Saturday November 13, 2010

WILLIAMSTOWN -- Four years of college football has, so far, translated into 2,860 minutes. In the final 60 minutes of their college football careers, the Williams College members of the Class of 2011 and their teammates are hoping to erase the most painful hour of their college careers.

"I got to thinking about it when we started talking about it," Williams tailback Ryan Lupo said at the final Williams Sideline Quarterback Club meeting on Wednesday, when he was asked about last year's Amherst win over the Ephs at Weston Field.

In the 124th meeting between these Little Three rivals 12 months ago, the Lord Jeffs rallied from a 14-3 deficit to score 23 unanswered points, and held off a late Williams rally to beat the Ephs 26-21. Williams had a last drive, but Pat Moffitt's pass to Jon Carroll came up a yard short on fourth-and-4 at the Amherst 20-yard line.

Lupo had a big game for the Ephs last year, rushing for 126 net yards on 30 carries. Moffitt completed 19 of 31 for 239 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. One of the picks led to what proved to be the winning touchdown. Williams also gave up six points on a bad punt snap. Eric Bunker recovered the fumble and took it 33 yards for the touchdown.

"It was such a heartbreaker for us," Lupo continued. "We can't wait to play them again. I've been looking forward to it all year."

It's the 125th anniversary of the most-played rivalry in NCAA Division III football. Williams has a 70-49-5 record, and has won 19 of 24 games since 1987.

Williams enters play with a 7-0 record and Amherst is seeking to end the Ephs' perfect season for the fifth time. The last time it happened was at Pratt Field in 2002. Williams has denied Amherst perfect seasons seven times, the last coming in 2001. Williams' last perfect season was 2006.

A win by Williams will give the Ephs their first NESCAC title since 2006. If the Ephs win, they would be the fourth team in four seasons to win the league title. The win would give Williams its fourth title since 2000. Trinity has won five, sharing the crown with Williams in 2002.

"[Amherst is] the reigning champion. We understand that," Williams head coach Aaron Kelton said. "From [the start] we've talked about going out and winning every game. That's been a team goal of ours.

"When I met with my team the first time, we talked about winning the NESCAC championship and we have that in our hands. We have to go out and take all the other hands that are on it off," he continued, "and make sure that it stays here at Williams."

It is one of the most historic rivalries in college sports, and this will be the first time Kelton will experience it. All season long, Kelton had preached the "one game at a time" mantra, and described last week's 45-7 win over Little Three rival Wesleyan as "The Little One" game.

It may be all well and good for a coach to discuss things as one game at a time. Now there's only one game left. To Williams students, alumni and fans alike, it's the big one. And don't think for a moment that Kelton hasn't noticed.

"It started right after Homecoming," he said. "We went through Homecoming and I got some calls about ‘Have a great Homecoming and beat Amherst.' As soon as the Homecoming game was over, people were calling and e-mailing, saying ‘Beat Amherst.'

"This tradition runs deep in some people's blood," Kelton continued. "It's very important for a lot of people. We're going to go out there and do our best."

The Holy Trinity of NESCAC football in this century has been Williams, Amherst and Trinity. The league statistics bear that out.

Amherst enters the game as the top scoring team in the conference (38.6 points per game), and Williams is second (37.4). Williams has the No. 2 scoring defense (13.0) and Amherst is third (18.3). Williams is tops in total offense (473.9 yards per game) and Amherst is second (423.3), and Williams is first and Amherst second in passing efficiency.

Williams quarterback Pat Moffitt is No. 1 in pass efficiency and Amherst signal caller Alex Vetras is second. Lupo is No. 3 in rushing and Amherst's Eric Bunker is fourth.

"The Trinity team is very good; they're an extremely good team. We happened to catch them when we were pretty good early in the season," Kelton said. "Everybody's gotten better. Certainly, this will be the best team we'll face all year."

Bunker is Vetras' top rushing threat. The top receiving target is Andre Gary, who has caught 32 passes for 259 yards. Reed, who caught the 70-yard touchdown pass last year, is tops with 373 yards receiving.

Moffitt and receiver Darren Hartwell will have opportunity to up their single-season record totals. Moffitt now holds the Williams single-season record with 21 touchdown passes, while Hartwell has caught nine TD tosses -- also a record.

But all of that becomes secondary to the emotions both teams will feel on Pratt Field in front of a capacity crowd and a national television audience.

"It's kind of hard to believe," Moffitt said. "It feels like I just got here yesterday. Now it's down to the last game. We have to make the most of it."