WILLIAMSTOWN — It has been almost two years since the Williams College football team made “The Walk.”
Saturday’s historic walk up Spring Street exorcised ghosts and brought the Ephs to within a win of their first Little Three and NESCAC football championships in more than a decade.
“We saw it. We envisioned it. When the pandemic broke out, we knew this was our goal,” said linebacker Jarrett Wesner. “We knew we were going to be here today.”
Wesner and his teammates got to walk thanks to their second dominating effort in as many weeks against the iron of NESCAC. The Ephs shut out Little Three rival Wesleyan 25-0, marking the first time since 1995 that Williams had shut out the Cardinals in a game. It was the first time Wesleyan had been shut out in a Little Three game since Amherst did it in 2009, and it was the first time the Ephs had shut out a Little Three foe since beating Amherst 20-0 back in 2007.
This is the 50th anniversary of the first walk, and a group of Williams football alumni made the walk following the team up Spring Street.
The Williams football players walk up Spring Street after beating Wesleyan 25-0. pic.twitter.com/i2FXLdyie2— Howard Herman (@howardherman) November 6, 2021
It also marked the end of a long, seven-game losing streak for Williams against their rivals from Connecticut.
With the win, the Ephs improve to 8-0, and can run the table in NESCAC with a win at Amherst next weekend. If Williams wins, it would be the Ephs’ first perfect season since going 8-0 in 2010, which is the last time Williams won the NESCAC title.
And by virtue of Trinity’s 49-7 win over Amherst on Saturday, a Williams loss and a Trinity win at Wesleyan would mean the Ephs and Bantams finish with 8-1 records. If that’s the case, even though Williams beat Trinity, the schools would share a NESCAC title.
That, however, was not on the minds of the Ephs Saturday.
“This year, we’re trying to focus one game at a time. Six seconds at a time has kind of been our mantra all year. Don’t worry about the next play, don’t worry about the play before. Six seconds of relentless focus and effort has kind of been our mantra,” Williams quarterback Bobby Maimaron said. “This week is really special. The thoughts start creeping into your mind. It’s homecoming. There are going to be a lot of people here.
“Obviously, the goal of the day is to take this walk.”
It's a final. Williams 25, Wesleyan 0. pic.twitter.com/cUif5hgiEn— Howard Herman (@howardherman) November 6, 2021
It was a three-phase victory for the Ephs on Saturday. They kept a Wesleyan offense that gashed them in the fourth quarter and in overtime last year, from getting many long plays. The longest play from scrimmage was a 20-yard run by David Estevez. Offensively, they continued to ground-and-pound opponents, rushing for 289 yards on 49 carries. Running back Joel Nicholas had his second consecutive 100-yard game, carrying the ball 26 times for 173 net yards and a touchdown on a fourth-quarter run of 17 yards. Maimaron, who was 7 for 16 for 155 yards and a touchdown also carried the ball 16 times for a net 90 yards. Perhaps the lone negative on the day is that he was sacked three times.
“These guys, they were ready,” Williams coach Mark Raymond said. “They wanted it and they went out and took it today. I’m really proud of them. That’s a really good Wesleyan team. They’re tough. We knew they weren’t going to go away. They have some really good playmakers. It was just a really good job.”
It was a “really good job” in part because Raymond and his staff had to do a little patching both before and during the game. Defensive lineman Ian Devine, who has been stout all season in the front three, suffered an injury on the Cardinals’ second offensive series and was lost for the day. Devine had come in as NESCAC’s leading tackler.
Before that, defensive back Drew Michalek was injured during the week in practice and was not available. The Williams defensive staff, led by coordinator Mark McDonough, had to make some adjustments on the fly.
“We put a lot of trust in each other and T.J. had to switch up his role a little bit,” said Eph linebacker Edward Manzella, referring to linebacker T.J. Rothmann playing more of a hybrid safety-linebacker than normal. “We essentially ran a 3-5 with one safety in the back. We knew they were going to try to run the ball anyway. It stunk for Drew. He’s a very good player. But it was about trusting the game plan and it’s a next-man-up mentality. Some guy goes down, let’s figure it out.
“We got pretty comfortable in practice and moving forward.”
It took coach Dan DiCenzo’s Cardinals until the fourth quarter to move the ball inside the Williams 30-yard line. By that time, Williams had scored 25 points and the outcome — if not the score — was academic. Wesleyan had four chances inside the Williams 30, but quarterback Ashton Scott hit Wesner in the back for a first-down incompletion. Then Estevez threw a 1-yard completion, but two more incompletions ended Wesleyan’s last chance.
Williams took the lead for keeps on its second drive of the game. A 29-yard punt by Daniel Yoon and a 13-yard return by Frank Stola set the Ephs up on their 44. Nicholas ran over and through the Wesleyan defense for 23 yards and a first down. Five plays, including one of 2 1/2 sacks by Nick Helbig later, Ivan Shuran kicked the first of his four field goals. This one from 35 yards.
Two times in the second quarter, Williams marched from deep in its own territory into the Wesleyan red zone before the drives stalled. Shuran was on target from 30 and 31, and the Ephs led 9-0 at halftime.
Williams held Wesleyan to 105 yards in total offense in the first half. Offensively, the Ephs left points on the field and it could have been over by halftime.
Instead, Raymond’s team excited the standing-room crowd of Williams students, parents and alumni. It only took three plays.
The Ephs, who won the toss and deferred, started a drive on their 25. Nicholas lost 2 yards and Maimaron gained 3. On third-and-9, the Eph senior quarterback took the snap from Tallon Garelli, rolled out to buy some time and threw a rainbow. Williams tight end Justin Burke, who had been getting open against defensive back Chris Guttman all day, got behind Guttman. Burke caught the ball in stride and nobody caught him. Seventy-four yards later, he was in the end zone. The PAT was blocked, but it was 15-0.
Wesleyan, showing little ability to get into scoring position, never seriously threatened the Ephs.
Credit the Williams offensive line for the ground game’s showing. Williams has now had three 100-plus yard individual rushing games. Maimaron had one earlier in the season. That they were able to clear holes for running backs against a defense that was giving up an average of fewer than 100 yards a game said a lot.
“I think it was being consistent and doing the things we’ve done all year,” Williams guard John Rooney said. “Trusting our coaches, trusting our game plan, and at the end of the day we just executed.”
For the seniors, winning their last career game on Farley-Lamb Field led to the walk. But the season, they say, isn’t over.
“It definitely means a lot and to take this walk is really special,” Maimaron said. “We still have one more.”
“We’re not done yet,” Wesner added. “We’re going into next week and we’re going to put the cherry on top of this.”