Second-Team All-NESCAC RB Fletcher Ladd '04
Nowhere To Go But 8-0 For Amherst Football
August 5, 2002
AMHERST, MA - After finishing 7-1 in 2000 and capping the season with its first victory over archrival Williams College in 13 years, Amherst entered preseason training camp in 2001 with a senior-laden roster, a ferocious defense and a rabid thirst for its first undefeated campaign since 1984. With momentum in tow, the Jeffs ripped through their first seven games like a chainsaw, surrendering just six points through the first five matchups and not allowing a touchdown until the sixth, posting shutout wins over Hamilton College, Bowdoin College and Wesleyan University along the way. All the while, Williams dispatched its opponents with similar undefeated ferocity, setting up a hotly anticipated season finale in which both teams entered the regionally televised "Biggest Little Game in America" at 7-0 for only the third time in 116 meetings. Witnessed by a capacity crowd of over 11,000 at Williams' Weston Field, the game lived up to its considerable hype. With the score deadlocked 17-17 at the end of regulation, each team was granted a shot at the end zone in overtime. Amherst lost the coin toss and was forced to take the first crack, settling for a 23-yard field goal. Williams took over and completed a 21-yard pass play that set up a 1-yard touchdown run and a 23-20 victory in the first overtime game in the history of the rivalry.
Though the loss was agonizing, the Jeffs had much to be proud of. Finishing 7-1 for the second consecutive year, Amherst tied a 21-year old NCAA record by not allowing a passing touchdown all season long, led the nation (all divisions) in scoring defense (6.1 ppg) and finished seventh in pass efficiency defense (77.2 ypg). The Jeffs were also 10th in the nation in total defense (239.4 ypg), 26th in rushing defense (97.5 ypg) and had 12 players earn All-NESCAC honors, including seven on defense.
"It was disappointing for our seniors to go out that way, but it was a great season," said sixth-year head coach E.J. Mills. "Our seniors were winners and did a lot for the program. They had a lot to do with setting the tone for the way our kids approach the game and what's expected of them as players."
Amherst graduated 16 seniors on both sides of the ball, many of them three- or four-year starters and some among the best players in school history. Wide receiver Derrell Wright leads the list of notable losses on offense. The two-time All-NESCAC wideout and one-time All-NESCAC punt returner finished his career with 138 receptions for 2,256 yards, just 80 yards and five catches shy of 11-year NFL veteran and College Football Hall of Fame inductee Freddie Scott's school records in both categories. Running back Okey Ugwonali, a First-Team All-NESCAC selection as a junior, earned preseason All-America honors and finished ninth in the NESCAC in rushing at 73.4 yards per game. Offensive lineman Josh Ahearn was a First-Team ECAC Northeast All-Star, while linemate Colin Renz and Second-Team All-NESCAC tight end Matt Flavin helped the Jeffs average 204.4 yards rushing in 2001. Another outstanding blocker and a clutch receiver, wideout Jerimy Hiltner will also be missed, as will crafty offensive lineman Jay Garvey.
Though the offense has sizeable shoes to fill, graduation left gaping holes on defense. Defensive tackle Pat McGee was the NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year and a Football Gazette and D3Football.com All-American, capping his career as Amherst's all-time sack leader with 29.5 quarterback takedowns in four seasons. Four-year starting linebackers and former high school teammates Dan Lalli and Brian Landolfi joined McGee as First-Team All-NESCAC selections. Lalli led the Jeffs with 79 tackles and was a Third-Team ECAC Northeast All-Star as a senior, while Landolfi racked up 57 tackles and tied for 21st in the nation in passes defended (1.8/gm.). First-Team All-NESCAC strong safety Jay Hutchins and defensive back Geoff Dewire also depart, as do All-NESCAC linebackers Brad Hensley and Gregg Stankewicz. Starting linebacker Gene Nogi and defensive lineman Kevin Bush will be similarly missed.
Despite its considerable losses, the Jeffs' cupboard is far from bare, especially on offense. Charismatic and elusive sophomore quarterback Marsh Moseley saw considerable action in four games as a first-year and was a two-time NESCAC Rookie of the Week selection; once after coming off the bench to throw a pair of touchdown passes in a 23-0 win over Wesleyan, and again after finishing 13-for-30 for 138 yards in a 28-10 win against Trinity College. Senior Jeff Browne is another experienced signal caller, leading the team with 535 passing yards in six games as a junior. Versatile junior Jim Devine - fully recovered after a nagging hand injury forced him to the sidelines for much of last season - should also see time at quarterback as well as wide receiver.
Sophomore QB Marsh Moseley
The backfield has more than enough talent and experience to overcome the loss of Ugwonali, with senior co-captain Jeff Ryan and junior Chris Conroy - both punishing blockers and capable receivers - returning at fullback and senior Kevin Kennard, junior Fletcher Ladd and sophomore Matt Monteith comprising a formidable trio at tailback. Kennard battled injuries to rush for 264 yards and two touchdowns in 2001, while Ladd emerged as an offensive star, finishing second in the conference in rushing touchdowns (7), seventh in rushing average (79.8 ypg) and earning Second-Team All-NESCAC honors.
A host of wideouts are eager to step forward in Wright's absence, including seniors J.P. Zito and Brian Hart (who each caught six passes last year) and Todd Gately, along with sophomores Jason Wagstaff, Russell Lee and Taharqa Patterson. Devine could also see significant time at wide receiver. Junior tight end Alex Popp returns with two seasons under his belt, while sophomore Ryan Sykes, who made great strides as a rookie, is primed for a more prominent role at tight end.
Except for two-time All-NESCAC standout Rob Vernicek and fellow senior Brendan Carolan returning at left and right tackle, respectively, and junior Shane Morrow back as the starting left guard, the offensive line will see some changes. Sophomore Sean Carroll played guard last season but will join sophomore Mike Boiardi at center, while junior Matt Fitzgerald will shift from the defensive line to offensive guard. Sophomore Brian Lyons should also see action at guard. Meanwhile, senior Jon MacKinnon and juniors Chris Dobbins and W. Gee Roe will bolster the tackle slots.
With seven of the Jeffs' eight leading tacklers from 2001 lost to graduation, senior co-captain tackle Pat Hayes and classmate Ryan Moriarty will lead a reloaded defensive line saturated with players eager to step to the forefront. Hayes has experience in such matters, having taken over for an injured McGee midway through his sophomore season before racking up 17 tackles, including two for loss, as a junior. The Jeffs also look for big things from juniors Grier Jones and Mike Harrison and sophomore B.J. Gaddour at defensive tackle. Sophomore Ryan McMullen will bring strength and speed, if not experience, to the nose guard position after missing the bulk of his rookie year due to injury. Sophomore nose guard Mark Lentz was also injured last season, but a strong training camp could put him back in the mix.
First-Team All-NESCAC Punter Geoff Bough '03
The linebacker positions are the biggest question marks on defense, thanks to the void left by graduated four-year starters Lalli and Landolfi and three-year starter Stankewicz. Juniors Dan McNamara and Jordan Konicek and sophomore Matt Birmingham will man the outside slot, with McNamara's 13 tackles in 2001 bringing the most experience to the position. Four returning players will vie for time at inside linebacker. Leading the way is junior Ed Sylvester, the only returning defensive player to have registered a sack (to go along with 25 tackles, three for loss) last season, along with sophomores David Borgonzi, Chris Riordan and T. Bennett.
The Jeffs are a bit more experienced in the secondary with junior Paul Whiting, seniors Joe Rubbone and Grant Webb and sophomore Rob Walsh returning at cornerback. Whiting is a Verizon Academic All-District selection and a three-sport athlete, while Rubbone tallied 26 tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery last season. Senior Jeremy Carroll will take over at free safety after a 19-tackle season in 2001, accompanied by sophomore Rob Sargent. Senior Paul Miceli moves from free safety to strong safety after posting 44 tackles and three interceptions as a junior - tops among returning defensive players. He'll be joined by a pair of sophomores, Chris Scarpelli, a former running back, and Bryan Dolan, one of the team's hardest workers.
The kicking game could be one of Amherst's most potent weapons as the season progresses, with senior Geoff Bough and sophomore David Bodner returning at punter and place kicker, respectively. Bough led the NESCAC and tied for 24th in the nation with a 38.2-yard average as a junior, earning First-Team All-NESCAC and ECAC Northeast All-Star accolades. Bodner shook off early-season rookie jitters to boot a career-long 39-yarder into the wind, as well as a pressure-packed overtime field goal, in the 2001 finale at Williams. Senior Mike Proman adds a strong leg and valuable leadership off the bench.
Wagstaff returned both punts and kickoffs as a first-year and will do so again in 2002. Sargent and Lee could also assume punt return duties, while the ever-versatile Devine, Scarpelli and Sargent are also available to field kickoffs. Rounding out special teams, Webb is a consistent long snapper and Brown and Wagstaff are both reliable holders.
The Jeffs will play a challenging eight-game NESCAC slate, highlighted by the season and home opener against Bates College on Saturday, September 21 - Amherst's first meeting with the Bobcats since a 19-7 loss in the 1999 opener. Additionally, Homecoming kicks off Saturday, November 9, when the Jeffs host Williams for the 117th time in one of the oldest and most storied rivalries in all of college football. Both the Williams game and Amherst's October 19 clash at Wesleyan will be regionally televised on NESN.