Middlebury handed Amherst its first loss since October of 2013 (21 games) as the Panthers improved to 3-0 with a 27-26 victory on Youngman Field at Alumni Stadium. The Purple & White (2-1) had posted back-to-back perfect seasons in 2014 and 2015, capturing the NESCAC title in each of those years. Middlebury returns to action next Saturday at Williams, while Amherst hosts Colby. Middlebury moves to 3-0 for the first time since 2012 when it opened with a 5-0 mark.
Middlebury scored on its opening drive of the game, going 73 yards on 10 plays in 3:50. A 32-yard connection from Jared Lebowitz to tight end Daniel Fulham set up a quick scoring strike from Lebowitz to Conrado Banky from six yards out.
Amherst answered with an 11-play, 69-yard drive to make it a 7-6 game after Middlebury's Stewart Denious blocked the extra point. Quarterback Nick Morales connected four times with David Boehm on the drive, gaining 33 yards to set up a 10-yard rush into the end zone by Jack Hickey.
The Purple and White took a 9-7 lead with 1:16 remaining in the first quarter when John Rak split the uprights from 52 yards out.
Middlebury turned the ball over on its next possession, giving Amherst the ball on the Panther four-yard line. The Purple & White quickly capitalized when Hickey rushed for a two-yard touchdown to put his team on top 16-7 only 41 seconds into the second quarter.
The Panthers had great field position on their next drive after a 60-yard kickoff return from Wyllis McKissick. A 17-yard connection with James Burke set-up a nine-yard scoring pass from Lebowitz to running back Diego Meritus to make it a 16-14 game.
Amherst's John Callahan picked off a pass midway through the second quarter, but Amherst turned the ball over on downs after a long snap was mishandled on a punt.
Middlebury took a 21-16 lead with 1:16 left in the half as 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 out on the last play of the half as the Panthers took a 21-19 lead into the intermission.
Amherst received the kickoff to start the second half and kept its momentum going. Morales found Boehm over the middle before the receiver raced 50 yards down the field for a 71-yard touchdown reception. The score gave Amherst a 26-21 lead at the 13:47 mark of the third quarter.
Middlebury took advantage of an Amherst turnover midway through the quarter as 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, this one from 26 yards out to give the home team a 27-26 advantage. A 16-yard connection from Lebowitz to Rizzo along with a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty were the key plays on the drive.
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 picked off the pass to seal the Panther victory.
Lebowitz finished the afternoon 23-45 for 261 yards with three touchdown passes. Rizzo (82 yards) and Banky (70 yards) each had six receptions and one touchdown. Meritus finished with 58 yards of total offense with a touchdown reception.
Pierce and Wesley Becton led the Panther defense with eight tackles apiece as Pierce caused and recovered a fumble. Jackson finished with seven stops, 1.5 for lost yardage, caused a pair of fumbles and earned a sack.
Morales completed 28-39 passes for Amherst for 275 yards and a touchdown. Boehm (141 yards) and Widen (111) had huge days, both catching 11 passes with Boehm scoring a touchdown. Hickey gained 53 yards on the ground, finding pay dirt twice.
Parker Chapman led all players with 12 tackles and a sack, while Andrew Yamin made 10 stops with 4.5 tackles for lost yardage and a sack.
Amherst outgained Middlebury 348-248 on the day, holding the Panthers to -13 rushing yards. The Panthers converted 9-20 plays on third down and scored on five of six chances in the redzone.