WATERVILLE — Amherst has dominated New England Small College Athletic Conference football with an opportunistic defense and a balanced offense that doesn’t typically make the mistakes its own defense has feasted off of for the last seven-plus years.

Saturday’s 31-13 win over Colby was another exhibit of why that blueprint works so well for the Lord Jeffs, who are seeking their third consecutive NESCAC championship.

Reece Foy passed for 186 yards and two touchdowns to lead Amherst (4-0) to its 15th straight victory on a blustery afternoon on Seaverns Field at Harold Alfond Stadium.

Colby out-gained Amherst, 400-307, and captured 23 first downs to the Lord Jeffs’ 15. But Amherst forced three turnovers and held the Mules to a 20 percent (2-for-10) third down conversion rate.

“We preach bend-but-don’t-break defense, so that’s what we wanted to come out and do today,” said senior defensive back Jaymie Spears, who had a key interception and return in the second quarter.

“We really wanted to limit their big plays. We didn’t think they had they had any playmakers that could take the top off our defense, so we wanted to keep everything in front of us and tackle,” added senior defensive back Jimmy Fairfield-Sonn, whose late interception return for a touchdown sealed the win.

Jabari Hurdle-Price led the Mules (0-4) with 102 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries and also caught seven passes for 72 yards.

Colby crossed into Amherst territory on seven of 11 offensive possessions. Three of those drives stalled inside the Jeffs’ 30.

“We had some opportunities in the first half, just a couple of busts,” Colby coach Jonathan Michaeles said. “If those get us some points in the first half then we’re not digging ourselves out. The kids fought and I’m proud of that. Just turnovers got to us in the end.”

The first turnover came with the Mules trailing 10-0 in the second quarter after they’d caught a break on special teams when Spears muffed a punt and Colby first-year Sebastien Philemon recovered at the Amherst 40.

Junior QB Gabe Harrington extended the drive with a 14-yard pass to Henry Holmes on 4th-and-8 and eventually led the Mules to the 10-yard line. On second down, he overthrew a wide-open Holmes in the end zone after Holmes’ defender slipped. On third down, Harrington rolled left and threw back across the field to the goal line, where Spears was ready to cut in front of the intended receiver and take it back 38 yards the other way.

“It’s a throwback play and he was open. I’d have to see it on film whether we didn’t get it out on time or there was some pressure in the quarterback’s face. It just happened a little too late,” Michaeles said.

Amherst needed just four plays after Spears’ interception to make it 17-0 on Kenny Adinkra’s 2-yard TD run.

Colby tried to answer on its ensuing series, marching to Amherst’s 20 with under a minute to play. But the Jeffs stopped Hurdle-Price well short of the first down on a 4th-and-10 pass to preserve the 17-point lead for intermission.

The Mules finally broke through on the opening drive of the second half, marching 80 yards on 12 plays capped by Hurdle-Price’s 1-yard TD plunge to make it 17-7. But Amherst answered with six more when Foy, flushed from the pocket, found a wide-open Jackson McGonagle in the back of the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown.

“Reece gave me some time to get open,” McGonagle said. “One good thing we’ve had this year is a mobile quarterback who can extend some plays, especially once he hops out of the pocket.”

The Mules effectively mixed the run and pass on their next series to make it a two-possession game again with Carl Lipani’s 2-yard TD run with 3:45 to go. They gained even more life when Clay Rowland recovered an Amherst fumble at his own 23 with 2:15 left. But after an intentional grounding on first down pushed the Mules back to their own 10, Fairfield-Sonn anticipated Harrington’s next throw perfectly, picking it off and returning it 20 yards to the end zone to clinch it with 1:50 remaining.

“We were doing thirds coverage and he ran the hitch. I jumped it and the quarterback threw the ball behind,” Fairfield-Sonn said. “It was a great coaching call. I just made the play.”

The scoreless first quarter played out as a battle for field position, with each team punting on their first three possessions. Amherst finally got the better of it and got on the board first on Charlie Wall’s 26-yard field goal three plays into the second quarter.

Foy made it 10-0 on Amherst’s next series with a three-yard TD pass to Devin Boehm.

“We’ve had a problem coming out slow playing against Colby,” said Fairfield-Sonn, whose team needed a late touchdown to pull off a 14-10 win on their last visit to Waterville in 2013. “We came out slow again, which is not what we want. But our offense was able to put some points up on the board in the first half and the defense came up big holding them with Jaymie’s pick. That was big momentum for us.”

Harrington completed 23 of 38 passes for 221 yards and two interceptions. Christian Sparacio completed two of five attempts for 44 yards and a pick. Mark Snyder led the Mules with eight catches for 73 yards. Stephen O’Grady had a team-high nine tackles.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmateril33


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