WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – One might imagine that rookie head coach Aaron Kelton was feeling some jitters this afternoon in the first game of his tenure at Williams College. But this was far from the case, and the 33-15 Eph victory over Bowdoin to kick off the 2010 season confirmed the overwhelming confidence Kelton had in his squad, a faith that kept the Massachusetts-native in steady spirits throughout his debut.
"I slept well last night, and I was pretty relaxed when I came into the office this morning," remarked a beaming Kelton. "I knew that our guys were prepared for the game and that it was just a matter of getting over any opening game jitters we might have had and executing our gameplan.
"It was a lot of fun. I love these kids. They worked their tail off for me this week and I'm very proud of the way they performed today."
Indeed, the intense preparation that Coach Kelton referred was apparent right from the opening offensive series, as they established their ground game on the legs of running back Ryan Lupo. The junior back, who led the NESCAC last season with 857 yards, carried the ball for 16, 10, and 5 yard games on the drive, marching the unit straight into the red zone.
"They [Bowdoin] knew we were gonna run the ball," admitted Kelton. "That was our plan of attack all week and we weren't trying to hide it from anybody. They're a little smaller than we are, and we felt good about our ability to move the ball on the ground and operate our offense off the run."
On a subsequent 1st-and-10 at the Polar Bears' 15-yard line, senior quarterback Pat Moffitt found junior wide receiver Bryce Bennett in the flat on a screen play. Bennett eluded several Bowdoin would-be tacklers and hustled over the goal line for the first Williams score of the season. Senior Chris Cleary booted the extra point through the uprights cap off an efficient 2:46, 8-play drive that gave the Ephs an early 7-0 advantage.
Bowdoin tried to establish the passing attack on their opening series, a scheme that had achieved great success for the Polar Bears last season. R.J. Shea was only able to complete one pass out of five on the drive, a 4th-down reception by fellow junior Pat Noone that came up a yard shot of the marker.
Williams took over on downs but quickly gave the ball back to Bowdoin on Lupo's fumble. However, the same fate was soon to plague Polar Bear running back Zach Donnarumma, as the first-year lost the ball inside the Eph twenty-yard line. Bowdoin fell victim to a red-zone fumble on their next possession as well, thwarting a 40-yard drive.
Both offenses continued their struggle well into the second quarter, but this prolonged scoring drought was offset by a maelstrom of action in the final minutes of the half. With 4:07 remaining in the second quarter, Williams took over at their own 30-yard line. Facing a 3rd-and-3 on the first set of downs, Moffitt dropped back and spotted sophomore wide out Darren Hartwell on a slant route for a 14-yard pick up to move the chains past midfield. Lupo followed up that gain with a strong 18-yard carry on a trap play, and rookie back Alex Scyocurka rushed forward for another 12 yards on top of that, setting up 1st-and-goal. Lupo finished the job, diving into the endzone for a 6-yard touchdown run. Cleary stayed perfect on the day, kicking home his second point-after to make it a 14-0 Williams lead.
It appeared that score would hold up for the half, but the Polar Bears had other ideas. Senior quarterback R.J. Shea and the Bowdoin offense had been stymied by turnovers for the majority of the half, but they managed to flip the switch on their final possession, advancing the ball into Eph territory with a rapid-fire pass attack. A 20-yard connection from Shea to Noone set up a 22-yard touchdown heave to the back of the endzone, with senior receiver Brendan Garner pulling down the toss for the score. Bowdoin failed to punch in the extra point, but the Eph advantage was cut to 14-6.
The first-half action didn't end there, however, for on the ensuing kickoff, sophomore returner Hunter Lent ran the ball all the way down to the Bowdoin 2-yard. Williams could only run one play, and Kelton and the staff decided to take a risk and go for the touchdown. To the home crowd's dismay, Lupo was tripped up near the line of scrimmage and could not break the plane. A perturbed Kelton could be heard voicing his frustration in the locker room, telling his team that they owed him a touchdown for that failed conversion.
The Ephs would have to wait to make good on this debt, for Bowdoin started the half with the ball and went right back to the air. Shea delivered a strike to senior wide out Paul Hinman for 23 yards before finding him in the endzone for a 6-yard touchdown catch. Suddenly, the comfortable 14-point lead Williams had with 00:41 to go in the second quarter was reduced to a slim 2-point edge within five minutes.
"I think we got a little relaxed out there on defense in the middle of the game," conceded Kelton. "We forgot about the kind of sudden offensive strike their squad is capable of. I have to give a lot of credit to their guys. Dave Caputi [Bowdoin's head coach] does a great job with those guys and they executed very well.
"We have a long way to go defensively. At the same time, it's tough because it's the first game. We were playing a lot of guys in new positions, and we didn't have a lot to go off of…since we haven't played them in a while. We didn't have much to scout and we were going off the cuff for the most part."
The Ephs looked like they would counter that touchdown in their first offensive possession of the second half. Moffitt sold a play fake convincingly on 2nd-down of the first series, opening up the field for a deep post to B.J. Griffin who received the throw in stride and sprinted down the sideline to the Bowdoin 20 yard line. Despite the big gain, the Ephs failed to capitalize, as several failed attempts through the air produced a turnover on downs.
As it turns out, it was the Eph defense that would provide the offensive redemption that their coach had demanded at halftime. On the subsequent Bowdoin drive, Shea had his 1st-down pass intercepted at the 35-yard line by Pat Barren, who tucked it in and dashed into the endzone for the defensive score. Fouts tacked on the extra point to put the Ephs up 21-12.
"Pat Barren's play was a gamebreaker," acknowledged Kelton. "He made a tremendous effort out there all day, but that play really turned the momentum in our favor."
Bowdoin did their best to retilt the tide, converting a field goal on their next drive. The score was set up by a successful sideline pattern from Shea to Garner for a 32-yard completion that moved the ball inside the Williams 10-yard line. The Eph defense did not let the Polar Bears advance any farther though, which forced out senior kicker Bill Donahue. He booted home the 26-yard kick to shrink the margin, 21-15.
The Polar Bears, who had been plagued by ill-timed turnovers throughout, were finally on the beneficial end of such a play during the next series. In closing snap of the third quarter, Moffit's short toss was picked off by Bowdoin linebacker Ian Viera, who was brought down at the Williams 30-yard marker.
On the resulting set of downs, a 3rd-down carry by Donnarumma cleared the first down marker by the tip of the ball for a fresh set of plays. However, later in the drive, Eph lineman Chris Cameron broke through the line and made an outstanding move to strip the ball from the freshman back at the Eph 5-yard line. Barren fell on the loose ball for Williams, their third fumble recovery on the day. Just when it seemed that an interception had given Bowdoin a chance to reverse the course of events, another costly Polar Bear fumble dashed these hopes and put the Ephs back in the driver seat.
As a result of the turnover, Williams was forced to start the following drive from their own 5-yard line. Moffitt and the Eph offense were up to the challenge though, orchestrating a 17-play, 7-minute, 95-yard drive for the fourth Williams touchdown. The long series was jump-started by Griffin's 29-yard catch-and-sprint, play that brought the chains out to midfield. A big 4th-down reception by senior tight end Jon Carroll extended the drive, and it was eventually capped-off by a 4-yard touchdown pass to Bennett, a throw made possible by Moffitt's athletic bootleg scramble. Bennett's second touchdown put his team up 27-15.
With time dwindling in the fourth frame, Bowdoin had to get the ball in the endzone on the following possession if they were to have a chance. After Barren nearly came up with his second pick on a diving effort, the Eph defensive line brought down rookie back Kevin Miao behind the line of scrimmage, creating a fourth and long situation. Shea could not find an open man on the fourth-down play, and the ball went to Williams with less than four minutes remaining in regulation.
The Eph running game, which, according to Kelton, had only erratic success up until the fourth quarter, ended the day on an encouraging note in the closing series. An exhausted Bowdoin defense could not contain the relentless push of the Lupo-Scyocurka rush duo and the offensive line, as Williams ran the ball deep into Polar Bear territory, taking valuable time off the clock. A 4-yard touchdown dive by Lupo put a tidy bow on the win.
The victory was quite the gift for the new head coach, who will be celebrating his 42nd birthday tomorrow. Yet even with so many emotions factoring into the moment, Kelton retained a strong sense of modesty and perspective.
"It was a hard-fought game, and my hat's off to Bowdoin and their staff," said Kelton. "Overall, it was a very emotional day, and…while it feels good to get the win, we have a lot more work to do. There's still a lot of season left to play."