In sports, there are fewer things that are better to watch than a college football rivalry game. It doesn’t matter whether it’s two powerhouses or a couple of small colleges. Mark Schofield has a preview of the Biggest Little Game in America between the Amherst College Lord Jeffs and the Williams College Ephs.
At noon on Saturday, one of the longest and most bitter rivalries in college football will be renewed. The game will not take place in front of 100,000 screaming fans at a Big Ten school, or in front of a similar crowd of rabid SEC supporters, but at Farley-Lamb Field in Williamstown, Massachusetts when the Williams College Ephs host the Amherst College Lord Jeffs in the 130st meeting between the schools, in a rivalry that has become known as “The Biggest Little Game in America.”
These teams first met in 1884, when the Ephs defeated the Lord Jeffs 15-2. Since then they have played nearly every season. In 1899 they were joined by Wesleyan University to form the Triangular League, and sometime after 1910 they became known as the “Little Three.” Believed to be America’s oldest, continuous intercollegiate athletic conference without a membership change, Amherst, Wesleyan, and Williams compete each season for championships in 24 sports, including football.
Historically, Williams has enjoyed the most success on the football field in this triumvirate, having earned 48 Little Three titles, with their most recent coming in 2010. But recently, Amherst has earned a number of Little Three championships, ending a four-year run by the Ephs in 2009 by winning two-straight titles in 2011 and 2012, and winning one more last year with an overtime victory over Wesleyan and a 17-9 victory over Williams. The Cardinals trail these two teams with just 13 Little Three titles, their most recent in 2013 ‒ a fact not lost on the author of this piece.
On Saturday, the Lord Jeffs look to secure their second-straight Little Three championship, as well as their second-straight NESCAC Championship (the schools comprising the New England Small College Athletic Conference voted in 1999 to formally award conference champions). Amherst is led offensively by sophomore quarterback Reece Foy, who has completed 114 of 193 passes for 1,399 yards and nine touchdowns against six interceptions. Foy comes off of a 12-22 performance against previously-unbeaten Trinity College last week, where he threw for 111 yards and one touchdown, on this slant route to Jackson McGonagle:
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Foy was also solid in the Lord Jeffs’ victory over Wesleyan, throwing for three scores, including this long strike to McGonagle on a deep post route where he buys some time with his feet for his WR to get inside of the playside safety in the Cover 2 scheme:
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McGonagle is third in the conference in touchdown receptions, behind only Matthew Minno of Middlebury College and Charles Ensley of Hamilton College, all while serving as the team’s punter. His teammate, WR Devin Boehm, is another offensive threat with 36 receptions for 489 yards and two touchdowns on the year. He is also a threat in the kick return game, as he shows on this 43-yard kick return against Wesleyan, to set up the long strike to McGonagle:
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The Amherst defense is led by a number of upperclassmen, including its two inside linebackers, senior Tom Kleyn and junior Evan Boynton. Kleyn leads the Lord Jeffs with 53 total tackles, including 6 tackles for a loss, while Boynton is right behind him with 50 tackles, 7.5 of which were behind the line of scrimmage. In the secondary, free safety Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn is a heady defensive back with a nose for the football, leading the team with four interceptions. Here, he makes a big interception in the end zone to help preserve the victory over Trinity:
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Williams seeks to avoid their third-straight 2-6 finish with a win on Saturday. While the Ephs were dominant in the years after 2000, including finishing undefeated in 2001, 2006, and 2010, they have struggled over the past few years. Quarterback Austin Lommen leads the offense, and has completed 62% of his throws for 1,636 yards and eight touchdowns with eight interceptions in 2015. Senior WRs Mark Pomella and Darrias Sime are his favorite targets. Pomella, a converted quarterback, leads the Ephs with 421 receiving yards on 33 receptions, while Sime has notched 38 receptions for 417 yards and five touchdowns, tied with the mark set by McGonagle through seven games.
On the defensive side, the Ephs often employ a 3-3-5 package, and are led by linebackers Michael Berry and Russell Monyette, who have 39 and 37 tackles respectively on the season. Senior defensive lineman Jack Ryan has tallied a team-high 3.5 sacks on the year while freshman cornerback Amyhr Barber leads the squad with two interceptions.
For the seniors in this game, this will be their last Little Three contest, and likely their last football game. Steven Hauschka, who graduated from Middlebury, is the only current NESCAC player in the NFL. Some other players have made the leap from the conference to the NFL: Most recently Ethan Brooks, who played for the Ephs, and gave the author a rude introduction to Little Three football (LINK: Football Life). So for the Amherst players and seniors, this is a chance to cap off an undefeated season and another Little Three title to end a career. But for the Williams seniors, this is an opportunity to ruin the dreams of a bitter rival, while earning a small share of the Little Three championship to close out a career. This drama will unfold on a small stage, in a game known as the Biggest Little Game in America.
Mark Schofield played in eight Little Three games in his college career, and only enjoyed victory once when Wesleyan beat Williams in 1997. He wants to wish all the seniors in this game, and all the NESCAC games this weekend, the best of luck on Saturday and in the future.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
Footage Courtesy of Amherst College