WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – While this afternoon's homecoming-weekend showdown between Williams and Wesleyan was anything but an ordinary game, the now 7-0 Eph went about their business much in the same manner as they have all season, cruising to decisive 45-7 victory over the Cardinals in a game that featured record breaking touchdowns, exciting defensive plays, and a bounty of Eph offense. With the win, the purple have and gold have ensured themselves at least a co-ownership of the 2010 NESCAC championship, as their final remaining opponent, the previously-undefeated Lord Jeffs of Amherst, fell at Trinity today 28-13.
Students, alumni, parents, faculty, and supporters of the purple bubble community arrived in throngs of purple-and-gold -colored paraphernalia to witness the highly-anticipated duel between Wesleyan head coach Mike Whalen--the former Williams head coach of the past six seasons--and his Eph successor, head coach Aaron Kelton. The contest also featured a matchup of former teammates and co-quarterbacks: Eph senior Pat Moffitt and junior transfer Matt Coyne. In both cases, it was the man wearing the purple 'W' who got the better of his respective counterpart. The Williams offense unleashed for 402 total yards, 22 first downs, and 6 touchdowns while the defense limited the Cardinals and their Division III-leading runningback Shea Dwyer to 189 yards and only 60 through the air, forcing a fumble and intercepting a pass in doing so.
When asked how his team was able to handle the swell of mixed emotions, coach Kelton was quick with his answer.
"The main thing was that we stayed focused on the task at hand," he replied. "We didn't look past this week or get caught up in all the peripheral stuff. I told the guys in pregame that if we concentrate on running our scheme and staying engaged on every down that we wouldn't have a problem. Our goal all week was to maintain our composure and our focus come game time and we did a really good job of that."
Moffitt, in what was possibly his most effective game of the year, threw for 292 yards and 4 touchdowns (plus one rushing) on 18 of 25 passing, while Coyne, who shared QB duties with Moffitt last season, went 8 of 15 for 60 yards and one rushing touchdown. Moffitt's first touchdown of the game was his 18th of the season, setting a new record for most touchdowns thrown in a single-season by an Eph, and he put even more distance between himself and the next man on the list with touchdowns 19, 20 and 21. Number 21 was reeled in by sophomore and big-play receiver Darren Hartwell, and that 10-yard score gave him sole possession of the program record for most touchdowns in a single-season with 9.
"It's hard to keep good players down," chuckled Kelton when what he thought of these unprecedented achievements. "That's really what it comes down too. The success we've had on offense this year is a tribute to the talent of guys like Moffitt and Hartwell. Knowing Pat, he'll beat himself up for throwing a pick, but throughout the season he's done a great job moving the football and guys like Darren and J.C. [Stickney] have stepped it up this year and have made big plays for him."
After self-destructive penalties and a stingy Eph run defense the Cardinals to punt on the game's opening possession, it was Hartwell's 33-yard, near-homerun return and junior Stickney's 3rd-down reception that got the offense rolling on the subsequent possession. The Eph quarterback faked the handoff, rolled to his right, and found Stickney in open space for a 17-yard pickup that moved the chains past midfield. Senior runningback Ryan Lupo finished the job five plays later with a 4-yard scamper to shoot Williams ahead early. Junior kicker Chris Cleary's extra-point and the emphatic drum roll of the Williams College marching band punctuated the 7-0 lead.
Wesleyan found itself with a chance to retaliate on the next series, as a missed tackle and a 27-yard sideline snag-and-run by freshman tight end Kevin Hughes advanced the Cardinals the Williams 14-yard line. The opposing offense was once hampered by penalties, however, and after Whalen opted to run on 3rd-and-long, freshman kicker Sebastian Aguirre booted the kick wide from 35 yards out.
Williams looked as they were primed to capitalize on the missed chance, after a pass interference call pushed the marker within striking distance on the next series. It was at this time, however, that Moffitt threw the aforementioned pick, an attempt that was snatched in double coverage by senior Justin Freres. Coyne would trade mistakes with his one-time teammate on the following Cardinal possession, his errant throw landing in the lap of Eph junior Tyler Cole. With a second try at the endzone, Moffitt made sure to get the ball past the plane, using a shifty play-fake to free up senior tri-captain Jon Carroll for the easy 2-yard lob and the record-setting touchdown toss. Cleary stayed true on his second PAT to stretch the lead to 14-0.
Not to be outdone, Coyne would drive his team down the field on the following possession, a series that ended with a dodgy 11-yard scoot across the goal line by the Wesleyan quarterback himself. With 5:50 left in the half, seemed like the Cardinals were going to make it a closer game than the previous 24 minutes might have suggested.
The Eph offense had a narrative in mind though, and they made sure to dampen their competitor's comeback hopes rather quickly in the closing minutes of the second quarter. On the proceeding drive, the Eph offense showcased their capacity for the quick strike, as Moffitt hit Stickney for 25 yards on the first play and junior Thomas Kearney for a 32-yard touchdown on the next. Senior defensive lineman Tim Kiely helped get the ball right back in the hands of the offense on the very next series, when he sacked Coyne for a 6-yard loose and a fumble that was recovered by fellow senior Pat Barren in Wesleyan territory. Moffitt would punch it in on 3rd-and-goal with a 2-yard endzone dive, a tally that placed the Ephs ahead 28-7 at the half.
"Coach Barrale does a great job every week with the offensive gameplan," praised Kelton, "and he prepared the guys very well for this matchup. The same goes for all the coaches on the staff. The reason we are able to manage the game so effectively against tough opponents like Wesleyan is because we have such a strong strategical foundation, one that all our coaches have helped to lay out."
From that point forward, the game was dominated by the Ephs. The home crowd masses cheered on in delight as the purple cows tacked on point after point to their lead. The second half opened with an 18-yard screen pass to rookie back Alex Scyocurka, and tight end Carrol followed that with a 19-yard touchdown grab to make it 35-7 ballgame. After the defense forced a quick three-and-out, Williams marched right back to the red zone, a drive that culminated with Hartwell's record-setting 10-yard touchdown catch. Arguably Moffitt's finest play of the contest came on the next Eph possession. The New Jersey-native scrambled to avoid pressure and received outstanding blocking from his offensive line, enabling him to heave a 34-yard bomb to a leaping Stickney, who did well to haul it in despite tight man-coverage. This set-up a 32-yard field goal by senior Jeff Lauer, a kick that tied the bow on the 45-7 homecoming win.
With homecoming behind them, the Ephmen will travel to Amherst next Saturday for the game that will decide which Little Three archrival will claim the title of 2010 conference champion. Fittingly, Williams is in position to reenact what the Lord Jeffs did to them last season: complete an undefeated season and seize sole possession of the league crown at the other's homecoming event.
"This was our goal all season and now we've reached another milestone with an amazing homecoming win," reflected Kelton. "At the same time, it certainly won't matter as much if we don't take care of business next week at Amherst. We will need our senior leadership to set the example and carry this team in that game if we want to reach our mark of 8-0.
"Today was Game 7, and next week is Game 8," he summarized. "That's how we've approached it all season. If we continue to rely on that mentality, I'm confident we can return home champions."