Amherst Gears Up for NESCAC Title Run in 2016

Amherst Gears Up for NESCAC Title Run in 2016

The 2015 season was another one for the record books as the Amherst College football team clinched its second consecutive perfect 8-0 season for the first time in the program's storied history, while also claiming its third straight NESCAC title, and second straight outright crown. They are now tied with Trinity College for most league championships (6).

Amherst's historic season featured 15 All-NESCAC selections – the most ever by the Purple & White – while head coach E.J. Mills claimed his second consecutive Coach of the Year honor, and fourth overall. Amherst is currently riding a 19-game winning streak dating back to Oct. 26, which is a program record, as Mills possesses the highest winning percentage in Amherst football history with a mark of .770 (117-35) in 19 years at the helm of the program.

The Purple & White began their historical march towards another championship with a resounding, 37-14 win over Bates College in the season opener in Lewiston, Maine on the strength of 28 first half points. Amherst then hosted Bowdoin College at Pratt Field at Lehrman Stadium, and for the second straight week, posted 37 points as it cruised to a 37-6 victory over the Polar Bears. Clinging to a 10-7 edge after three quarters in Week 3 against Middlebury College, the Purple & White pulled away in the fourth stanza as Jackson McGonagle '16 scored on a two-yard pass from Reece Foy '18, while Jack Hickey '19 followed with a 30-yard gallop into the endzone to give Amherst a 24-7 win. A 31-13 road win over Colby College, followed by a 27-18 triumph over Little III rival Wesleyan University on Homecoming lifted the team's record to 5-0 with three critical games remaining in the season. 

Against Tufts University, Amherst scored 21 points in the first half to help pull away to a 32-7 win over the upstart Jumbos who had entered the contest with a 4-2 record. The following week, the Purple & White hosted Trinity in a showdown with the NESCAC championship hanging in the balance. Amherst erased a 7-0 first quarter deficit, and scored 16 unanswered points as the Purple & White secured a hard-fought, 16-7 triumph over the Bantams. The season finale saw Amherst complete its second straight 8-0 campaign as the Purple & White scored 17 straight points – all in the second and third quarters – before archrival Williams College was able to pull a touchdown back in the fourth quarter to set the final score at 17-7 during the 130th meeting of "The Biggest Little Game in America", and the first-ever meeting on Farley-Lamb Field. 

Under the guidance of 13th-year assistant coach Matt Ballard, who enters his third season as Amherst's offensive coordinator, the Purple & White are focused on building on an immensely productive 2015 campaign.

Amherst defeated its opponents by an average of 17.75 points last year, while boasting a balanced attack that saw the team lead the NESCAC in several categories: points per game (27.6), rushing yards per game (201.5), yards per rush (4.6), third-down conversion percentage (48%), field goal percentage (90.0%), PATs (24-28), red zone percentage (87%), and red zone touchdowns (18-31).

Offensive Line
The Purple & White will look to replace All-American, and First Team All-NESCAC left tackle Sam Hart '16, and two other starters from the offensive line.

Amherst does return the right side of the unit in Elijah Zabludoff '18, and Mitch Arthur '18 who each contributed stellar sophomore campaigns in 2015 including an All-NESCAC performance from Zabludoff. The group also returns Austin Park '16 who missed most of his junior season due to injury. 

The Purple & White return senior Alex Berluti who played in four games as a sophomore, and threw for 192 yards. Craig Carmilani '18 returns for his third season and will look to make an impact after appearing in six games a year ago.

Sophomore Nick Morales, as well as first-year Ollie Eberth will compete for playing time following a productive preseason.

Running Backs
Despite the graduation of Amherst's top rusher from a year ago in Kenny Adinkra '16, the Purple & White welcome back Hickey, and Nick Kelly '17 who saw plenty of action last season. In his debut campaign, Hickey rushed for 319 yards and averaged a team-high 6.8 yards per carry, and scored three touchdowns. Kelly added a pair of scores and 281 yards on the ground.  Senior quad-captain Myles Gaines will also look to bolster the group this season.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
The Amherst receiving corps features three of the team's top four producers from 2015, including quad-captain Devin Boehm '17 who caught a team-best 41 passes for 555 yards and two touchdowns. Nick Widen '17 hauled in 24 catches for 249 yards and a score, while tight end Rob Thoma '17 amassed 151 yards as a junior. Boehm and Thoma each garnered all-conference honors a year ago.

Now entering his 12th season on the sidelines, and eighth as defensive coordinator, Luke Bussard's defense will once again look to shine in 2016.

Amherst held its opponents to single digits in five games last season, and allowed a miniscule 9.9 points per game as the Purple & White finished the year second in the nation in scoring defense, and 25th in total defense (293.6 yards per game).

Defensive Line
The talented and seasoned defensive line is anchored by senior quad-captain, and 2015 First Team All-NESCAC selection Paul Johnson who made 18 tackles a year ago. He will be joined by classmates Niyi Odewade (Second Team All-NESCAC) and Isaiah Holloway who registered 26 and 17 tackles respectively. Holloway also registered 2.5 sacks – second best on the team in 2015.

A strong linebacking unit features the return of Second Team All-NESCAC honoree Evan Boynton '17, and senior quad-captain Parker Chapman. Boynton finished second on the team in tackles (56) including eight for a loss, in addition to notching a team-high 4.5 sacks. Chapman added 44 tackles, forced a pair of fumbles, and had five pass breakups to help keep opponents off balance.

The secondary will have to do without the services of All-American Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn, Chris Gow and Jaymie Spears who each graduated a year ago. Looking to help fill the void are senior Stefan Soucy '17 and junior Drew Bryant '18 who combined for 43 tackles and three pass deflections during the 2015 campaign.

Entering his ninth season with the program, special teams coordinator Eddy Augustin will look to replace one of Amherst's most successful punters in McGonagle, who placed 19 punts inside the 20-yard line (second most by a NESCAC kicker last season) en route to earning Second Team All-NESCAC honors on special teams.

Charlie Wall '18 will resume kicking duties after earning First Team All-NESCAC honors last season after leading the league in field goal percentage (90.0) and P-A-T made (24). Andrew Ferrero '19 will pick up the punting duties in place of McGonagle.

Amherst kicks off its 2016 season Saturday, Sept. 24 when it hosts Hamilton College at Pratt Field at Lehrman Stadium. The Purple & White last met the Continentals in the 2013 season opener with Amherst claiming a 23-7 victory en route to a 7-1 record that year, and clinching a share of the NESCAC title to begin its string of three straight conference crowns.

The month of October sees Amherst take to the road for a pair games at Bowdoin and Middlebury before returning to the Pioneer Valley for a clash with Colby on Oct.  15. The second half of the Purple & White slate starts on Oct. 22 at Wesleyan for a Little III matchup which will be Amherst's third away game in four weeks. The Purple & White then host Tufts on Family Weekend (Oct. 29), and travel to Hartford, Conn. for a marquee battle with Trinity (Nov. 5), before returning to Pratt Field at Lehrman Stadium for the highly anticipated Homecoming tilt with Williams (Nov. 12).

Not yet a member of the Friends of Amherst Football for the 2016-17 year? Become a first-time member of or renew your membership in the FAA and support Coach Mills and the football program. Make a gift ahead of the team's first home game on Saturday, September 24 against Hamilton at Pratt Field at Lehrman Stadium. Go Amherst!