Football Team Comes Out Strong After Tough Middlebury Test
By Leon Rauch '12, Staff Writer
After a pair of walkovers against the likes of Bates and Bowdoin, the football squad finally encountered meaningful competition on Oct. 9, when they met Middlebury on the road in a wild shootout that saw the two teams put up nearly 70 points and over 900 yards of total offense.

The ordinarily high-flying Lord Jeffs actually found themselves scoreless at halftime, trailing the Panthers, 9-0. But an explosive offense can only be contained for so long, and, needless to say, the second half saw the defensive dams break for both teams, as Amherst went on to win a 38-31 nail-biter on junior Eric Bunker’s second TD run of the day late in the fourth quarter.

With the defensive units of both teams having difficulty stopping anyone, the old maxim “the best defense is a good offense” proved accurate. While Amherst compiled 411 total offensive yards, Middlebury racked up 494, with 421 of those coming by way of the impressive aerial show put on by Panther QB Donald McKillop ’11, who threw for two touchdowns en route to setting a New England Division III record with 629 completed career passes… and still counting.

The Panthers also surpassed the Lord Jeffs in first downs and possession time, but the Amherst offense was not exactly idle itself. Cool-headed senior quarterback Alex Vetras threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns, and scrambled 25 yards for a touchdown, while Bunker and others made enough plays to keep Amherst just a step ahead of their offensive-minded hosts.

The opening half, though, belonged to Middlebury, who, on their first possession of the day notched a 20-yard field goal with 6:26 remaining in the first quarter. With the Lord Jeffs unable to find their usual offensive groove, the defense at least kept Amherst in the game for the first two quarters by holding the Panthers to the aforementioned field goal and a single touchdown pass play just before halftime. A couple of lucky breaks, in the form of Middlebury mistakes, didn’t hurt either. Head coach E.J. Mills and his crew undoubtedly felt fortunate to be down by only single digits going into the locker room at intermission.

Whatever choice words Mills and his assistants directed at their troops between halves, something plainly had an effect on the Amherst offense, which sprang to life in the second half, scoring 24 points to Middlebury’s goose egg in the third quarter alone. Long passes from Vetras to Ben Kettering ’12 set up a field goal for junior kicker Matt Rawson, who split the uprights to make it 9-3 at the 11:35 mark of the third.

Middlebury’s ensuing drive was disrupted when a McKillop pass was deflected, then picked off by Amherst junior safety Evan Rosenstein. On third down, Vetras then found Andrew Reed ’12 in the end zone for a 26-yard TD heave, followed by Rawson’s extra point that gave Amherst its first lead of the afternoon.

An unproductive Middlebury drive gave the ball back to Amherst, and Vetras wasted no time tossing another TD pass, this time a 30-yarder to Kettering, which on another day might have given Amherst a little breathing room.

But the offensive madness was just beginning for both teams. Following a long Middlebury drive that tightened the score to 17-16, Vetras took matters into his own hands and scampered 25 yards to pay dirt, again giving Amherst a touchdown lead.

Going into the fourth quarter up by eight, the Lord Jeffs were treated to more of the Donald McKillop show than they really cared to watch. A 38-yard touchdown toss from McKillop to Zach Driscoll, followed by a successful two-point conversion, brought the Panthers even at 24-24.

But Amherst answered with Eric Bunker’s 12-yard TD romp, his first of the day. Rawson’s PAT made the margin 31-24, but with McKillop at the controls for the Panthers, the lead was short-lived. A masterful 66-yard drive, punctuated by McKillop’s short, accurate passes, once more culminated in a tie score, 31-31, and set the stage for the final act of the back-and-forth drama.

After converting a pair of tense make-or-break fourth-down plays during a final drive late in the fourth, the Jeffs at last found themselves facing another crucial fourth down at the Panthers’ one-yard line. With the game in the balance, Vetras handed the ball to Mr. Clutch, the muscular Bunker, who powered it in for six. When Middlebury fumbled away their last opportunity with under two minutes to go, Amherst ran out the clock for their third victory of their season and their 11th straight overall.

Afterwards, the Jeffs could be excused a large sigh of relief on two counts: they had defeated a tough team on the road and their next opponent was Colby, whom Amherst crushed, 30-3, the following weekend at Pratt Field.

Ironically, Colby — who had actually defeated the same Middlebury team that had given Amherst all it could handle the week before — scored first to lead 3-0, before reality set in and a sluggish offense woke up after a slow start to put the next 30 points on the board.

Unlike the prior week, the Amherst defense returned to its dominating form, holding the Mules to a mere 207 total offensive yards. More importantly, the Lord Jeffs recorded two interceptions and three fumble recoveries for a total of five takeaways.

Defensive standouts included linebacker Matt Pieterse ’13, who recorded nine tackles and an 81-yard TD run off a fumble recovery and junior defensive backs Kevin Heller and Evan Rosenstein, who each finished with eight tackles.

On offense the Lord Jeffs’ perfectly balanced attack was a collective effort, featuring 192 yards from the rushing game and 160 through the air. Bunker, rookie Ryan Silva and senior Femi Oyalowo combined to pace the running attack, while Vetras completed 16 of 33 attempts, including two TD passes and no interceptions.

With the impressive win, the Lord Jeffs pushed their season record to 4-0, and their win streak now stands at 12; but no one on the squad is reading any press clippings just yet. Next week is Wesleyan (3-1) on the road, followed by Tufts, Trinity and an always tough, undefeated Williams squad. To a man, the Lord Jeffs realize that the softer half of the schedule is behind them.

Speaking for his mates, Vetras had this to say about the season thus far: “Our schedule is uphill from here and the team mentality has always been just focus on the day at hand. Wesleyan is the first game of the Little Three, but to the guys it’s just the next game. The last two games have been good for us — the Middlebury game being a shootout where the offense had to step up, and the defense putting on a show against Colby. It’s good to have some adversity since we’ll definitely encounter a lot more in the second half of the season.”

Issue 06, Submitted 2010-10-20 03:38:41