Football Drops Season Opener After Letdown in Second Half
In a defensive battle, the football team lost their season opener against Middlebury 17-6. Up next for the Mammoths is a trip to Clinton, New York, to play Hamilton.
The football team opened its 2022 season with a 17-6 loss to Middlebury at Pratt Field this weekend. Although the game held scoreless through the first half, the Mammoths fell to the Panthers after being outscored in the second. The loss marked the first time that the team has lost its season opener in the 21st century.
The Amherst offense started out hot, but couldn’t convert on its opening drive. Quarterback Mike Piazza ’24 led the Mammoths from their own 23-yard line to the Middlebury 10 on their opening drive, completing four passes for 43 yards along the way. However, a crucial interception by the Panthers at their own 6-yard line ended that scoring opportunity for good.
For the rest of the first half, neither offense could muster up much. Piazza’s second interception of the half set up a 35-yard field goal try for Middlebury midway through the second quarter, which they missed wide left. The Amherst defense came up big right before halftime with an interception around midfield by Will Harmon ’25. The interception set up an ambitious 51-yard field goal for Conor Kennelly ’23 in the closing seconds, but that kick was also no good, and both teams headed into halftime scoreless. There were eight total punts between both teams in the first half.
Coming out of halftime, Middlebury’s offense finally found their momentum. An impressive six-play, 83-yard opening drive started the Panthers’ half, which ended with a 27-yard touchdown pass that put the Panthers up 7-0 with 12:48 to go in the quarter. But while Middlebury was picking up steam offensively, the Amherst offense struggled to respond, as the Middlebury defense shut down their run game and the Mammoths were inconsistent through the air.
Later in the third quarter, the Panthers put together another efficient scoring drive, capped off with a 3-yard touchdown run to go up 14-0 with 3:54 left in the third. After another inconsequential drive by the Amherst offense, Middlebury again drove deep into Amherst territory, but the defense stepped up to help swing the momentum the other way. Linebacker Tim Swope ’23 forced a fumble and defensive lineman Anthony Leneghan ’25 pounced on it, giving Amherst the ball at their own 20.
Two plays later, Piazza connected with wide receiver Carson Ochsenhirt ’24 as he was crossing midfield. Ochsenhirt outran the Middlebury secondary, scoring a 75-yard touchdown and putting the Mammoths on the scoreboard. While Middlebury blocked the extra point, the deficit was down to one score, 14-6, with 1:16 left in the third.
Ultimately, the Mammoths were unable to capitalize on their opportunities to return to the scoreboard in the fourth quarter. A seven-play, 49-yard drive, capped by a Middlebury field goal from 20 yards out, put the Panthers up 17-6 with 6:48 left in the game. This was more than enough of a cushion for the Panthers, who left Lehrman Stadium with a comfortable win.
Despite taking the loss, the Mammoths had some bright spots, including a stout run defense that allowed only 58 rushing yards, and a promising connection between quarterback Piazza and wideout Ochsenhirt, who grabbed seven receptions for 112 yards during the contest, including the highlight touchdown.
Evidently, the Mammoths are still looking to find a replacement in the backfield for last year’s leading rusher Kellen Field ’22, highlighted by the fact that quarterback Piazza was the team’s leading rusher on Saturday and had more carries than all the team’s running backs combined (12 attempts for Piazza, compared to only 11 for the team’s committee of running backs). Concerningly, all Mammoth rushers were held to under three yards per carry, minus Alexis Chavez-Salinas ’23 who had one rush for three yards. The Mammoths rushed for only 35 yards all game and gained 242 yards of total offense compared to Middlebury’s 348. Defensively, linebacker Andy Skirzenski ’24 led the team with 10 tackles, nine of them solo. Swope contributed nine tackles, and defensive back Ryan Monteleone ’24 added eight. The turnover differential was even, with each team committing two turnovers apiece.
Amherst will look to get back on track next Saturday, Sept. 24, at Hamilton (0-1), a squad they defeated 21-0 last season. Kickoff in Clinton, New York, is scheduled for 1 p.m.