After small but disappointing steps the previous two games, the Bates College football team made a sizable leap Saturday.
The Bobcats won their home opener, beating Williams 19-12. Bates was stellar defensively and produced some timely offense to earn its first win of the season at Garcelon Field.
“We’ve been a work in progress on both sides of the ball,” Bates coach Mark Harriman said. “We talked this week about how the first week we had a phenomenal defensive effort. Last week, it was a pretty good offensive effort. Today, we put it all together.”
Bates scored a go-ahead touchdown late in the first half and then shut out Williams in the second. That included two fourth-quarter drives by the Ephs that the Bobcats stymied when it mattered.
“Coming off the last two losses was definitely tough,” sophomore defensive back Trevor Lyons said. “We’re a team that rebounds. We’re a tough team. That’s what we’re known for, and we had to get it done today.”
Prior to the game, the team recognized John Durkin. The former Bobcats linebacker died while studying abroad earlier this year. He was a junior at Bates.
“It was obviously an emotional day with a tribute to John Durkin,” Harriman said. “We wanted to come out and leave our hearts out here on the the field and the guys certainly did that.”
Bates fell behind in the second quarter after back-to-back Williams touchdowns. The Ephs (1-2) got the second of two Alex Scyocurka scores with 4:45 left in the half.
An interception by Ryan Newson gave the Bobcats (1-2) the ball late in the half and Bates drove 75 yards for the winning score with 24 seconds to play. Facing fourth-and-eight from the 18, Matt Cannone hit Mark Riley for the score and a 13-12 lead.
“That definitely gave us a little momentum,” said Riley, who finished with a touchdown and seven catches for 143 yards. “You couldn’t ask for anything better.”
Bates held Williams to just 54 yards on the ground. Though the Ephs managed to get some yardage through the air, the Bobcats were able to bend a little but make the plays at big moments.
The closest Williams got in the second half was the 21. The Ephs then got a penalty for too many men on the field following a timeout. The Bates pass rush forced a quick incompletion on third-and-12. That forced Williams to try a field goal from 43 yards. Lyons was able to get a hand on it and block it with 10:25 left in the game.
“My coach told me and Gilbert Brown before the game that one of us was going to make that block,” Lyons said. “I knew I could make that play.”
Bates then produced its longest drive of the game, going from the 8 to an insurance touchdown with 2:29 left.
“I think our offense really stepped up today,” Riley said. “Our defense was doing what it’s been doing, shutting them down. We needed that, and they shut them down at the end. We also put one in at the end too.”
The big play on the final drive was a 52-yard pass from Cannone to Riley on third-and-15 from the Bates 46. That set Bates up at the 2. Cannone then plunged in from the 1 a few plays later for the 19-12 lead. Bates used up 7:45 on the drive.
“I was telling the guys that I was glad I didn’t score because it burned off like 40 or 50 seconds,” Riley said. “It was a nice throw. I wanted that the whole time, and I knew I could burn him.”
Williams wasn’t done. A missed extra point gave the Ephs opportunity. Williams got a kick return from Connor Harris that set his team up at its own 40. Williams moved the ball as close as the 31 but with the clock running down and some hard-nosed play in the secondary, the Ephs couldn’t push the chains any further. Lyons had a couple of big plays to break up passes and the Ephs drive stalled with 53 seconds left.
“We came up with some big stops,” Lyons said. “We kind of made some adjustments with our coverage. I think it worked well for us. We made plays when we had to and came out with the win.”
Bates took the lead in the first quarter with a nice 80-yard drive that ended when Cannone pitched to Tyler Janssen to the left side. He rushed 7 yards for the score and 6-0 lead with 1:02 left in the first.
Williams tied it with 6:36 left in the half when Scyocurka scored from the 6. Then after Bates fumbled the ball away at midfield, Williams turned that into a 12-6 lead with 4:45 left. Scyocurka scored again from the 2. He finished with 59 yards on 19 carries. Quarterback Austin Lommen threw for 206 yards on 22 completions.
Cannone finished with 161 yards on 12 completions. He rushed for a score and threw for another. James Semmonella led the rushing attack with 51 yards on 16 carries.
“Oh-and-two coming in, our first home game and winning it for John, it couldn’t have gone any better,” Riley said.