Football Held Scoreless by Amherst

By Stephen Etna

Some of the greatest games in football history have come in inclement weather – earning titles like the Ice Bowl, the Sneakers Game and most recently, the “Tuck Rule” game. 

The Panthers’ game on Oct. 4 against Amherst, however, did not rank in greatness alongside these other legendary games. The persistent, driving rain that fell over Youngman Field last Saturday interfered with both teams’ offenses, and the Panthers ended up falling 7-0 to the Lord Jeffs despite their confidence coming off of a great performance against Colby on Sept. 27. 

With the loss to Amherst, Middlebury football now has a 1-2 record on the season. With two losses in a relatively short eight-game season, the team now faces long odds in their goal of repeating as NESCAC co-champions this season. While their position is not optimal going forward, the Panthers need to win each of their final five games in order to keep their title hopes alive.

After a quick three and out from the Middlebury offense to start the game, the Lord Jeffs went on to record their longest drive of the day, advancing 66 yards in 11 plays. This ended prematurely when Amherst’s kicker sailed a 23-yard field goal attempt wide left. Middlebury did not capitalize on the momentum, with an ugly sequence on offense that included a false start and a sack, resulting in yet another three and out.

Both offenses would trade possessions until Dan Pierce ’16 intercepted a promising play by Amherst and gave Middlebury the ball on it own 34 yard line. Despite a nice completion on third and long from Matt Milano ’16 to Drew Jacobs ’18 on a day when passing yardage came on a premium, Middlebury did not gain enough yards to keep the drive going and use Pierce’s turnover to full effect. So the Panthers were forced to punt as the first quarter of play came to an end.

In the second quarter, both teams struggled to do much of anything. Neither team advanced into its opponent’s side of the field on offense, and a flurry of three and outs along with fair catches brought the game into the half. 

Amherst, having won the coin toss at the start of the game, elected to start with the ball in the second half. Following a decent kick return, Amherst opened up the half with a 59-yard scamper from running back Nick Kelly, which put them up 7-0 over Middlebury. On the ensuing series, Middlebury, aided by multiple personal fouls by Amherst, advanced the ball deep into Amherst territory. Within sight of the red-zone at Amherst’s 27, the rain again proved to be a massive hindrance to Middlebury’s pass-heavy offense, and the Panthers turned the ball over on downs.

While opportunity presented itself again in the form of Pierce’s second interception of the day, the Panthers offense sputtered to another 3 and out. Following this trend, Michael Dola ’15 recorded 13 punts in this game alone. With the clock running out on this dreary Saturday, the Panthers left the field disheartened to say the least.

It really is hard to take positives out of a game like this- two for 17 on third down conversions, 129 yards of total offense, and less than two yards per carry running the ball. Objectively speaking, these statistics are far from optimal. However, the numbers in no way reflect the talent the Panthers have on the field. Held back by rain, Middlebury simply could not go about business in the manner of which it is accustomed, from the line to the wide receivers.

All things considered, on a day that featured better weather, the Panthers very well could have won this game. 

If there is a silver lining to all the clouds (pun intended) the Panthers encountered on Saturday, it is the continued high-level play of the defense, especially in the secondary. With two picks from Pierce, and Matt Benedict ’15 winning NESCAC Defensive Player of the Week with his 20-tackle effort from the free safety position, the defensive unit has continued to be one of the league’s very best.

The Panthers should be able to rebound nicely this coming weekend when they travel to Williams on Oct. 11, so long as they steer clear of rain.

The Ephs, whose record also sits at 1-2 after three conference games, are another team who is looking to get back into the NESCAC fray in the second half of the season. After falling 19-12 to Bates on Saturday, Oct. 4, however, Williams’ prospects of reaching the top of the league appear bleak.