Football | After historic loss, Jumbos look for redemption

Playing at home has its advantages, but junior defensive lineman Donnie Simmons simply can’t deny his affection for the beauty of the Jumbos’ road uniforms.

Thanks to a pair of games at Zimman Field to open the 2010 season, the football team’s brand−new, all−white jerseys have remained relatively unused and haven’t yet seen the gridiron. It’s about time for that to change.

The Jumbos (1−1) will head to New Brunswick, Maine, tomorrow for an afternoon NESCAC matchup with Bowdoin (0−2) in Tufts’ first road contest of the year. After last weekend’s 21−20 Homecoming loss to Bates, Saturday’s contest with the Polar Bears will serve not only as a chance to break out the new uniforms, but to forget about the loss to the Bobcats and move on with the still−promising season.

“I think after the game everyone was a little disappointed, but we’re moving on,” senior quarterback Anthony Fucillo said. “I think guys will have that taste in their mouths, but we’re going into Bowdoin like it’s any other game. Whether we won or lost last week, guys are just really getting into focus.”

Things didn’t go quite as planned against Bates last Saturday. The one−point loss snapped a 24−year win streak against the Bobcats and placed the Jumbos in the middle of a muddy NESCAC. In Tufts’ new spread offense, Fucillo shattered school records for single−game completions and attempts but also threw four interceptions.

In the practices leading up to the game against Bowdoin, the focus was not on remedying any issues with the system or the Jumbos’ intensity, but rather on improving the mental game. Against Bates, Tufts committed 11 penalties, the most since a 12−penalty effort against Bowdoin on Oct. 7, 1995, though the Jumbos reached the 11−penalty plateau on three other occasions in that 15−year span.

“Honestly, I feel like we’re kind of caught off−guard a bit,” Simmons said. “It didn’t go as planned against Bates, so I think we’re all in a more removed state and more in the trenches. Hopefully we can play with the mentality of a sleeping giant. People have been sleeping on us, seeing we lost, so hopefully we can come in and knock some heads off.”

The mistakes, however, fail to tell the whole story. The Jumbos led for the majority of the game, buoyed by two touchdown passes from Fucillo and a pair of field goals by junior kicker Adam Auerbach. Fucillo finished with 341 passing yards, 13 short of the Tufts single−game mark, and senior wide receiver Greg Stewart had a career−high 13 catches and 126 yards. Junior linebacker Ferras Albitar tallied 17 tackles, and now has a NESCAC−best 26. Senior Brian Danshaw also forced a fumble and leads the conference with two on the year.

“Why should anything change; we lost one game by a point,” coach Bill Samko said. “There were a lot of good things from that game, some positive things and certainly things that we have to improve on, but Bates made some plays. You just tip your hat to the other guy and recognize that they actually made a few more plays than we did.”

The Polar Bears, meanwhile, are off to a winless start, thanks to back−to−back losses against Williams and Amherst, two of the top three NESCAC teams in 2009. Led by preseason All−American wide receiver Pat Noone, the Polar Bears will look to get back on track at home against the Jumbos, who the Polar Bears last beat in 2008.

In that game, a 28−26 Bowdoin win, Fucillo completed 64 percent of his passes for a 240−yard, two−touchdown outing that came within a two−point conversion of sending the game into overtime. He didn’t face the Polar Bears in the 2009 regular season after suffering an ankle injury in a preseason scrimmage against them just weeks before. The past two decisions between the two teams, which include Tufts’ 25−22 overtime Homecoming win in 2009, have been decided by a total of five points.

Noone, a junior, became the program’s all−time receptions leader in the Polar Bears’ 38−7 loss against Amherst on Saturday and led the NESCAC in 2009 with 76 receptions, 997 yards and seven touchdowns. Bowdoin, through two games, has attempted 90 passes, third−most in the conference. The Jumbos thus far are second in the NESCAC in pass defense, having allowed an average of 184.5 yards per game through the air. Setting the tone with a furious pass rush will be key, according to Simmons.

“Our communication has been up this week, so hopefully we can get after the quarterback and make some plays, get some turnovers and get the ball back in our offense’s hands,” he said. “It’s so crucial because that’s going to help not only the linebackers, but the defensive backs in their coverage. If you can get some pressure on the quarterback, make him move his feet and move him around the pocket, then that’ll get him off his reads.”

For a team whose mantra is “win the day,” the Jumbos certainly seem focused on putting the loss behind them and getting back on the field. That time will come on Saturday in the all−whites.

“During the week, it’s a little kick in the butt to get guys going,” Fucillo said. “Hey, you lose one, but the sun came up on Sunday and we’re playing again. It’s one loss. In this league, the competition is very even. I don’t think anyone’s really that great and anyone can beat anyone on any given Saturday. We want to respect Bowdoin like we would any other game.”