Football Edged by Middlebury in Thriller, 27-26

Football Edged by Middlebury in Thriller, 27-26

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Amherst College senior wide receiver Devin Boehm caught 11 passes for 141 yards and a score, and Jack Hickey '19 rushed for a pair of touchdowns, but a Carter Massengill field goal early in the fourth quarter, and a late interception by Martin Williams proved to be enough as Middlebury College held on for a thrilling, 27-26 victory to end the Purple & White's 21-game winning streak Saturday afternoon at Youngman Field at Alumni Stadium in Middlebury, Vt.

With the loss, Amherst moves to 2-1 on the season, while Middlebury improves to 3-0 overall. The Purple & White, which hadn't lost a game since Oct. 19, 2013, will host Colby College (1-2) next Saturday, Oct. 15 at 1 p.m. at Pratt Field at Lehrman Stadium.

Saturday's back-and-forth battle saw Amherst win the coin toss and elect to defer to the second half. Middlebury took the first half kickoff and orchestrated a 10-play, 73-yard drive that saw the Panthers take an early, 7-0 lead on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Jared Lebowitz to Conrado Banky.

Amherst responded with an 11-play, 69-yard drive on the very next possession that featured a 12-yard rush by quarterback Nick Morales '19, and ended with a 10-yard scamper to the end zone by Hickey to pull the Purple & White to within one at 7-6. Middlebury blocked the P-A-T attempt, keeping the Panthers ahead by one point with 6:41 to play in the first quarter.

Late in the first quarter, Amherst forced Middlebury into a three-and-out deep in Panthers' territory and started a drive at the host's 41-yardline. Morales found Boehm for five yards, and Hasani Figueroa '18 rushed for another yard but the Panthers' defense held firm forcing a long field goal attempt. Purple & White sophomore John Rak answered with a sensational, 52-yard field goal to give Amherst a 9-7 lead with 1:16 to play in the opening stanza.

After a Middlebury fumble by Drew Jacobs was recovered by Amherst's Isaiah Holloway '17 at the Panthers' four-yardline, the Purple & White extended their lead to 16-7 when Hickey rumbled into the end zone from two yards out early in the second quarter.

Middlebury's Wyllis McKissick took Charlie Wall's '18 kickoff 60 yards from his own 10-yardline setting up a short field for the Panthers next drive. Four plays later, Lebowitz found Diego Maritus for a nine-yard touchdown to pull the home side back to within two at 16-14 with 12:49 left in the first half.

Forced to punt on its next possession, Amherst intercepted Lebowitz's next pass attempt as John Callahan '19 made his first collegiate career pickoff to set the Purple & White up at the Middlebury 37-yardline. Amherst, however, could not take advantage of the good field position as the drive stalled.

With time running out in the first half, Lebowitz led Middlebury on a 5-play, 42-yard drive that ended in a 15-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Rizzo at the 1:16 mark to the give the Panthers a 21-16 lead. Amherst responded as Morales marched the Purple & White down the field as Hickey broke free for a 19-yard dash, before Nick Widen '17 hauled in a pair of Morales passes for 13 yards and 21 yards respectively. As time expired in the second quarter, Rak connected on his second field goal attempt of the game, this one from 34 yards out, to pull the visitors to within two (21-19) at intermission.

Receiving the ball to start the third quarter, Morales hit Boehm for a four-yard completion on first and 10 from the Amherst 25-yardline, and Hickey was then stopped at the line of scrimmage setting up a third and six from the 29-yardline. Morales then found Boehm for a 71-yard touchdown strike as the Purple & White reclaimed the lead, 26-21 with 13:47 on the clock in the third quarter.

Midway through the third frame, an opportunistic Middlebury defense forced an Amherst fumble that was recovered by Addison Pierce at the Amherst nine-yard line. John Jackson was credited with forcing the fumble on the play. Four plays later, the Panthers converted a 23-yard field goal by Massengill with 5:31 remaining in the third quarter.

Late in the third frame, a Middlebury drive was kept alive on a defensive penalty by the Purple & White, and resulted in a 26-yard field goal by Massengill with just 10 seconds elapsed in the fourth stanza as the Panthers regained the lead at 27-26.

After the sides exchanged punts on each of the next four possessions, Amherst received the ball back with 3:11 on the clock and still trailing, 27-26. Morales hit Widen for a 25-yard completion on first and 10, and Figueroa was stopped for a three-yard loss on the next play before Morales's next pass attempt was just beyond the outstretched fingertips of Bo Berluti '19 in the end zone. On third and 13 from the Middlebury 33-yard line, Morales's next pass was intercepted by Williams at the 2:22 mark. The Panthers then used a pair of rushes by Meritus for eight yards, and a five-yard dash by Lebowitz to run out the clock and seal the victory for Middlebury.

GAME NOTES

  • Morales was stellar in his first collegiate start, going 28-for-39 for 275 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Hickey picked up 53 yards on 16 rushes and found the end zone twice and now has six touchdowns on the season.
  • Boehm and Widen each made 11 receptions for 141 and 111 yards respectively, as Boehm finished with a 71-yard score.
  • Rak was 2-for-2 in field goal attempts with a long of 52 yards in addition to his 34-yarder. Andrew Ferrero '19 had one of his two punts downed inside the 20-yard line, while Henry Atkeson '20 had six punts for 216 yards, highlighted by a 66-yard boot.
  • Defensively, Parker Chapman '17 led all players with 12 tackles (5 solo; 7 assists), including a sack for a loss of seven yards. Andrew Yamin '19 added 10 tackles (5 solo; 5 assists) highlighted by a sack for a 14-yard loss, while Evan Boynton '17 notched a sack for a loss of 16 yards, broke up three passes, and finished with six tackles.
  • Holloway and Niyi Odewade '17 added a half-sack each, while Paul Johnson '17 was also in on a quarterback sack. Derek Ward '17 and Stefan Soucy '17 each broke up a pair of Lebowitz passes, while Nate Tyrell '19 added a pass deflection to highlight the secondary play for the Purple & White.
  • Lebowitz was 23-for-45 for 261 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Meritus finished with 36 yards on the ground as the Amherst defense held Middlebury to a staggering -13 net rushing yards.
  • Rizzo and Banky caught six passes and a touchdown each for the Panthers and registered 82 and 70 yards respectively. Meritus added four receptions for 22 yards and score.
  • Maxwell Rye was tremendous in the punting game for Middlebury, placing three punts inside the Amherst 20-yard line, including two inside the five-yard line.

BEYOND THE BOX SCORE

  • Middlebury last defeated Amherst in 2012, and snapped its three-game losing streak to the Purple & White with Saturday's win.
  • Rak's 52-yard field goal blast was just one-yard shy of the record for Amherst's longest field goal which was a 53-yarder made by Mike Healy against Bates College in 1977.
  • Rak's 52-yarder does stand as the NESCAC's longest field goal attempt as his boot bested Greg Bemis's (Hamilton) previous record of 51 yards against Bowdoin on Oct. 14, 2000. 
  • With the loss, the Purple & White are now 24-18 all-time against the Panthers in 42 games.