Williams-Amherst football: The games

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WILLIAMSTOWN -- Last-minute drives. Last-second field goals. Three scoreless ties. Two matchups between perfect teams. An All-American ejected from his final collegiate game.

All those things have happened in the Williams-Amherst football series since the teams first met in 1884.

The longest-played series in Division III, "The Biggest Little Game in America" will take place for the 125th time today at Pratt Field in Amherst.

Williams leads the series 70-49, with five ties.

The following are my picks for the 10 greatest games in the series, the fourth-oldest in college football.

1. 1942: Amherst 12, Williams 6

For the hype, the stakes and the strange twists, it's hard to top this game.

Tabbed the "Battle of New England" by the New York Herald Tribune, it was the first time in the series that Williams and Amherst had entered with perfect records.

Williams was 7-0 and Amherst 6-0; the teams also entered the 1964 and 2001 games with perfect records.

Amherst, the underdog to an Ephs squad that cracked the 40-point mark four times and beat Princeton for the only time in school history, scored twice in the fourth quarter to overcome a 6-0 deficit and spoil Charlie Caldwell's final game as Williams coach.

A gusting wind was a major factor in the outcome. After Amherst's Rollie Smith booted an 88-yard, wind-aided punt to pin the Ephs at their own 2-yard line in the fourth quarter, Tom Powers of Williams tried to punt into the wind late in the game with the Ephs trying to protect a six-point lead.

"Just as Tom Powers essayed to make the punt, a strong blast of wind arose, and the ball virtually went straight up and returned to the ground, only 5 yards ahead of the line of scrimmage," The New York Times reported.

Amherst took possession on the Ephs' 40 and drove for the winning score. Amherst's kicker, known as "Automatic Joe" Mills, missed both extra-point tries.

2. 1920: Amherst 14, Williams 7

With Williams ahead 7-0 in the fourth quarter, and Amherst driving for the tying score, Ephs All-American Ben Boynton -- playing in his final collegiate game -- was ejected by referee James Keegan, the superintendent of the Pittsfield Boys Club, after a vociferous argument over a fumble by Amherst fullback Horace Murnane.

The fumble had been recovered by Boynton's younger brother, Charles, a Williams player. But the referees ruled that the play was dead before the fumble, meaning Amherst had retained possession.

"I am not an [expletive]," Keegan reportedly told Ben Boynton, "and you're not in the ballgame anymore. Get off the field."

Amherst tied the score when quarterback Walter Zink, a Pittsfield High grad, scored on the play after Boynton was ejected. Zink scored the game-winning touchdown later in the quarter.

According to the Williams Record, the school newspaper, Murnane told a Williams alumnus after the game that he fumbled before Keegan blew the whistle.

3. 1997: Williams 48, Amherst 46

Freshman Colin Vataha, whose one field-goal attempt before this game was blocked, kicked a 27-yarder with two seconds left as Williams denied Amherst an undefeated season for the second straight year.

The Ephs had blown leads of 24-7 and 45-31 before Vataha's winning kick. Amherst had gone ahead by a point with 1:49 to play. The teams combined for five touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

"It's a game for young men, and I'm not a young man anymore," Williams coach Dick Farley, 52, told The Eagle after the game. "I've got to take some time off."

4. 1996: Williams 19, Amherst 13

Before "The Kick" in 1997, there was "The Drive."

Trailing by a point, the Ephs went 98 yards in 13 plays to score the winning touchdown on Mike McAdams' 2-yard run with 40 seconds left.

The drive took more than four minutes off the clock. Sam Landis' extra point hit both uprights and the crossbar before going over.

It was the eighth time in the 111 games played that Williams had ended Amherst's bid for an undefeated season.

"I didn't think they were going to drive 98 yards to beat us," Amherst coach Jack Siedlecki said.

5. 1957: Williams 39, Amherst 14

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The Ephs completed their first unbeaten season (6-0-1) in 40 years by scoring four times in the first 17 minutes to ruin the Lord Jeffs' bid for a perfect record.

Voting for the small-college version of the Lambert Trophy took place for the first time that year, and the Ephs' victory knocked Amherst out of first place and lifted Williams, which was in third place entering the game, into the top spot by eight-hundredths of a point.

But second-place Lehigh had one more game, and the Mountain Hawks won to finish 8-1 and earn the title. Williams finished second in the final voting by nine-hundredths of a point, the slimmest margin possible. Amherst finished third.

After the season, Amherst coach John McLaughery told the crowd at the Western Massachusetts football coaches luncheon that a "supposedly respectable" New York paper had misquoted him as saying Amherst was the best team in the East.

"I suppose you were pleased to read these things," McLaughery said to Williams coach Len Watters at the banquet.

"Yes, it was just fine with us," Watters replied.

6. 2001: Williams 23, Amherst 20 (OT)

The only overtime game in the series, it also was the third of the three matchups between Williams and Amherst in which both teams had perfect records. (Williams won this game but lost to Amherst in perfect-record games in 1942 and 1964.)

The Ephs rallied from a 17-7 halftime deficit to win on Tyler Shea's 1-yard run in overtime, enabling the team to avenge a 20-12 loss to Amherst the year before in an outcome that ended Williams' 14-game unbeaten streak.

"I couldn't have scripted it any better," Shea said.

7. 1897: Williams 6, Amherst 6

As the final whistle blew, Herman Fifer of Williams picked up a fumble at the Ephs' 20 and ran 80 yards for a touchdown in almost total darkness.

Touchdowns were worth only five points then, so the Ephs needed the extra point to forge the tie.

Fifer obliged by kicking "the goal" by "moonlight," according to a 1929 account of the game in the Williams Record.

8. 1989: Williams 17, Amherst 14

After compiling three unbeaten seasons in 109 years of football, Williams registered the first of the school's six perfect seasons by rallying from a 14-0 deficit.

A crowd of 13,761 at Weston Field -- including Williams alums Fay Vincent Jr. and George Steinbrenner -- saw the Ephs take the lead in the third quarter on Lars Hein's 2-yard run and Brian Taptich's 27-yard field goal for the winning points.

Amherst reached the Williams 12 in the final minute but fumbled the ball away with 57 seconds left.

"It hit me when you see all the old captains coming down from the stands and telling you you've accomplished what no other team accomplished," said Williams captain Brian Stevens.

9. 1973: Williams 30, Amherst 14

Junior running back Dave Reimann, pressed into service when starter Maury Matteodo of Pittsfield went down because of a knee injury, scored two touchdowns -- one on a 60-yard run -- as the Ephs ruined a second consecutive undefeated season for the Lord Jeffs, who had future NFL wide receiver Fred Scott on their roster.

The Ephs entered the game with a 5-2 record.

"When Maury got hurt, we were sort of scratching around," Williams coach Bob Odell said. "I decided to try Dave because I knew he was a tough kid and I realized he had speed."

10. 1986: Amherst 10, Williams 7

For sheer frustration, it's difficult to beat this game, at least from Williams' point of view.

Trailing by three points with 2:45 to play, Williams got a break when Amherst failed to convert a fourth-and-1 situation from its own 16-yard line.

The Ephs quickly drove to the 3, but couldn't reach the end zone on four straight plays as Amherst won its sixth straight Little Three title, still a school record.

Williams freshman halfback John Horton, who gained 129 of his 131 yards in the second half, was stopped on two runs during the last drive, and two passes fell incomplete in the end zone.

"I'll take the memory of that to my grave," Williams coach Bob Odell said of the final series.

Odell had been expected to retire after the season, his 40th as a college coach. But after the agonizing loss to Amherst, he asked then-Williams president Francis Oakley for a one-year contract extension.

Oakley denied the request, and Odell officially announced his retirement.


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