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Panther football knocks off Amherst

MIDDLEBURY — The host Middlebury College football team defeated two-time defending NESCAC champion Amherst on Tuesday, 27-26, handing the Purple & White their first loss since October of 2013, a 21-game span.
The Panthers moved to 3-0, good for a three-way tie for first place in NESCAC with Trinity and Tufts; they will visit Williams (0-3) on Saturday. Amherst dropped to 2-1.
On this past Saturday, Middlebury scored on its opening drive, going 73 yards on 10 plays. A 32-yard connection from quarterback Jared Lebowitz to tight end Daniel Fulham set up a scoring strike from Lebowitz to Conrado Banky from six yards out.
Amherst answered with an 11-play, 69-yard drive to make it 7-6: Middlebury’s Robert Wood blocked the extra point. Quarterback Nick Morales connected four times with David Boehm on the drive for 33 yards to set up Jack Hickey’s 10-yard touchdown rush.
The Purple and White took a 9-7 lead with 1:16 remaining in the first quarter when John Rak nailed a 52-yard field goal.
Middlebury turned the ball over on its next possession, giving Amherst the ball on the Panther four-yard line. The Purple & White capitalized when Hickey rushed for a two-yard touchdown to put his team on top, 16-7, 41 seconds into the second quarter.
The Panthers gained great field position when Wyllis McKissick returned the ensuing kickoff 60 years. They took advantage: A 17-yard connection to James Burke set-up a nine-yard scoring pass from Lebowitz to running back Diego Meritus to make it 16-14.
Middlebury took a 21-16 lead with 1:16 left in the half, when Lebowitz threaded the needle over the middle to Ryan Rizzo for a 15-yard touchdown pass.
It appeared Amherst was going to run out the clock, but a 19-yard rush by Hickey changed the strategy. Four plays later, Rak connected on a 34-yard field goal on the last play of the half, and the Panthers took a 21-19 lead into the intermission.
Amherst received the kickoff to start the second half and quickly cored again. Morales found Boehm over the middle, and he raced 50 more yards for a 71-yard touchdown. The score gave Amherst a 26-21 lead at 13:47 of the third quarter.
Middlebury took advantage of an Amherst turnover midway through the quarter. John Jackson forced a fumble that was recovered by Addison Pierce on the Amherst nine. The Panthers weren’t able to move the ball and settled for a 23-yard field goal from Carter Massengill, cutting the lead to 26-24.
Massengill struck again just 10 seconds into the fourth quarter, booting another field goal, this one from 26 yards out to give the home team a 27-26 lead. The key plays on the drive were a 16-yard connection from Lebowitz to Rizzo and a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty.
The teams exchanged four punts before Amherst took over on its own 45-yard line with 3:11 remaining. A 25-yard completion from Morales to Nick Widen put the ball in field-goal range at the Panther 30. Two plays later on a 3rd and 13 play, Morales looked like he was trying the throw the ball away, but Panther defensive lineman Martin Williams made a tough catch to pick off the pass and seal the Panther victory.
Lebowitz completed 23 of 45 passes for 261 yards with three touchdown passes. Rizzo (82 yards) and Banky (70 yards) each had six receptions and one touchdown. Diego Meritus finished with 58 yards of total offense with a touchdown reception. Amherst held the Panthers to minus 13 yards on the ground.
Pierce and Wesley Becton led the Panther defense with eight tackles apiece. Jackson finished with seven stops and caused a pair of fumbles.
Morales completed 28 of 39 passes for Amherst for 275 yards. Boehm (141 yards) and Widen (111) both caught 11 passes. Hickey gained 53 yards on the ground as Amherst outgained Middlebury, 348-248.

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