LEWISTON, Maine -- Kevin Ferber returned a Bates fumble 62 yards for a touchdown as time expired on the first half, changing the complexion of a game the Bobcats had controlled for the most part, and Amherst went on to win 20-7 in the season opener for both teams on Saturday at Garcelon Field.
The score was tied at 7-7 and Bates had the ball at Amherst's 25 with one play left on the game clock in the second quarter. The Bobcats, who had moved 43 yards on 10 plays in their drive, decided to take a shot into the end zone, but as quarterback Trevor Smith rolled to his left, he was sacked from his blind side and stripped of the ball at the Amherst 30 by Mike Aldo. Ferber was there to scoop up the ball and outrun the only Bobcat who had a chance of catching him, Bates junior running back Patrick George (Gloucester, Mass.), up the right sideline for the go-ahead touchdown. Amherst went into intermission with a 14-7 lead, despite a 12-4 Bates advantage in first downs, a 19:07 to 10:53 edge in time of possession and a 183-113 edge in total offense.
Amherst added a pair of field goals by Matt Rawson to its lead in the second half, a 38-yarder in the third quarter and a 42-yarder in the fourth quarter. The Lord Jeffs ran the ball 33 times for 150 yards in the second half to salt away the clock, while Bates was forced to punt five times and turned the ball over on three other possessions in the second half.
Eric Bunker ran for 106 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries for Amherst, while Ryan Silva added 62 rushing yards. Blake Grauer completed 14 of 25 passes for 83 yards but was picked off three times by Bates.
For Bates, Smith completed 24 of 41 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown -- a 6-yard scoring connection with sophomore Kevin Davis (North Andover, Mass.), Davis's first collegiate score. But Smith was also sacked six times and picked off twice.
Senior John Squires (Swampscott, Mass.) grabbed seven catches for 89 yards to lead all receivers, while George gained 63 yards on the ground, including 50 in the first half. After rushing for 43 yards on 22 carries in the first half, Bates' running game dwindled to produce just five yards in the second half on 14 carries.
Aldo had three of Amherst's three sacks, and Matt Sponheimer notched two others. Danny Chun and Matt Pieterse had 12 tackles apiece for the Lord Jeffs.
Senior Cam Evans (Norwell, Mass.) had two timely interceptions for Bates in addition to 10 tackles, while sophomore Andrew Kukesh (Exeter, N.H.) had a game-high 13 tackles (9 solo) and Kevin Helm added 12 more (9 solo). Junior Kyle Starr (Concord, N.H.) also had an interception to go with five solo tackles.
Amherst scored a touchdown on its first possession of the game after taking the ball over at the Bates 35 thanks to Aldo's blocked punt. Bunker converted a 4th-and-1 situation to keep the drive alive with a 6-yard scamper. Two plays later, he ran off-tackle for a 1-yard score.
The teams traded scoreless drives three times, before Bates got into the scoring column to tie the game at 7-7. The Bobcats started out at their own 13, but got a quick first down on a 3-yard completion to Davis followed by a 9-yard catch by Squires. A 19-yard completion to Squires and a 16-yarder to Curit helped the Bobcats charge into the Amherst red zone. On 3rd-and-goal at the Amherst 6, Smith found Davis wide open over the middle for the tying score with 3:23 left in the half. Bates' defense held Amherst to three and out on its next possession, and the Bobcats were trying to get a halftime lead before Amherst turned the tables on the final play of the quarter.
Both teams traded three and outs to start the third quarter, but Amherst got some offensive traction on its next possession, driving 42 yards on 11 plays before Rawson's 38-yarder with 9:00 left in the third quarter.
Amherst threatened to increase its lead in the final minutes of the third, reaching Bates' 19 after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty assessed to the Bobcats moved them from the 35 into the red zone. But on Amherst's next snap, Kukesh separated Mike Samela from the ball and senior Will Taft (Hamilton, Mass.) recovered at the 17. Bates had the ball for the start of the fourth quarter, but Ferber sacked Smith for a 4-yard loss that stunted Bates' drive.
A fumble on Bates' next possession was forced by Aldo and recovered by Evan Rosenstein, giving the Lord Jeffs the ball in prime field position at Bates' 15. A tackle for a loss and a holding penalty backed the Jeffs up to the 30, but Amherst got five more yards back to give Rawson a 42-yard field goal opportunity, which he nailed for a 20-7 lead with 6:51 left in the game.
Bates plays host to Tufts next Saturday at 1 p.m. as part of Parents & Family Weekend. All four of Bates' home games feature video webcasting. Check Bates' page at First Team Broadcasting to tune in. Also follow along with the game via Live Stats.