Ephs put it all on the line
WILLIAMSTOWN -- Sixty more minutes. That's all the senior members of the Williams College football team have in their college careers.
"It's kind of unbelievable to think about it all week," said safety Will Cronin. "It's been a great four years here. You don't want to go out any other way than against your rival. It's a big game. I'm excited, and I think the guys are excited."
Excited has got to be an understatement. The Ephs (6-1) will put everything on the line this afternoon against undefeated Amherst (7-0). The game has multiple implications -- the Little Three title is on the line, a possible share of the NESCAC title for Williams is on the line, and the honor of being the top Division III football team in New England is up for grabs.
But all of that pales in comparison to the fact that it's Williams and Amherst for the 124th time. And the current Williams seniors understand that.
"I've had a lot of alums, not people I don't know but guys I've played with in the last four years texting me, calling me, sending e-mails," senior linebacker Eric Anderson said. "They're saying ‘Beat Amherst,' ‘Good luck,' and all that stuff. "
Williams leads the all-time series 70-48-5, and the Ephs haven't lost to the Lord Jeffs since 2004. The last time E.J. Mills' team won in Williamstown came in 1985, when Amherst scored a 35-20 victory.
"Probably the most impressive thing" about Amherst, Williams coach Mike Whalen said, "is that they've found a way to win every game. They've played really good defense, obviously, consistently the whole year. They've found ways to score enough points to win, or to stop people when they have to. They finish games, they play hard for 60 minutes.
"Any time you go 7-0, there's a little luck involved, there's a little bit of good fortune in terms of staying healthy. There's also a lot to be said about playing 60 full minutes."
Amherst isn't the only team that is playing 60 minutes now.
Williams has been trending upward since that Game 2 loss at Trinity, a game where the Ephs surrendered a lead on two touchdowns in the final two minutes of the game. Cronin said that he believes the Ephs are where they need to be for Amherst.
"I think we are," he explained. "We've talked about the Trinity game where we played well, but did not play a full 60 minutes. Ever since then we've gotten better. In the past week, we've shown improvement in terms of finishing games and making big plays.
"I think we're in a good spot."
Statistically, the top two defenses in NESCAC will face each other. Williams is No. 1 in total defense (245.7 yards per game), and Amherst is second (272.3), while the Lord Jeffs give up 8.9 points per game to lead NESCAC while Williams is second at 13.3. Amherst is tops in pass defense efficiency and Williams is second. Amherst and Williams are tied for first with a plus-six turnover ratio, and Amherst is best in NESCAC in rushing defense, giving up 44.4 yards per game. Williams is fourth, but gives up only 68 yards a game.
Williams enters play as NESCAC's top scoring (31.1 points per game) and rushing team (169.7 yards per game).
"People have had some success throwing the football on them," said Whalen. "They do a great job generating a strong pass rush with four guys, so they drop a lot of guys [into coverage]. People have done a very good job in terms of moving the ball from point to point."
That's been the easy thing, but Amherst's defense has a bend-but-don't-break style.
"When the field shrinks in the red zone, you look at their games, Bowdoin had the ball five times inside the 10, comes out with four field goals and loses the game 13-12," said Whalen. "Trinity was down there a couple of extra times and didn't get points on the board.
"In these games, you can't be one-dimensional," Whalen continued. "You can't go in there and say ‘Hey, we're going to throw the ball,' and not run the ball. Running the ball has been a big part of our offense."
That's because junior tailback Ryan Lupo has pretty much led NESCAC in rushing from Day One. Lupo has 731 yards rushing, averages 4.1 yards per carry and leads NESCAC with nine touchdowns.
The Amherst defense is led by linebacker Mike Taylor, the No. 2 tackler in the conference. Linebacker Jeff Katz and defensive end Edwin Urey share the conference lead in sacks while safety Fred Argir is tied for the NESCAC lead with five interceptions.
Offensively, quarterback Alex Vetras has completed 144 of 261 passes for 1,323 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Vetras has a Berkshire County connection as his mother is Diane Dapson Vetras, the daughter of Dapson Opticians founder David Dapson and the late Rita Dapson. Alex Vetras is a junior from Clyde Hill, Wash., a suburb of Seattle.
The Lord Jeffs will be challenged by a stout Williams defense that is led by linebackers Dylan Schultz and Chris Cameron.
Both teams are fairly healthy for a final game. Williams wide receiver and tri-captain Nick Caro will not play. He was injured last week at Wesleyan.
This is, however, a game where you can throw statistics out the window. The veterans on the Williams football team say that it won't take long for the underclassmen to get the magnitude of the game.
"From personal experience, you have to be there to fully understand it," said Cronin. "As the years go on, you understand it more and more. It'll hit them if they don't understand it yet."
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