AMHERST, Mass. – Amherst College football celebrated their first ever Pride Game on Saturday afternoon at Pratt Field, and the game between the Mammoths and visiting Middlebury College was an exciting double overtime affair that ended with the Panthers victorious 34-31.
Both teams entered play with perfect records in New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) play, with Amherst falling to 3-1 and Middlebury improving to 4-0.
The wild game included a combined seven interceptions and saw Middlebury take a 21-0 lead in the first quarter, only to have Amherst storm back with 28 unanswered points.
Middlebury junior quarterback Will Jernigan threw for 306 yards and three touchdowns, including a 9 yard game-winning touchdown pass to Maxwell Rye as he scrambled out of the pocket on third down of the second overtime, with Amherst leading 31-28 thanks to a 31-yard field goal by Conor Kennelly '22.
The teams went scoreless through the first extra period, with both Jernigan and Ollie Eberth '20 throwing interceptions on their first overtime possessions.
Amherst picked off Jernigan three times, while Eberth was intercepted on four occasions, though he did throw for a pair of touchdowns and rush for 55 yards on the ground.
Brandon Huff '22 and Kellen Field '21 each also ran for 55 yards on 12 carries and each found the end zone on the ground for Amherst as well. Huff was just shy of 100 all-purpose yards with 42 receiving yards on five catches.
Middlebury, who had a 469-367 advantage in total yards, got off to a fast start when Kevin Hartley intercepted Eberth on the first possession of the game. Jernigan found Rye for a 53 yard pass down the right sideline and Alex Maldjian finished off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown rush.
Maldjian, who rushed 30 times for 125 yards, found the end zone again, this time with a 40 yard scamper, to double Middlebury's lead with 4:47 left in the opening period.
Two plays into Amherst's next possession, Eberth was intercepted again by Michael Carr, and the Panthers wasted no time in turning that into points. Jernigan found Frank Cosolito on the first play from scrimmage and the pass play went for 32 yards to the end zone.
Amherst began their comeback early in the second quarter when Eberth found James O'Regan '20 for a four yard touchdown to cap a 10 play, 84 yard drive. It was the fifth time that Eberth and O'Regan have hooked up for a score this year, and the senior wideout caught five passes today for 74 yards.
With a missed extra point, the teams went to the break with Middlebury ahead 21-6.
The Mammoths cut the deficit to a touchdown when Eberth found Luke Mallette '20 for a six yard pass on the home team's opening possession of the third quarter. Mallette also caught the two-point conversion attempt to make the score 21-14 Middlebury.
It was Amherst turning turnovers into points in the second half. First, a strip sack of Jernigan by Manni Malone '22 was recovered by John Schiano '22, and turned into a game-tying four-yard rush by Huff.
Matt Durborow '21 picked off Jernigan on the second play of their next possession and Amherst finally got themselves in the lead when Field finished off a 9 play drive with a two-yard score.
Middlebury struck quickly to tie the game at 28 with a 54-yard pitch and catch from Jernigan to Greg Livingston with 6:21 to play in regulation.
Amherst stalled on their next drive, and the Panthers got the ball and marched to the Amherst ten yard line with thirty-three seconds remaining in a tie game. On second and five, Ballard intercepted Jernigan in the end zone to keep the teams knotted at 28, but Amherst had just seconds left before regulation expired.
Durborow had another interception on Middlebury's first overtime possession but Finn Muldoon returned the favor and picked off Eberth to send the teams to a second extra frame.
In Amherst's second overtime, Field rushed for 11 yards to start things off on the right foot, but the Mammoths couldn't get another first down and took the lead when Kennelly connected from 31 yards out.
Middlebury moved the ball thanks to rushes by Maldjian and Jernigan and a seven-yard pass to Rye. On third and six from the nine, Jernigan rolled out to his right, pressured by Malone and Cam Hubbard '22, but was able to find Rye open in the end zone for the game-winning score.
Joe Kelly '21 had 11 tackles, a forced fumble and five quarterback hurries to lead the Mammoths. Nick Tighe '20 was also involved with nine tackles, six of them solo. Ballard had two pass breakups to go with his interception and six tackles.
For Middlebury, Jack Pistorius led all players with 13 tackles, two of them for a loss. Alex Norton was disruptive with five quarterback hurries and Wyllis McKissick had ten tackles and a quarterback hurry.
The Amherst College Football Pride Game was co-sponsored by the Queer Resource Center, Amherst Athletics, the Amherst College Football Team, and Amherst Athletes and Allies, a club committed to promoting the support of LGBT student-athletes within the athletic department. The goal of today's event was to promote the inclusion of LGBTQ athletes and celebrate them for the outstanding student-athletes that they are. Amherst football is proud to support all of its members, welcoming all sexual orientations and gender identities.
The Mammoths are home again next weekend when they will host Bowdoin at 1:00 PM.