For Tufts football, the streak is over

– Tufts senior tri-captain James Brao lunges to make a tackle during the first half of Tufts' 24-17 victory against Hamilton. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

After 1,456 days and 31 losses, the Jumbos have finally come out victorious. More than 3,500 fans packed Ellis Oval on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, hoping that this would be the day that their Jumbos would emerge as winners. The Tufts squad did not disappoint, beating the Hamilton Continentals 24-17.

“It’s a great opportunity for the university, great thing for all those people that have supported us from the top down,” coach Jay Civetti said. “The university has provided us with as many opportunities as [it] can to be successful. This is a tremendous thing for the community, I think. I turned around, and fans were rushing the field, guys were happy, alums were there. I think it was just a culmination, and it really spoke to the community that we have here.”

The game began with a lengthy 59-yard kickoff return from Tufts sophomore wide receiver Mike Rando, who works as a dual threat in both the running and passing game. Despite the great field position, the Jumbos’ offense was unable to move the ball.

Hamilton’s first possession started with junior tailback Jeffrey Hopsicker taking snaps out of the Wildcat formation. Hopsicker had four carries and one reception for a total of 41 all-purpose yards on just the first drive. However, once the Continentals approached the Jumbos’ red zone, the home team stepped up.

Tufts’ defense, particularly its pass rush, was strong throughout the game.

On this first drive, the situation was 3rd-and-6, and Hamilton had the ball on Tufts 19-yard line. Hamilton’s sophomore quarterback Chase Rosenberg was already 2 for 2 for 20 yards on the drive and was looking to give his team the early lead. Tufts junior defensive end Evan Anthony blew past the Hamilton offensive line to sack Rosenberg and put the away team out of field goal range.

“I think Chase is a real threat. He clearly can throw the ball, he’s got a lot of talent and he’s someone that I remember from when we were recruiting him out of high school,” Civetti said. “I think it was a point of emphasis to the defensive line, ‘look this is their threat, this is their guy, he’s a difference-maker, and he can win a game for them.’ I think the D-Line took it upon themselves to make an effort and be able to get to him.”

On the Jumbos’ second drive, senior quarterback Jack Doll led the team all the way down to the Continentals’ 29-yard line before their drive stalled. The scoreless tie was finally broken late in the first quarter by sophomore running back Chance Brady.

Brady received the handoff from Doll at the Hamilton 32-yard line. He busted past the Continentals’ defensive line and then flew up the left sideline for the long touchdown run. The crowd roared as the emerging star running back jogged back to the home team’s sideline.

On the very next possession, Rosenberg’s offense had the ball at midfield on 2nd-and-10. The quarterback, who was outstanding throughout most of the game, broke past the Jumbos front seven and sprinted along the right sideline for a spectacular 45-yard run. Tufts’ gutsy defense stuffed the opposing offense on four straight plays, culminating in a fourth down incomplete pass by Rosenberg.

The home team began its drive at its own two-yard line, but was forced to punt after a three and out. The Continentals started with the ball on Tufts’ 30, and on second down, Rosenberg threw arguably the crispest pass of the game. He found sophomore wide receiver Charles Ensley in the back of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at seven.

Statistically speaking, Ensley was the game’s best player. He caught 14 passes for 175 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. He and Rosenberg were completely in sync from wire to wire. However, despite their connection, the team would be playing from behind for the rest of the game.

Immediately after Ensley’s touchdown, Rando found a hole in the kicking team’s defense and was able to maneuver his way down to the Hamilton 16-yard line for a 67-yard return. The Jumbos could only muster a few yards on their first three plays, though, so they had to settle for a 30-yard field goal from junior kicker Vince Falk.

Doll was the most valuable player on Tufts’ next drive. He completed four out of six passes for 46 yards and a touchdown. After finding Rando twice to bring the Jumbos inside the red zone, Doll hit senior running back Zack Trause on a swing pass. After tiptoeing along the left sideline, he reached the end zone. Despite a missed extra point, Tufts still had a two-possession lead with the score 16-7 at the half.

The Continentals received the ball after the break, but a penalty-laden drive led to a quick punt. After receiving the ball, the Jumbos continued to rely on their strong rushing attack, led by Brady and Trause.

“We’re very fortunate to have both of those backs,” Civetti said. “We believe in both of them. They’re both tremendous athletes. I think we’ve got two 1s back there. We believe in our offensive line. We believe in our run game. It was really a great team effort in terms of being able to run the football.”

Hamilton’s freshman kicker Zachary Altneu nailed his 28-yard try to narrow the gap to six with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter. Just before the quarter ended, Doll made the play of the game.

The Jumbos quarterback had played the role of game manager throughout the first three quarters. He rarely took risks and made no mistakes. At this point in the game, however, Tufts was looking at a 3rd-and-11 at midfield with a six point lead. Rather than dumping the ball off to one of his slanting receivers, Doll launched the ball 30 yards down the middle of the field to sophomore wide receiver Ben Berey. The throw was perfect.

“The offensive line was incredible yesterday, so I knew I’d have a few seconds to throw the ball, and I found Ben. He ran a great route and made a great catch,” Doll said.

After a seven-yard run from Berey and two rushes for nine yards from Trause, the home team was knocking on the door. On 3rd-and-goal, Doll threw to junior wide receiver Jack Cooleen in the front of the end zone. The referee in the end-zone made a questionable defensive pass interference call, which led to an automatic first down for Tufts at the one-yard line. Trause scored easily, and Doll found his junior tight end Xavier Frey for the 2-point conversion.

Down by 14 with just over 13 minutes to play, the Continentals put the game in the capable hands of Rosenberg. While he made several impressive plays, both with his arm and his legs, the constant pressure from the defensive line made a comeback almost impossible. In Hamilton’s next three drives, the team never made it past Tufts’ 35-yard line.

On offense, the Jumbos continued to pound the ball to their workhorses, Brady and Trause. The offensive line continued its near-mint performance, which allowed Tufts to run the ball 45 times in the game.

“Running the ball, we always emphasize physicality, trying to knock the defensive line back, and I thought we did a great job of that,” senior center Landon Davis said. “At the start of the season, one of our goals was to allow no sacks every game, which is great because we give our quarterback plenty of time back there to make plays for us.”

With just under 30 seconds to play, Rosenberg finally reached the end zone in the second half. He found senior wide receiver Patrick Donadio for a three-yard score. However, it was too little too late for the Continentals.

Hamilton’s quarterback wound up throwing for 301 yards and rushing for 62, but Tufts’ staunch defense stopped the away team for nearly the entire second half. The defensive attack was led by Evan Anthony, senior captain Tommy Meade and sophomore cornerback Mike Stearns, who led the game with an extraordinary 18 tackles.

“My hat’s off to head coach Murray and the guys — they fought to the very end,” Civetti said. “They deserved the victory just as much as we did, and I was just really impressed with their team effort.”

While the Jumbos were not perfect, this was not a lucky win. Tufts fought hard from start to finish, and the team showed that it has enough talent to hold its own against NESCAC opponents.

“It’s really exciting,” Davis said. “It’s been a while, and the feeling is unbelievable, indescribable. I think we have this momentum going, and it’ll carry forward.”

“It was a great day for all of us, but we have high expectations for the year,” Doll said. “One win is not going to satisfy us. We’re going to stay at it and keep working hard and approach every game with every intention to win.”

After the game’s final play, the stadium erupted, and thousands of fans rushed onto the field to greet their beloved Jumbos. Not only is the team 1-0, but Saturday was a day that members across the Tufts community will never forget.

The team was finally able to capture that elusive victory that it has coveted for so long.