Unbeaten Lord Jeffs coming
Mills, in his 13th year as head coach, led the Lord Jeffs to a 7-0 record in 1997 and again in 2001, only to have Williams spoil the Jeffs' season. Mills said that the 2009 team is different, and he's hoping the outcome will be different as well.
"This team is more prepared in terms of veteran guys who have been through the wringer," Mills said, taking a break from preparations for Saturday's 124th renewal of the "Biggest Little Game in America."
The Lord Jeffs come to Weston Field for the noon kickoff with another 7-0 mark, beating Trinity last week to reach the seventh win. After beating Trinity last week, Amherst became the top-ranked team in the New England Division III Football Poll, with Williams taking second.
Mills hedged a little when asked if, when the team reported on Aug. 31, he expected a 7-0 record and a No. 1 ranking in New England.
"I don't know," he said. "I did feel good about the team coming in. It's a great group of seniors. But to be honest, I don't know."
One of Amherst's captains said he had an idea about the team. Actually, he was pretty sure the Jeffs would be where they are.
"Absolutely," senior co-captain Chris Govey said by phone. "Eight and 0 was the only option. I would have been excited, but I wouldn't have been surprised."
The Lord Jeffs started their season with a 20-12 road win over Hamilton. Home victories over Bowdoin and Middlebury followed, and Mills' team was on its way.
Amherst got to 7-0 by outscoring Trinity 16-0 in the second half last week to beat the Bantams 23-12 at Pratt Field.
"It was my first fourth-quarter comeback victory in my time" at Amherst, Govey said.
Those seven games were the preliminary to Saturday's Little Three showdown.
A win by Amherst would give the Lord Jeffs their first perfect season in 25 years, and it would be their first Little Three championship since 2004.
"We'd like nothing better to end the season with the title on the line against the best offense" in NESCAC, said Govey. "It's the last time you're playing each year, and, for the seniors, it's their last game."
Saturday's game will feature the league's top two defenses playing against each other. Williams is first in total defense and Amherst is second. Amherst is first in scoring defense and Williams is second.
"We're playing good team defense," said Mills. "We're fast up front and that creates problems. We've forced people into trying to throw the ball."
Teams have run for only 44.4 yards per game against the Lord Jeffs, giving Amherst the No. 1 run defense in all of NCAA Division III football. The Jeffs are also fourth in the country in red zone defense, defense inside the 20-yard line. Mills said those two results go together.
"As the field shrinks, the advantage goes to the defense," he said. "We've been very good inside the 20."
The Lord Jeffs defense will be challenged by a Williams offense that does everything. The Ephs enter play as the top scoring offense in NESCAC, the top rushing offense and the No. 5 passing offense.
"I see a balanced attack. They're solid all around," Govey said. "They have the ability to run the ball in a league that has evolved into being a little pass reliant."
"They do such a nice job using their personnel," Mills added. "They formation you a lot, they motion and shift, and they do a good job of getting the ball to guys they want to."
The seven wins are nice, both Mills and Govey agree, but all seven pale in comparison to what will happen after the three hours Saturday in Williamstown.
"We've been good at getting refocused and prepare for every week," said the Amherst coach."It's a little harder to do that this week. It's the Williams game and you add to that we're undefeated."
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first of two preview stories for Saturday's Williams-Amherst game.
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