Football: Shootout at Seaverns
Going into the final game of the season, Colby College football stands to finish 5-3 in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) and to carry the CBB title back to Mayflower Hill with a win against Bowdoin this Saturday, November 24. Did anyone see this coming?
Once upon a time, Colby was 0-2 and hurting. Although it may seem as if I'm overstating the devastation, let's be honest: it was a hard 0-2 to swallow. In the opening game of the season the Mules lost in the last minute to the powerhouse Williams College 19-23 and the very next week Colby traveled to Middlebury College in redemption, only to suffer a 45-0 trouncing.
In such a short season, it seemed that this initial hardship was going to be too much to overcome in such a short season. "It takes tough minded people to play this game and adversity is an inevitable part of all sport; one has to be ready to deal with it," Head Coach Ed Mestieri said. "Self pity is just not allowed."
Ever since the day when the outsiders thought the season was lost, Colby has not only proved them wrong, but also has become one of the elite teams in the conference. Every aspect of the Colby team stepped its game up. The first three contests after Middlebury were all about defense: a unit that now ranks third in the NESCAC in total yards allowed. The last two games have highlighted a blossoming offense that can run and gun with the best offensive teams in the conference.
"In this league you never know what to expect," senior captain Roger Bel said. "What we did know though is that we would need to play 60 minutes every single game. When we put together a complete effort we can compete with anyone in the league."
This last Saturday, November 7 the Mules did just that, and emerged the victors in a 34-31 shootout with Tufts University in the final home game of the season.
Both teams came out with efficient offensive drives right off the bat. Colby scored on a 1-yard run from Dan Prunier '10 after a balanced possession but Tufts rebutted with a 48-yard kickoff return and eventual rushing touchdown of its own.
After a failed Colby possession, Tufts turned around and scored on a 4-yard scoring pass with 10:28 to play in the quarter. They took this score into the half, but Colby hung tough and denied Tufts points after they started a drive in Colby territory off a Nick Kmetz '12 fumble. Although the game was a high scoring affair, the Mules still did their jobs on defense when it counted. "Defensively our kids played their tails off, "Mestieri said. "Three times in the red zone we held them to field goal attempts with them only making one. We had guys making plays all over the field."
With 9:01 left in the third quarter the Jumbos stretched their lead to 14 points when running back Pat Bailey hit a seam and broke through the Colby secondary for 94-yard touchdown. The crowd appeared stunned, as Colby has controlled the run so well all year.
With the score 21-7 and the ball in Kmetz's hand (16-for-26, 273 yards passing, 53 yards rushing), the Colby offense kicked in gear and decided to put on a show. Quarterback Kmetz, with seemingly unshakable confidence, threw four touchdowns in the second half to three different receivers. The first three offensive possessions for Colby after the score read 21-7 all ended in scoring strikes. Kmetz found receivers Matt Hellinger '11 (5 catches, 107 yards 2TDs), Nate Carson '11 (2 catches, 29 yards, 1TD) and Patrick Burns '11 (5 catches, 81 yards 1TD) on 26-yard, 26-yard and 29-yard touchdown passes, respectively. Kmetz received the NESCAC offensive player of the week award for his performance in the second half.
Tufts finally settled and went 40 yards on eight plays to cut the lead to 27-24 on a 25-yard field goal by Adam Auerbach with 9:08 to play.
On Colby's next drive the Kmetz-Hellinger combo stayed hot. Hellinger beat his cornerback off the snap and caught a soaring 41-yard pass for the touchdown.
In addition to the passing game, all day the Colby offensive line allowed for a balanced attack with the run. Prunier rushed for 77 yards on 19 carries.
"We're blessed right now with a very good offensive line and outstanding skill players. Being strong in both areas has given us more flexibility," Mestieri said.
After a Tufts touchdown with just 2:28 to play made the score 34-31, Colby was able to run out the clock and avoid a last minute Tufts comeback.
Now the Mules will look to bring back the honor of the CBB title in this Saturday's game against Bowdoin and complete the full turnaround for the season. A large contingency of Colby students will travel down to Brunswick to cheer on the Mules against a Maine rival. "We look forward to the outpour of support we get every year at Bowdoin," said Bel. "This year I anticipate our fans, who have been outstanding, will help us on the road when it matters most."