Williams, Amherst renew football rivalry for 132nd time on Saturday
WILLIAMSTOWN — Four years is a long time. Sometimes, it doesn't seem like it.
"It's come really fast. I'm really glad we'll be able to leave this year on a good note," Williams College senior defensive end Sam Gowen said.
Gowen and his fellow seniors have accomplished much this year. They ended a 13-game losing streak, guaranteed Williams' first winning season since 2011, and have a chance to win a share of the Little Three championship for the first time since 2010.
"We're looking forward to Amherst," he said. "It's been four years of hard work and I'm sad to see it go. But I'm proud of everything our class has put in."
The game that is called "The Biggest Little Game in America" will be played for the 132nd season today. This year's contest will be played at Farley-Lamb Field. Kickoff is set for noon, and the game will be televised throughout New England and nationally by NESN.
The last time Williams (5-3) beat Amherst (7-1) in Williamstown, Gowen and the rest of the Williams seniors were still playing youth football.
That was in 2007, when Williams pitched a 20-0 shutout at Weston Field. Brian Morrissey ran for 100 net yards on 36 carries while quarterback Pat Lucey threw for 235 yards and a touchdown. The Williams defense held Amherst's offense to seven first downs on that Saturday afternoon, and the Ephs outgained the team that was then known as the Lord Jeffs 399 yards to 146 yards. Amherst has a six-game winning streak, with the last Williams win coming in 2010.
Fast forward to 2017. The Mammoths, as they are now known, can win the NESCAC football title with a win. Coach E.J. Mills' team beat Trinity 28-20 last week, giving both teams 7-1 records. Trinity plays Wesleyan today, and if both Trinity and Amherst win, the Mammoths would be champs.
A win by Amherst would give the school it's 33rd Little Three title, moving the Mammoths a bit closer to Williams' 48. Amherst won the Little Three in 2015. Williams, meanwhile, hasn't won an outright Little Three title since going 8-0 back in 2010.
There have also been eight, three-way ties in the Little Three. If Williams beats Amherst, all the Little Three teams would be 1-1, and would mark the first three-way championship since 2002.
Williams came into last week's game against Middlebury with a 5-2 record, and losses to Trinity (17-9) and Tufts (21-13) were one possession games. That was not the case a week ago, where the Cardinals kept the Eph offense bottled up all afternoon. Williams only crossed midfield twice.
"It was a perfect storm of things," Williams defensive tackle Chris Hattar said. "We weren't playing up to our expectations. I actually have a friend on that team and he said 'That was the first time all season we played to our potential.' It happens. We got caught on the chin a little bit, but we're not worried about it. It doesn't change the way we prepare and the way we go about things."
Williams coach Mark Raymond said Wesleyan outplayed his team for 60 minutes.
"We didn't make enough tackles and we didn't make enough blocks," he said. "It comes down to fundamentals."
The Ephs are going to have to make those tackles and blocks if they are to pull off the victory.
Sophomore quarterback Ollie Eberth leads the Amherst offense. The St. John's Prep graduate has completed 88-of-144 passes for 1,348 yards and eight touchdowns. He has also run the ball 60 times for 209 yards.
The rest of the Amherst offense revolves around junior tailback Jack Hickey of Melrose. He has carried the ball 101 times for 628 yards and nine touchdowns. He is third in NESCAC in rushing and second in rushing touchdowns.
On defense, end Andrew Yamin — called the Buck in Amherst parlance — is the second-leading tackler but leads NESCAC with 12 1/2 sacks.
"They're very well coached. They have outstanding personnel on both sides of the ball and they're hitting on all cylinders," said Williams coach Mark Raymond. "[Eberth] is very poised. He's got an outstanding arm. He can do a lot of different things."
Eberth sounds a lot like Williams freshman quarterback Bobby Maimaron, and this could be one heck of a rivalry for the next two seasons.
Former Williams football assistant coach and lacrosse head coach Renzie Lamb always recites a poem at the end of the final Williams Sideline Quarterback Club luncheon of the season that ends with the following line: "If you want to be happy forever, beat Amherst."
That is something this group of seniors has not done.
"We know Amherst is a good team," Hattar said. "We respect them. We know guys on that team, they're good players and good guys. We're going out there to show them what Williams is all about."
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter and 413-496-6253.