Cama ’06 came in to replace Beeson and did a fine job, amassing 109 yards rushing in the game. Otieno and Cama gave the Jeffs a two-pronged attack that would pave the way for 282 yards of total rushing offense. Before the offense could gain any momentum, however, the Polar Bears forced Cama to fumble and recovered the ball.

Luckily, the Amherst defense was equally as good at punching out the ball from the hands of the running back, and Muecke forced a fumble on the ensuing Bowdoin drive. But the polite Jeffs once again returned the favor, as Kehoe continued his game of pitch and catch with the Polar Bear secondary with his second interception of the game.

Thanks to the Amherst defensive line of Brendan McKee ’07, Spinnato and Dan Kovolisky ’06, Bowdoin was held to a paltry 45 yards of rushing of the day. As a result, the Jeffs’ NESCAC rivals to the North looked to the air attack. All Bowdoin quarterback Rick Leclerc could garner was a headache from the superb coverage of senior co-captain defensive back Nick Zieler and the rest of the secondary.

The Amherst offense fared better as it took to the air in the second quarter. Kehoe teamed with Mark Hannon ’07 and Parnell Adam ’06, who had 63 and 37 yards receiving on the day, respectively, to march the Jeffs down the field. Before the half Amherst matriculated to the Bowdoin 15-yard line only to end in a missed field goal attempt by Roemer. Despite very productive and healthy numbers in rushing and passing, the Amherst offense was unable to convert drives in the red-zone into points.

As if the turnovers weren’t enough, Amherst penalties helped to prolong Bowdoin’s only scoring drive in the second quarter as the Polar Bears came away with seven points before the half.

Overall, Amherst had six penalties, giving Bowdoin a free 45 yards, while Bowdoin had only one penalty for 10 yards. At the half, Mills impressed upon his team the need to maintain a unified front. “I told the team, ‘Let’s stay together, there’s a lot of football to play, let’s not panic,'” he said.

With 3:09 remaining in the third quarter, the Jeffs’ offense finally responded to 16 unanswered Bowdoin points when Kehoe connected with Hannon for a touchdown strike. After the two-point conversion failed, Amherst recovered a Mike Quirk ’06 kickoff that was fumbled by Bowdoin at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Just when the offense seemed poised to repeat the success of the previous drive, Kehoe fumbled trying to stretch the ball over the Bowdoin goal-line on a fourth-down-and-goal.

Trying to lift the butter-fingered offense, the Amherst defense was incorrigible in the fourth quarter, refusing any Bowdoin scores and limiting the Polar Bears to the deep freeze of a mere 13 plays in the quarter. The Bowdoin offense rushed for negative 18 yards in the fourth quarter and didn’t achieve a single first down.

On offense, the Jeffs seemed inspired by the impressive play of the defense with a touchdown with 11:49 remaining in the fourth quarter. Amherst started off the drive with great field position at the Bowdoin 46-yard line, and all that remained for the Jeffs was to hand the ball off three times to Otieno, who tallied up 47 yards on three rushes and led Amherst to the promised land. Otieno used his speed to stretch the Bowdoin defense to its breaking point. The Roemer extra point brought the Jeffs within three points of the Polar Bears, and the Jeffs seemed certain of a late fourth quarter victory surge.

On the very next Amherst possesion, the Jeffs seemed destined to score the go-ahead touchdown, surging deep into Bowdoin territory, but an Otieno fumble on the Bowdoin 23-yard line ended the drive. On Amherst’s final possession, a fourth-down sack of Kehoe put victory out of reach for the Jeffs.

Coming off this tough loss, the Jeffs are already looking ahead to facing the Middlebury College Panthers at home next week to redeem themselves. The game looks to be another tough one, and as Mills remarked, “In this league, everybody can be beat.”