Howard Herman: Some of the best Ephs football games ever played at Weston Field
WILLIAMSTOWN -- It cost Williams College $900,000 to renovate Weston Field back in the 1980s. In 25 years of use, Weston has given Williams' football team more than its money's worth out of the investment.
When the Ephs take to Weston on Saturday for the 128th renewal of the rivalry with Amherst, it'll be the last time the Ephs and Lord Jeffs will play on the Weston grass.
In September, Williams will be playing on an artificial turf field as part of a $20 million project that includes major renovations to Weston and the construction of football locker rooms and new public restroom facilities.
From the day in April, 1988, when the late George Steinbrenner helped dedicate the new facility at his alma mater, Weston has seen more than its share of outstanding Division III football games.
That year was when I came to work at the Berkshire Eagle, and while it was a couple of years before taking over the Williams beat, I have witnessed an overwhelming majority of games at what was the "new" Weston.
Some of them pop to mind rather quickly, while others require a little bit of research.
So here, in no particular order, are some of the top games I remember at Weston:
THE GAME: Harvard-Yale is known as "The Game," but anyone who saw the Nov. 8, 1997 Williams-Amherst game would steal that name in a second.
Williams led 24-14 at halftime, but fell behind 31-24 after being shut out in the third quarter. Williams scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter before Amherst tacked 15 on the board.
The Ephs were down 46-45 in probably the wildest fourth quarter in Weston history. Freshman Collin Vataha kicked a 27-yard field goal with 2 seconds left to give the Ephs a 48-46 win over the Lord Jeffs.
He is the son of former Patriot wide receiver Randy Vataha, and Collin hadn't seen much action. He started kicking the week before at Wesleyan and was called on to swing his leg in this game. He made five point-after kicks and two field goals.
"You don't want to let the seniors down," Vataha said after the game. "Who am I? I'm just some punk freshman."
It was the first game as Amherst head coach for E.J. Mills, whose team was knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten on this day for the second time in as many years.
"It's a game for young men," Williams coach Dick Farley said, "and I'm not a young man anymore."
THE TIE: Overtime became part of the college football lexicon in 1996, so the 1995 0-0 tie at Weston Field was one of the last tie games ever played in the sport.
ESPN brought "College Gameday" to Weston Field in 2007, but it was not the first time the network was here. Back in 1995, the network then known as espn2 (before it grew capital letters) used to televise a series of college rivalry games on Saturday mornings. That's what brought the network here.
Four weeks before the game, the Ephs and Tufts played in a monsoon that tore up Weston. That not only forced Williams to play Hamilton at Mount Greylock High School, the college brought in legendary groundskeeper George Toma to work on the field. He was no miracle worker, so the field was covered with green painted sawdust in some of the areas without grass.
Williams had 290 yards in offense to 169 for Amherst, but neither team got on the scoreboard.
"Everybody played eight games in the league," Williams coach Dick Farley said after the contest. "If I'm not mistaken, I think there was one team [Williams] that didn't lose a game."
THE STREAK BUSTER: Williams brought a 23-game winning streak into an Oct. 5, 1991 game against Don Miller's Trinity Bantams.
In a back-and-forth game, Williams scored a fourth-quarter touchdown for a 27-24 lead. If the Eph kickoff team could pin Trinity in deep, the clock would likely run out.
The kick went to John Mullaney at his own 25-yard line. He ran to the 30 and pitched the ball to a freshman running back named Shaun Kirby, who ran for 18 more yards. That gave the Bantams good field position.
Kirby was a three-sport athlete at Pittsfield High School and was a key member of the last Berkshire County team to win a state hockey title.
Trinity quickly drove down the field as quarterback James Lane hit wide receiver Mike Giardi for gains of 17 and 15 yards. And yes, that's the same Mike Giardi who has been an anchor/reporter for Comcast SportsNet for the last decade.
The Bantams were granted time out with one second left and Lane threw to Mullaney on a 5-yard touchdown pass to end the Eph streak.
THE OVERTIME: The first overtime game in the history of this storied rivalry was played on Nov. 10, 2001, and that was not the only notable aspect of this game.
Both Williams and Amherst entered the season 7-0 and it was only the third time the two teams came in perfect. The last two times, Amherst won. Those games were in 1942 and 1964.
On this Saturday, only one team left perfect as fullback Tyler Shea scored on a one-yard run in overtime to give the Ephs a 23-20 win. The game was tied at 17 after regulation.
Scott Farley, now an assistant coach on Aaron Kelton's staff, had two interceptions and six tackles for the Ephs in the victory.
THE UPSET: In 15 seasons, Williams was 15-0 against Bates and had outscored the Bobcats 33.7 points per game to 6.7 points per game.
That's what makes the Bobcats' 10-7 win at Weston Field on Oct. 4, 2004 special. What made it more special was the quarterback who engineered the upset.
Chris Gwozdz of Cheshire had played at Hoosac Valley and spent three years carrying a clipboard at Bates. He got the starting job for his senior year and the win over Williams had to be a highlight.
"It's special knowing the long record of Bates not winning against Williams. To come home and win, especially in such a tough game like this ... absolutely, it's great," he said.
Gwozdz was 16 of 32 for 121 yards. He did engineer the winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, hooking up with Owen Miehe for 32 yards before Ken Adams ran it in from 3 yards out with 1:18 left in the game.
Eph defensive back Jon Poppe played in that game. He is now an assistant coach at Harvard.
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