FOOTBALL: Opener lost in final minutes
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Colby College football took Williams College down to the wire in its season opener last Saturday, September 26. Unfortunately, the Mules could not hang on to a late game lead and ultimately lost 19-23. Colby outplayed the Ephs for nearly three quarters of play and ultimately had its victory stolen away when Williams led a game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter.
Friends and family, who had flooded the campus for family homecoming' weekend, joined the student body at Harold Alfond stadium to witness one of the more exciting home openers in recent history. "It was a tremendous atmosphere," said head coach Ed Mestieri said. "Small college football at its best. I think the fans appreciated the quality of the game and the excitement it produced." In the opener were three lead changes and physicality from both teams that kept everyone on the edge of their seats. "Everyone's support is so greatly appreciated," co-captain Roger Bel '10 said. "It was inspiring to have full stands with not only alumni and family, but moreover our peers."
The opening offensive drive for Colby set the tone for the game. Last year, the Mules relied heavily on the running game, but it is clear 2009 will deliver a more dynamic offense. Quarterback Nick Kmetz '12 (128 yards passing) used a play action fake to bomb a 44-yard pass to Connor Walsh '12 on the first play of the game to get the ball to the Williams' 21-yard line. "That first play was important as a tone setter," Mestieri said. The Mules then capped off the electrifying 65-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run from Dan Prunier '10 (42 yards rushing, two TD).
Williams got on the board with 12:44 left in the second quarter when a punt return of 21 yards and a Colby penalty gave the Ephs a good field position. The Colby defense bore in and Williams had to settle for a 29-yard field goal by Scott Soboleski. Likewise, just before the end of the first half, Colby stopped another promising Williams drive. Mestieri believes these defensive stands were a good sign. "Keeping them out of the end zone; making them settle for field goal attempts. These are important plays." Off the defensive stand, Colby took a 7-3 lead into the half.
Colby went up 13-3 with 10:29 to play in the third after outside linebacker Bel intercepted a pass and returned it to the Williams' 40-yard line. The Mules used six plays to drive and eventually ran Prunier in the end zone for another four-yard score.
In the third quarter, Williams used a combination of Pat Moffitt (153 yards passing) and Matt Coyne (37 yards passing, 37 yards rushing) at quarterback to disrupt the Colby defense. Moffitt is more of a pocket QB, whereas Coyne has greater athleticism and can scramble when the play breaks down. The dichotomy in styles was effective. Coyne scored on a six-yard run with 1:44 to play to cap a 76-yard, seven-play scoring drive.
On the ensuing Colby possession the Mules fumbled on their own 34-yard line and Williams' Matt Zanedis picked it up and returned it for a touchdown to give the Ephs their first lead at 13-17. The crowd was stunned but Colby football did not lose their cool. On their next offensive possession, Colby drove the field for another score on a Kmetz 2-yard run, and while they missed the extra point, they still took a 19-17 lead with 8:49 left in the game. Colby was 3/3 in touchdowns in the redzone for the day. "By putting together a 17 play scoring drive after a turnover to regain the lead shows our resiliency," Mestieri said.
Williams was not willing to back down to adversity either. On their final offensive possession, Moffitt and Coyne engineered a 69-yard drive. The extensive series milked enough minutes off the clock that by the time Coyne ran 16 yards into the end zone, Colby only had 2:08 left in the fourth to come back. The Mules could not get a first down in the final minute, and Williams effectively sealed its 23-19 victory.
The Mules believe this gut-wrenching loss will not define the 2009 season. "It certainly is disappointing," Mestieri said. "But our optimism is genuine in the sense that this is a good football team and we all know it." Just last year Colby was shutout by Williams 28-0 in their only meeting. However, lessons were still learned from the mistakes of the game. "We gave up a lot of penalty yardage and left a lot of plays on the field," Bel said. In a refe rence to the missed extra points and turnovers, Mestieri reiterated, "We need to execute better and eliminate the costly mistakes that are the difference in a game like this."
"We are going to continue to do the good things we did, and learn from our mistakes," said Bel. Next Saturday, October 3, Colby football takes on New England Small College Athletic Conference opponent Middlebury College in week two of the season.