Seasoned Flair

It was supposed to be Wesleyan’s party, but no one told the visiting Amherst football squad not to crash the festivities en route to yet another lopsided victory, 37-10, in front of a Cardinal Homecoming crowd of more than 5,000.

The scoreboard doesn’t lie — the final count was indicative of the Lord Jeffs’ thorough domination on both sides of the ball. In a performance that would net him NESCAC Offensive Co-Player of the Week honors, accomplished senior quarterback Alex Vetras led the offense by completing a single-game record 39 passes out of 51 attempts for a career—high four touchdowns and 289 total yards. His partners in crime were the usual suspects: a talented corps of receivers led by seniors Andre Gary and Sean Legister and juniors Brian Murphy, Ben Kettering and Will Reed.

The latest stats compiled by Vetras mean that the senior QB is only 123 yards shy of establishing a new school record for career total yardage, with three games yet remaining in his illustrious collegiate career.

The relentless passing attack was augmented by a strong running game that saw the Lord Jeffs also rack up 176 yards on the ground — 69 of them credited to senior running back Femi Oyalowo, who also accounted for Amherst’s only rushing score.

Overall, Amherst gained a staggering 28 first downs while allowing only 12 to the hometown Cardinals. With the easy triumph — the squad’s fourth victorious blowout in five games, thus far, this season— the Jeffs run their current record to 5-0, and their two-season win streak stands at 13. Wesleyan, under the leadership of former Williams coach Mike Whalen, has fallen back to a distant reality at 3-2.

Continuing a recent trend, the Amherst offense was slow to find its rhythm, fumbling away an earlier scoring opportunity inside the Wesleyan 10-yard line, before Vetras hit Legister for an eight-yard TD toss with less than a minute to go in the opening quarter. Senior Matt Rawson added the point-after to make it 7-0, and Amherst never looked back.

Wesleyan staged an ultimately meaningless rally in the second quarter with a 22-yard field goal that narrowed the gap to 7-3, only to shake the Jeff offense from its relative lethargy.

Facing an unlikely 1st and 20 from the Cardinal 29, Vetras threaded tight double coverage to hit Brian Murphy deep in the end zone for the Jeffs’ second tally of the afternoon, which came with 8:09 left in the half. As usual, Rawson’s PAT split the uprights, bumping the Jeffs’ margin to 14-3, but the Vetras aerial show was only beginning.

With Wesleyan unable to mount a sustained drive against the overpowering Amherst defense, Vetras promptly got the ball back and in a display of no-huddle, West-Coast-style precision offense at its finest, completed crisp pass after crisp pass to march his team quickly back into the Wesleyan red zone.

A 13-yard TD toss to Gary at the 2:55 mark and another successful Rawson kick hiked the count to 21-3—the score that the teams would take into the locker rooms at halftime.

The third quarter was all Amherst, as the Jeffs padded their lead with an additional 16 points while holding the Cardinals’ scoring in the quarter to zero.

The first tally of the second half came on Amherst’s initial drive, capped by yet another Vetras toss to Legister, who made a sensational end zone catch amid traffic for his second TD reception of the afternoon. Rawson’s golden toe pushed the lead to 28-3, and the stellar kicker would add a 32-yard FG near the end of the quarter to make it 31-3. Meanwhile, the Amherst defensive unit kept the Cardinals bottled up throughout.

The fourth quarter proved to be anticlimactic. Sitting on a comfortable lead, Amherst abandoned its aggressive passing game in favor of running time off the clock, as Oyawolo and Bunker stepped up to demonstrate the Jeffs’ power running set.

The Jeffs’ final score came on an Oyawolo one-yard plunge midway through the quarter, while Wesleyan managed a meaningless last-minute TD by its star running back Shea Dwyer, who started the day averaging a mind-boggling 189 rushing yards per game.

Needless to say, he and his stats both took hits, as the Amherst defense limited him to half his usual output. Defensive standouts for Amherst included sophomore linebacker Sam Clark and senior lineman Jeff Katz, who each had five tackles. Meanwhile, a trio of juniors — lineman Kevin Ferber and safeties Evan Rosenstein and Kevin Heller—also had outstanding games.

With the win, Amherst has won eight in a row against the Cardinals, and 16 of the last 17. But the Jeffs’ toughest tests still lie ahead.

First on the to-do list, the Jeffs face off against Tufts this coming weekend at Pratt Field. Amherst will be heavily favored, but the Jumbos led Williams after three quarters and are much better than their 1-4 record would suggest. This weekend’s game should be the defintion of a trap game for a team with conference title aspirations.

And the gauntlet only gets more daunting week by week. After Tufts, an away game at Trinity (4-1) should be the Jeffs’ toughest challenge thus far, at least until undefeated Williams rolls into town for the final showdown of the season.

But the players aren’t thinking about Trinity or Williams right now, much less the “streak,” as Bunker sees it. “It’s a lot of fun to talk about last season and our current winning streak,” the running back notes, “but I think what we do best is forgetting all of that and focusing all of our attention towards the team we are playing each week. We have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, but that means nothing if we don’t prepare and focus all of our attention on the team we are playing that week.”