WILLIAMSTOWN — When the Williams College football team takes the field Saturday in Clinton, New York, the Ephs will have gone past the halfway point of the 2021 NESCAC season.
Being one of three, 4-0 teams in the league makes coach Mark Raymond smile.
"Obviously, it's nice to be sitting there without a loss at this point," Raymond said after practice earlier in the week. "You can't look back. You look ahead to the next day and the next game.
"We are fortunate to be where we are, and look forward to Hamilton."
The Ephs head for Hamilton and a 1:30 p.m. kickoff. Coach Dave Murray's Continentals are 2-2, and it's been a win-one, lose-one schedule so far. The Continentals beat Bowdoin, lost to Wesleyan, beat Colby and lost to Trinity.
Raymond and Murray go back to when Raymond coached at St. Lawrence and Murray was at Alfred. The Williams mentor said Hamilton, like Alfred in those days, take its cues from Murray.
"They're always going to be tough. They're going to run the ball. They're going to stop the run," Raymond said. "They have tough players and they're going to be sound. You're going to have to beat them. They're never going to beat themselves."
While a Dave Murray-coached team likes to run the ball and likes to be physical, Hamilton doesn't necessarily have the horses to do that. The Continentals are averaging 67 yards rushing per game. Some of that had to do with who they have played.
Wesleyan and Trinity are the No. 1 and 2 rushing defenses in NESCAC, so even good running teams would find it difficult to gain a lot of yardage on the ground.
Hamilton is using a first-year quarterback in Joe Cairns. Cairns shows promise, but having already played Trinity and Wesleyan, getting the No. 1 overall defense this week in Williams could make the Rochester, N.Y. native's head spin. Cairns is 41 of 76, averaging 229 yards passing per game, has thrown three touchdown passes but has been intercepted only twice.
The Ephs last week pitched their first shutout in 24 months, having clamped down on Colby 17-0 in Maine back on Oct. 5, 2019.
"It was a really good effort for us on Saturday," Raymond said. "Our guys came out ready to play. We had a couple of good early stops on defense and scored some points, especially in the second quarter. We were really able to open it up. I thought it was a really good effort, top to bottom."
The win did not come without a bit of a loss. Reserve wide receiver Jack Ledden, a first-year, suffered a broken leg in the win. He had caught two passes for 21 yards before being injured. He joins defensive back Josh Wax on the sidelines, as Wax broke a leg the week before.
"Other than that, everyone else is kind of day-to-day," Raymond said. "We may be able to get some guys back, hopefully [linebacker Jarrett] Wesner back here soon."
Wesner and fellow linebacker Coleston Smith didn't play against Colby, while linebacker Tim Landolfi came out of the game, but was able to return.
Fortunately for Raymond and the Ephs, the linebacking corps and the secondary are places where Williams has some depth.
"It has. We really hadn't had much depth there in the past couple of years," the coach said. "This year, we're able to surround Jarrett and T.J. [Rothmann] with some more depth and a little bit of experience."
One of those players is senior Edward Manzella. Manzella came to Williams as a defensive back, but has been converted to more of a hybrid linebacker/back position. It's a similar spot to the one the now-graduated Luke Apuzzi played, when the coaching staff moved him from the secondary to linebacker.
Another depth piece in the linebacking room is former Wahconah player Ethan Scott. Scott, who moved from Wahconah to Berkshire School, had two tackles and a sack last week against Colby.
"Ethan did a great job," Raymond said. "We moved him to linebacker a couple of weeks ago and he's really starting to find his way out there. He did a great job Saturday."
Saturday's game begins a rough travel section for Williams. It's a long bus ride to Clinton, N.Y., and then a week later, the Ephs will make their second overnight when they travel to Lewiston, Maine, to play Bates before returning home to face Trinity and Wesleyan at home. The Williams coach said his players do get the task at hand and it's not hard for them to not look ahead to the home stretch.
"I think it is, when you know you're going to have to battle. Four of our first six games were on the road," Raymond said. "We have a lot of experience on our team that realizes no matter where they're going to go, they're going to get a football game and face good people.
"Alabama loses on the road [to unranked Texas A&M]. It's tough to win on the road in conference, and it's no different for us."