MIDDLETOWN, CT –- An unrelenting fourth-quarter defense, led by senior captain Dan O'Mara, produced three straight turnovers on Wesleyan's final three possessions to make a 40-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Joe Mallock standup and secure a 19-17 victory for Williams (5-2) over NESCAC rivals, the Wesleyan University Cardinals (3-4). Ephmen Colin Curzi, Ben Halbower, and Dan O'Mara were all able to force turnovers during each of Wesleyan's last three possession, feats that allowed the Ephs' narrow lead to remain intact.
With 4:48 remaining on the clock, Mallock stroked the game-winning field goal, a forty-yarder that put the Ephs on top for good. "When I hit it I wasn't sure it was gonna go through," Mallock said, "but I was sure happy when it did. "
"This was one of our better team wins," head coach Aaron Kelton remarked on the bus-ride back to Williamstown. "We just talked about making the game personal; that's what it's about. Going out there and making plays one snap at a time. They all worked together on that field today, and you've just got to be proud of that."
The Ephs began the game, as they often do, with a dynamic offensive performance in the first quarter. Adam Marske connected a soaring 26-yard pass to Darren Hartwell to snag the Ephs' first TD off their initial drive start. A successful PAT brought them to a 7-0 lead less than four minutes into play.
Mallock finished off a second drive start as he sent the ball 33 yards and between the posts for a field goal. This increased the lead by three, and the Ephs were up 10-0 at the close of the first quarter.
The Cardinals summoned a response with eight minutes remaining in the half as former-Eph QB, Matt Coyne, sent Jay Fabien diving into the end zone off 41-yard scoring strike. This offensive charge lessened the gap, and the score shifted to 10-7.
The Ephs were quick to retaliate, however, with Hartwell taking his second trip to the end zone, catching a well placed 21-yard pass from Marske. Mallock's PAT was blocked, and the scoreboard read 16-7 in Williams favor.
With less than two minutes remaining in the half Coyne secured a 20-yard pass to Jonathon Day. This touchdown was followed up by a scored PAT, and the Cardinals were nearly caught up. The teams closed out the half with Williams on top 16-14.
Cardinal kicker, Sebastian Aguirre, snagged another three points for Wesleyan with an 18-yard field goal ten minutes into the second half, giving the homestanding Cardinals' their first lead.
And, opening the fourth quarter with a decisive move for a comeback, the Eph defense was in full force. Powerhouses like Curzi, Canina, Whyte, and Oliva put Coyne under pressure, forcing seven of his pass attempts to fall incomplete over the finalo 15 minutes.
When Coyne attempted to carry the ball himself, Ben Halbower was able to force a fumble and the ball was recovered by Colin Curzi at the 50 yard line.
In the ensuing Eph drive, the Eph offense looked again to Mallock, who delivered the forty-yard field goal to regain the lead for Williams, 19-17 with less than five minutes on the clock.
"I'm really pleased with the way Joe played today," Kelton noted. "He was able to deliver for us when we needed him. I'm proud of him for getting those key kicks; nothing's perfect but he came through today for sure."
The Ephs shut down their opponents' next march down the field when Curzi forced a fumble from Cardinal RB, LaDarius Drew. Emmanuel Whyte was quick to snatch it up, and the Ephs gained possession once more at their own 30-yard line.
And, in the final turnover of the quarter, Dan O'Mara snatched Coyne's pass out of the air, returning it for eight yards in front of Williams bench, a turnover that allowed the Ephs to close out the game with their 19-17 lead intact.
"Defensively, we really dominated today. They were able to slow down the pace a little bit, which helps," Kelton explained. "The seniors especially are realizing that it's coming down to the end of the road for them so they're really turning it up. It's showing in a truly great way on the field."
Marske completed 17 of 27 pass attempts, earning the Ephs a total of 228 yards and two touchdowns. This topped Coyne's 192 yards off 15 of 31 successful pass attempts. "The kid's [Marske] a fighter," Kelton said of his QB. "He's a fighter and a winner and there's something to be said about that. He's working his tail off and he's getting better every week. It's a good feeling to watch him become a really great QB for us."
Williams had a phalanx of solid receivers on the day, with Hartwell snagging five passes for 83 yards, Tomas Kearney with three for 64 yards, Stickney also hauled in three for 46 yards, and Sam Krieg nabbed two for a total of 23 yards. Cardinal receiver Jay Fabian caught three passes for 53 yards.
Defensively, Dan O'Mara led the charge with five solos, six assisted tackles and his final interception. Schultz and Curzi were close behind with totals of seven. Canina had four solos and two assists for a total of six. Nikola Mirkovic completed three solos and three assists, while Ladd Hamrick aided his teammates for a total of five tackle assists.
Jordy Greene and Brett Bandazian were the Cardinals' top defenders on the day. Greene had seven solos and three assists, while Bandazian had six and four.
Collectively, the Ephs gained a net total of 376 offensive yards to the Cardinals' 252.
Kelton is eager for next weekend's Homecoming Game against archrival Amherst College. "It'll be a classic battle of Williams-Amherst and we're going to try to really perform the way an Eph team needs to. They way I know we can."
The 126th Williams - Amherst contest next Saturday on the Ephs' Weston Field will determine the Little Three title for 2011 as both the Ephs and Lord Jeffs have defeated Wesleyan.
Kick-off is scheduled for 12:00 pm.