Amherst scored 28 points on five Middlebury turnovers as the Jeffs (3-0) picked up a 37-16 win over the Panthers (2-1) on Pratt Field. The Panthers had won 11 of their last 12 outings dating back to the 2011 season.
Also notching five interceptions in the opener, the Jeff defense upped its season total to a league-best 12 picks. Landrus Lewis twice intercepted Middlebury quarterback McCallum Foote, while also pouncing on a blocked Panther field goal attempt in the first quarter. Max Dietz, Christopher Gow and Jaymie Spears accounted for the other picks, with Spears taking his interception back 74 yards for a score.
Despite the five turnovers, Middlebury's potent offensive attack enjoyed success against the Jeffs, finishing with a 484-346 edge in total offense. Against what had been the league's stiffest pass defense (124.0 ypg), Foote tied an NCAA record with 84 pass attempts. His 54 completions set a program record, while falling two shy of the Division III mark. Racking up a personal-best 459 yards through the air, Foote unfortunately also set a career-high with his five interceptions. The Panthers ran 100 plays on the afternoon compared to 68 by the Jeffs.
Starting the opening drive on its own 20-yardline, Middlebury marched 69 yards on 17 plays. Foote completed six of his first nine pass attempts to help give the Panthers a first-and-10 from the 11-yardline, but the Middlebury drive stalled, forcing the visitors to settle for a 28-yard Michael Dola field goal.
Recovering an Amherst fumble on the next possession, the Panthers were right back in business. Needing a stop, the Amherst defense once again kept Middlebury out of the end zone. Lining up a 20-yard attempt, Dola looked to double the Panther lead, but Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn came flying around the left edge to block the kick which Lewis recovered at the Amherst 24-yardline.
Taking advantage, quarterback Max Lippe dropped back on the next seven plays, completing five attempts to give the Jeffs a second-and-six from the Middlebury 39-yardline. Later facing a first-and-10 from the 32, Lippe hit Brian Ragone on consecutive passes to move Amherst inside the redzone. On a third-and-12 from the 12, the sophomore quarterback hit Jake O'Malley, allowing the wideout to race up the left sideline untouched for the score.
Hoping to get something going, Foote faced a first-and-13 from the Middlebury 33-yard line following a holding penalty. Playing a deep ball over the middle, Lewis picked off the pass at the 50, before returning it 45 yards along the near side to the Panther 5-yardline. Punching it in on first-and-goal, Lippe tucked it and ran, giving Amherst a 13-3 margin with 22 seconds left in the period.
With neither team able to gain any traction offensively in the first few possessions of the second quarter, Lewis once again made a play, this time intercepting Foote on the Middlebury 37-yardline. Later looking at a third-and-four from the 19, Lippe threw a rope toward O'Malley near the left pylon, hitting the receiver in stride to help push the margin to 17.
Adding to its tally on its second possession following the intermission, Amherst pieced together a 13-play, 60-yard drive. Completing a 13-yard pass to O'Malley on a third-and-five from the Amherst 44-yardline, Lippe connected with Gene Garay for 13 more on a second-and-10 to set the Jeffs up at the Panther 30. Unable to pick up another first down, Amherst turned to Phillip Nwosu, who drilled a career-high 46-yarder to up the lead to 20-3.
Answering on its next possession, the Panthers needed just 2:47 to cover 64 yards. Foote completed passes of 10, 16 and 25 yards on the drive, before finding Matthew Minno on a six-yard toss to the back of the endzone to trim the deficit to 13 with just over five minutes remaining in the third.
Forcing the home team into a three-and-out, Middlebury put another long drive together, running 16 plays over the next 4:54 to move inside the Amherst 25-yardline thanks to a pair of fourth down conversions along the way. On first-and-10 from the 22, Chris Tamasi broke through the line, sacking Foote for a seven yard loss. Again getting pressure on the senior the very next play, Amherst forced an errant throw which ended up in the hands of Gow, who returned it 27 yards to the 40-yardline.
Wasting little time converting the turnover, Lippe completed his first two passes of the drive, including a 28-yard catch and run on a bubble screen to Garay. Flinging it to Ragone for eight more yards on another screen, Lippe handed it to Adinkra on the next two snaps, with the sophomore crossing the goal line at 12:42 to make it a three possession game.
Facing a fourth-and-four on its next possession from the Amherst 30-yardline, Foote swung it to his left toward first-year Ryan Rizzo, but the ball popped out of the wideout's hands and into the arms of Spears, who raced 74 yards up the far sideline for the touchdown. Getting the ball back, Foote completed his longest pass of the day, a 53-yard strike to Brendan Rankowitz to put the Panthers' inside the 10, before connecting with William Sadik-Khan for a seven-yard score.
Despite outgaining the Jeffs 459-213 through the air, Amherst once again won the battle in the trenches, racking up 133 rushing yards, while limiting the Panthers to 25 yards on 16 carries. Linebacker Ned Deane collected a career-high 16 tackles (11 solo), while Dietz made nine stops.
Enjoying his most productive game of the season, Lippe completed 21-35 pass attempts for 213 yards and two touchdowns. O'Malley led the receiving corps with 77 yards on six catches and two scores. Ragone added 28 yards on three receptions, while Garay totaled 41 yards on a pair of catches.
Once again going with a running back by committee, Adinkra gained 50 yards on 11 touches (4.5 ypc), while Myles Gaines continued to impress, picking up 45 yards on eight carries (5.6). Converting 8-19 third downs and 3-5 fourth downs, Middlebury held a 36:01-23:59 edge in time of possession, running 100 plays to Amherst's 68.
Rankowitz was Foote's favorite target, gaining 140 yards on 11 catches, while Joey Zelkowitz finished with 75 yards on 10 catches out of the backfield. Minno and Grant Luna had nine receptions apiece, combining for 135 yards, while Sadik-Khan accounted for one of the Panthers' two touchdowns with seven receptions. Tim Patricia paced the defense with six tackles, one fumble recovery and a pass break-up.