Williams football meets rival Amherst for 133rd time
WILLIAMSTOWN — By the time the sun sets on Saturday, the seniors on the Williams and Amherst football teams will have played their final football games.
"It's a crazy feeling," Williams defensive back Desmond Butler, one of those seniors, said. "I don't think I've processed it all the way yet. I'm just trying to take it day-by-day and enjoy every minute.
"And keep it all in perspective."
The Ephs will travel up Route 9 on Saturday for the 133rd renewal of what both sides call "The Biggest Little Game in America." It is the most-played rivalry in NCAA Division III football and the fourth longest rivalry in all levels of the sport.
A win by Amherst on Saturday would give the Mammoths their first NESCAC football championship since 2015. However, if Amherst loses, then Trinity would win its third consecutive title. Should Williams beat Amherst and Wesleyan beat Trinity, both Amherst and Trinity would end with 7-2 records. However, the Bantams beat Amherst last week, giving them the tiebreaker. In addition, if Amherst and Trinity lose and Tufts beats Middlebury then all three teams would have 7-2 records. But, Trinity would be the champion, because Tufts lost to both Amherst and Trinity.
Williams (5-3) will be looking to finish up at 6-3 for the second consecutive season and end a skid where the Ephs have lost three of their last four games. That includes last week's 21-14 loss to Wesleyan, a game where the Ephs scored two late fourth-quarter touchdowns under the guidance of freshman quarterback Jackson Bischoping.
The Ephs got the ball back with a minute, 29 seconds left to play and had a chance to possibly drive for a tying touchdown. But the Wesleyan defense rose up and forced a turnover on downs before running out the clock.
While the players and coaches were disappointed in the outcome, the fact that Williams was in it until the very end did help the Ephs build some confidence.
"I think it was big for us, rallying around Jackson," Butler said. "We know he's really capable of leading our offense. I think it was really big that he was able to put a couple of drives together, score some points and build some confidence for the offense — and for the whole team going forward."
The Williams coaching staff got a similar feeling, but as a group, the Eph coaches are about the next game.
"We've got a good character [team]. We knew that," Williams coach Mark Raymond said. "We needed to make a couple of plays. Our guys hung with it and gave ourselves a chance. Obviously, if you leave there after a shutout, you start to question yourself. A loss is a loss and you move on.
"Right now, all they're thinking about is Amherst."
Which is a good thing, because coach E.J. Mills' Mammoths are a very good football team. Amherst fell from the ranks of the undefeated when it lost 27-16 at Trinity a week ago. In that game, quarterback Ollie Evberth went 17 for 35 for 217 yards, completing nine of those passes to wide receiver Bo Berlutti for 142 yards. On defense, defensive back Avery Suffold picked off a pass, blocked a Trinity field goal and made five tackles in the game. Linebacker Andrew Sonner leads the Mammoths with 51 tackles.
"This will really define our season, and I think Mark would say the same thing, I'm assuming," Mills said in a phone interview with The Eagle. "Certainly, that's the way this game is — good, bad or indifferent — that's kind of the way this game is. Obviously, we're excited for the opportunity.
"It's a culmination of a lot of effort, and for our seniors, it's the culmination of playing football for a long, long time and that comes to an end as well."
The Mammoths are a far more veteran team with 13 seniors among the 22 starters while Williams starts four seniors.
"They're very well-coached, disciplined, physical football team," Raymond said of Amherst, "as they are typically. They have a lot of upperclassmen who are strong, so we're going to have to be ready."
According to the Williams game notes, there is one change in the starting lineup. First-year Dan Vaughan, moved from quarterback to wide receiver, is listed as a starter along with Frank Stola and Mike DeGasperis.
One position that does not list a change is Maimaron at quarterback. Raymond said the sophomore had an MRI on his injured right knee on Monday, and might be a game-time decision as to playing.
If Maimaron does not go, Bischoping will start. He finished 11 for 24 for 174 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"It all depends," said Raymond, when asked if Bischoping would get more reps in practice. "He did some good things. He did some bad things. We know what he can do. If we need him this week, he'll be ready."
Players on both sides will definitely be ready, because this game ends the season.
Williams defensive end Jameson DeMarco can also see the journey coming to a close.
"It's super hard" to believe that the season, and his career, is almost over, he said. "We gave it our all out there, and I'm going out with my best friends."
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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