Rivalry Restored: Amherst @ Williams Game of the Week Preview

With Amherst knocking off Trinity last week in impressive fashion, a more dominant showing than the 28-20 final score would indicate, the Mammoths control their own destiny—win their final game and they are NESCAC champions. But that game is the 132nd installment of the Biggest Little Game in America, to be played out in Williamstown where the Ephs have a legitimate chance to defeat their archrival for the first time in a while. Led by a breakout freshmen class, Williams looks to have put their recent struggles in the past, and at 5-3 are certainly good enough to snap Amherst’s 6 game winning streak in the rivalry. With Amherst looking to clinch a championship, and Williams looking to send their seniors off in style and prevent any celebrating from being done on their own turf, this game is truly up for grabs.

Amherst couldn’t have been much happier with how they played last week, snapping Trinity’s 16 game win streak and leapfrogging over them to the top of the standings. While I admittedly did not give them much of a chance in last week’s preview, they did do all of the things I said they needed to do to knock off the Bants. They never let Max Chipouras ’19 get settled in for Trinity, which for him translated to 26 carries for “only” 92 yards and a touchdown. They forced Sonny Puzzo ’18 to beat them and he couldn’t, throwing for 172 yards and an interception. And Reece Foy ’18 hit James O’Regan ’20 for a 55 yard touchdown pass, which means we hit my keys to the game trifecta of:

1. Make someone other than Chipouras beat you

2. Force turnovers and short fields and

3. Hit a home run play on offense.

Not bad.

This Amherst team is legit. It may have taken 8 weeks and a lot of badgering from the Facebook comment sections to make us say that, but following their performance against Trinity they have truly proven themselves. Their lack of a superstar QB and the fact that Jack Hickey ’19 and Hasani Figueroa ’18 split carries for their dominant rushing attack mean that no one on their offense really jumps out at you, and they don’t have the depth of dangerous playmakers on defense that teams like Trinity and Tufts do, but they’re legit. They have the best offensive line in the league, the best linebacking corps in the league, and probably the best group of cover corners in the league as well.

The Amherst secondary did an excellent job on Mike Breuler ’18 against Wesleyan, and will look to do the same to Frank Stola ’21.

But they will be tested in every which way by this Williams team. QB Bobby Maimaron ’21, WR Frank Stola ’21, and the rest of the weapons on Coach Raymond’s offense can put points up in a hurry, and you just know they’ll have some tricks up their sleeve for this one. Their defensive line started out really strong, but has faded in recent weeks. If they can return to their early season form, and link up with their linebackers, who have been really good in their own right all year, this game is going to come down to the wire. This rivalry has been quite one-sided for more than half a decade now, but that’s not going to be the case on Saturday.

Amherst X-Factor: WR James O’Regan ’20

James O'Regan
James O’ Regan ’21 (Courtesy of Amherst Athletics)

Their leading receiver in every statistical category except for the fact that he has one less reception than Bo Berluti ’19 (36), O’Regan ’20 might be the most under appreciated skill player in the NESCAC. His 18.7 yards per catch lead the league and his ability to stretch the field vertically is one of the factors that have gone into Hickey and Figueroa’s success on the ground. The weak spot in the Williams defense is their cornerbacks. They’ve combined for 1 interception, and it was a desperation heave to the back of the end zone against Hamilton. Four different Wesleyan receivers had receptions of 20+ yards, and if O’Regan can hit them for big plays like that, it’s going to be really hard for them to key in on the Amherst run game like they’re going to want to.

Fortunately for O’Regan, at 6’4″ and 200 pounds, he is going to have a huge advantage over whichever cornerback Williams chooses to throw at him. Desmond Butler ’19 is 5’11 and Amhyr Barber ’19 is 5’10. It doesn’t get any bigger at the safety position, so unless they plan on throwing a linebacker like 6’2″ 205 TJ Rothman ’21 on O’Regan in select packages and losing arguably their best run stopper, it is simply going to be an uphill battle for whoever matches up with O’Regan. Everything is set up for him to have a big day.

Williams X-Factor: DE Jameson DeMarco ’19

Jameson DeMarco
Jameson DeMarco ’19 (Courtesy of Williams Athletics)

There were a lot of options for this pick, as is the case when you play a really good team. But beating Amherst begins and ends with stopping the run. TJ Rothman ’21 (3rd, 79), Jarrett Wesner ’21 (7th, 65), and Luke Apuzzi ’20 (9th, 63), all rank in the top ten in the league in tackles, but as those numbers indicate, there’s no doubt that they’ll bring it on Saturday. Instead, it’s the Williams defensive front that needs to really step it up, and DeMarco is going to need to lead that unit. DeMarco leads the team in sacks with 4.5 and is second on the team in tackles for loss, but a lot of those numbers came earlier in the year. This defense made a big splash in Week 3 when they held Trinity RB Max Chipouras ’19 to just 80 yards on 28 carries, by far his most inefficient game of the season, and DeMarco was the main culprit behind that effort, going for 7 tackles, 2 of which were for a loss. Williams as a team hasn’t been tested against a traditional rushing attack really at all since they faced Trinity, being matched up against aerial threats like Middlebury’s Jared Lebowitz ’18 and Wesleyan’s Mark Picarillo ’19, or dual threat QB Ryan McDonald ’19 at Tufts.

While it’s a small sample size, just one game, it was against the league’s best running back in Chipouras, and their performance against a smash mouth back like him should give them confidence in being able to stop Hickey and Figueroa. They have other playmakers on their D-Line such as DeMarco’s counterpart DE Austin Thomas ’19, and NT Chris Hattar ’18, that will be relied on to stop Amherst’s offense, but DeMarco has done it before and he needs to do it again on Saturday.

Everything Else:

 This is going to be a really fun one. The biggest Division III rivalry in the country, and one of the biggest in all of collegiate sports, two exciting, talented teams, and a championship on the line. While College Gameday isn’t going to be in Williamstown this week, this is probably the most exciting installment of this rivalry to take place in the Berkshires since Chris, Lee, and Herbie came to town in 2007. This time last year Williams was 0-7 and Amherst was 3-4. But now the two teams find themselves in much different, better places. Williams has turned 0-7 into 5-3 with some new young stars, and Amherst, after flying under the radar all season, finds itself needing to win one game to win a league title, with the chance to celebrate it on their hated nemesis’s field.

Like any football game really, all eyes are going to be on the quarterbacks. With it being both Amherst’s Ollie Eberth ’20 and Williams’ Bobby Maimaron ’21’s first experience under center in this rivalry, it will be interesting to see how they handle the nerves that come with it. But Eberth ’20 has impressed week in and week out, passing every test along the way, and Maimaron has rarely looked like a freshman this fall. I think both young quarterbacks, and both teams really, will come out and play their best games. Both teams are well coached and in the last week of the season, should be the most prepared they’ve been all year.

Bobby Maimaron ’21 gets his first taste of the rivalry following the worst game of his career. Can he recover?

This game will probably be decided by something as simple as who takes care of the ball better and commits less turnovers. There is enough playmaking on both teams that any of 8-10 guys could be the hero in what will be an otherwise pretty even game (Amherst has the better offensive line and secondary, but it’s just about a wash everywhere else). I may be biased, but if Pete was doing this preview he’d find a way for Middlebury to win the game so I’ll survive (Editor’s Note: Actually if Williams wins this game, Middlebury has a chance to tie for the league title, so Middlebury could actually be won of the winners in this one.) Bobby Maimaron ’21 and his favorite target, classmate Frank Stola ’21, will end their explosive freshman seasons in style, conjuring up the same late game magic they brought to Midd in Week 5, and the Ephs will eke one out in the 30 degree weather on Homecoming, ending a 6 game win streak and Amherst’s title hopes in style.

Final Score: Williams 31, Amherst 27

Top 10 Games of 2015

Bates vs. Bowdoin is always a battle to the end. (Courtesy of CIPhotography.com)
Bates vs. Bowdoin is always a battle to the end. (Courtesy of CIPhotography.com)

Every game matters in the NESCAC, but at the end of the day, some games matter just a little bit more. Here are the games that you have to pay attention to if you are a NESCAC fan.

10. November 11: Bowdoin at Bates

When these teams meet in Week 7, it is likely that NESCAC title hopes for both teams will be out the window, but the CBB title will likely be on the line. Bowdoin could be worn down by the previous two weeks vs. NESCAC heavyweights Trinity and Wesleyan while Bates will be coming off another Maine rivalry match-up vs. Colby. The CBB rivalry games always provide quality football and this game is likely to be the same.

9. October 24: Tufts at Williams

Last year, this game came down to the wire in Medford with the Jumbos stealing a huge win for the program, 27-20, but this year the game flips across the state to western Mass. and Williamstown. This is a pivotal game in the Ephs’ schedule if they want to get back to being an above .500 team. Tufts returns a strong nucleus of players and is likely to make noise yet again in the league.

8. October 17: Trinity at Tufts

Tufts finished last season at 4-4 but got blown out by every team they faced that finished ahead of them (Trinity, Amherst, and Middlebury). This is Tufts’ first shot in 2015 at one of the NESCAC heavyweights and will likely prove if Tufts can join the NESCAC title conversation. Luckily for the ‘Bos they don’t have to travel to the daunting Coop at Trinity this year.

7. September 26: Middlebury at Wesleyan

The 2015 season starts off with a bang as we get two major title contenders squaring off Week 1. Wesleyan appears to be hit hard by graduation losses but they do get RB LaDarius Drew ’15 back who was out with a foot injury all of 2014. Whichever team can come out victorious will have made their path to the NESCAC title significantly easier.

6. November 14: Middlebury at Tufts

It’s hard to say right now how this game will look in Week 8 but clearly this should be a tremendous game provided Tufts can build on the success it had last season. This is one of three huge games the final weekend that will most likely have a big impact on determining the league champion. Tufts looks to avenge an absolute slaughtering in last year’s finale that ended the great season for the Jumbos.

5. October 10: Middlebury at Amherst

This will be Amherst’s first real test of the 2015 season. We will already have seen the Panthers in a big time game Week 1 versus Wesleyan so we should know a lot about the team. A lot of questions about how the 2015 season should unfold will be revealed in this match-up, more so on the Amherst side. Gunslinger Matt Milano ’16 was completely shut down last year by the Lord Jeffs defense, but a torrential downpour didn’t help the Panthers’ aerial attack. Look for Midd to flip the script this year.

4. November 7: Trinity at Amherst

The difference in last year’s game was a missed PAT by the Bantams which allowed the Lord Jeffs to escape the Coop with a 7-6 win. This win last year clinched the NESCAC title for the Jeffs, and it could possibly again this year. But with the Bants reloading from what was a down year for them this game should be even better this year. Both teams have a very realistic shot at being 6-0 coming into this game so this could end up being a pseudo-NESCAC title game. Homefield advantage should play a crucial role for the Jeffs in this one.

3. November 14: Amherst at Williams

Doesn’t matter what the records of both these teams are, The Biggest Little in America game is always circled on the calendars. Per usual, the game will be televised on NESN, but this year it is scheduled for a 1 PM start unlike last year’s game under the lights. Anything can happen in a rivalry game like this, and no matter how good or bad either team has been all season up until this game, it will usually be a toss up. Amherst has won the last four games in the series and if this game wasn’t already big enough, it will be one of the Week 8 games that has a big impact on crowning a league champ. Both run games will be heavily relied on in this one with temps dropping fast at this point in the year in the Berkshires.

2. November 14: Wesleyan at Trinity

The Connecticut rivalry game has been very strong the past few years with both teams in the upper echelon of the NESCAC. Last year’s game came down to the wire with a failed two-point conversion by Trinity being the difference in the game allowing the Cards to hold onto the win, 20-19. Look for this year’s Week 8 match-up to provide the same excitement added by the possibility of this game being for the NESCAC title with Trinity looking to be stronger than last year. This game might not have the same hype as Williams-Amherst, but it looks to be just as good.

1. October 24: Wesleyan at Amherst

Last year this was the deciding game of the NESCAC Championship, and the Wesleyan Cardinals were 23 seconds away from being the champs had it not been for a game-tying 41-yd field goal by the Lord Jeffs. As we’ve said above, the Cards are going to be hit hard by graduation losses, but they still appear on paper to be one of the top teams in the league. In addition, Amherst loses their kicker, Phillip Nwosu ’14, which will be a tremendous loss as their special teams game will likely be weaker than in years past. If the game is close, the Amherst offense is going to have to drive deeper into Wesleyan territory to put points on the board. Whoever wins this game will likely be in the driver seat to win the championship.

Weekend Preview

Marquee Matchup: Amherst (12-3, 2-0) at Williams (6-5, 3-0)

The baseball rivalry lacks the cache of basketball and football, but any time these two schools meet it means a little bit more to everyone involved. Williams sits at the top of West after a sweep of Middlebury, but Amherst is clearly the favorite coming into this weekend after winning both of their games last weekend against Hamilton.

Williams is riding high after their offense showed once again its potency. The double play duo of shortstop Matt Kastner ’14 and second baseman Jack Roberts ’17 has posted insane numbers so far. Roberts is batting a nice .360/.396/.440 slashline in the cleanup spot, but his numbers pale in comparison to the outrageous .583/.659/.753 Kastner has been putting up. The rest of the lineup isn’t too shabby either with upperclassmen Marco Hernandez ’14, Thomas Stevens ’14, and Luke Pierce ’15 along with freshman outfielder Jack Cloud ’17 all posting similarly ridiculous stat lines so far. The problem the Ephs have been having is they are allowing almost as many runs as they score. Thomas Murphy ’15 (2.25 ERA) is the only pitcher with more than eight innings to have an ERA below 10.00. The team ERA is an astronomical 9.22. Williams pitching isn’t about to become nasty, but they can be better starting with cutting down on walks. 65 walks over 83 innings is way too many. The pitching staff needs to throw strikes and let a defense that has been very solid, besides Kastner with five errors, to make plays behind them.

Amherst has the luxury of trotting out three senior starters in Dylan Driscoll ’14, Fred Shepard ’14, and Quinn Saunders-Kolberg ’14 who are all owners of ERA’s  below 1.06. Driscoll hasn’t allowed one run, earned or unearned, in 22 innings so far this season. The bullpen is led by two-way stud and 2013 NESCAC Rookie of the Year Mike Odenwaelder ’16 (ERA of 2.45) and Keenan Szulik ’16 (ERA of 2.53). All of these guys except maybe Szulik are power pitchers who get hitters out more often than hitters get themselves out. This is clearly the best pitching that Williams will have seen all season, and it will be really interesting to see how the battle of good pitching vs. good hitting plays out. The Jeffs offense is led by seniors Alex Hero ’14 and Taiki Kasuga ’14. Hero must have the most steals for a cleanup hitter in the country with 10 bags so far, and Kasuga is getting on base at a not too shabby .444 rate. Andrew Vandini ’16 gets things started at the top of the lineup and has improved on an already stellar freshman campaign, and Odenwaelder and Connor Gunn ’16 provide the pop in the middle of the lineup.

Amherst has swept Williams the last three years in baseball so this represents the last chance for Williams senior standouts Kastner, Hernandez, and Stevens to take one from the Jeffs. I am certain that the pregame speeches by those three will be fraught with emotion for good reason. You can bet it means just as much for all the Amherst seniors to have the legacy of never losing to Williams. The Ephs are probably hoping some of these games finish with scores resembling a football game while Amherst will look to show how balanced and talented they really are. Should be a fun one this weekend.

Two To Watch

1. Brad Reynolds ’14 Pitcher (Bates)

Bates had the unfortunate draw of facing Tufts and Bowdoin in the first two weekends of conference play. They were only able to play one of their games last weekend which was a loss, and the series this weekend could define their season. If they take two of three they jumble up the East behind Tufts, but losing the series puts them in a hole that would be tough to recover from. That makes Reynolds start this weekend so important. The southpaw has been knocked around a fair amount this year giving up three home runs and sporting a 4.64 ERA, but he looked good last weekend going six innings against Tufts and only allowing two runs. His K/9 rate of 9.70 is up from last year, and his walks are way down as well. If he pitches like the ace Bates need him to be the Bobcats have a chance to shake up the East.

2. Jason Buco ’15 Outfielder (Colby)

Colby has flown under the radar so far because of their late Florida trip, but they posted a very nice record of 8-2 down south. They have their first games up north against Trinity in Hartford. Buco is the outfielder and two sport athlete who does it all for the Mules. He already has two home runs and three stolen bases to supplement his .514 OBP. He needs to have big games this weekend both at the plate and in the outfield. With the emergence of last week’s NESCAC Pitcher of the Week Scott Goldberg ’15 on the mound, the Mules are looking to surprise a Trinity team that can’t take anyone lightly this season. With Tufts playing a non-conference double header against Colby-Sawyer, the hierarchy of the East could either become very clear or extremely cloudy after this weekend.