Tufts traveled to Middlebury on Saturday for its last game of the season, but the visiting Jumbos were unable to defeat the Panthers and their high-powered offense.
“We had some injuries early in the second half,” coach Jay Civetti said. “[Defensive backs sophomore Mike] Stearns and [sophomore Sebastian] Rivera both went down. Some of the younger guys had to step in. [Sophomore quarterback Alex] Snyder did some good things. He has really grown and excelled as a player. On the offensive line, [senior lineman] Landon Davis and [junior lineman] Akene Farmer-Michos didn’t play, but everyone needs to be prepared. Next man up is how it works.”
Snyder was starting his second game of the season for the Jumbos, replacing injured senior Jack Doll. Snyder’s offense had difficulty moving the ball as the game began, with its first two drives ending in punts.
On Middlebury’s second drive of the game, junior quarterback Matt Milano led his offense 78 yards down the field over 13 plays, culminating in a 10-yard touchdown pass to first-year tight end Daniel Fulham. Milano completed seven of his 10 passes on the drive for a total of 64 yards.
Tufts was able to respond immediately with its best drive of the game. Snyder had two key rushes totaling 24 yards, which helped bring the Jumbos into Panther territory. Then, after a Tufts holding penalty, on first-and-20 at the 33, Snyder dropped back and found senior running back Zack Trause for a 33-yard touchdown to tie the game.
Middlebury answered with another touchdown reception by Fullham. Fulham was one of Milano’s favorite targets throughout the game as he finished with seven catches for 54 yards and the two touchdowns, but junior running back Andrew Miller was the key on this possession posting 30 of his 60 rushing yards on this drive.
Following Fulham’s touchdown, the Jumbos struggled to move the football, unable to reach midfield on three straight drives. After a short punt by junior Vince Falk, Middlebury began its possession with 1st and 10 on its own 43.
Milano, who was nearly perfect throughout the entire game, hit junior wide receiver Matthew Minno for a massive 57 yard touchdown pass, his third of the half.
Down 21-7 and lining up to punt yet again, the Jumbos were in need of a turnover. They got their wish when sophomore wide receiver Ryan Rizzo fumbled the punt and senior linebacker Tommy Meade recovered it for Tufts.
Great field position and a 20-yard run from sophomore wide receiver Mike Rando brought Tufts inside the redzone. Snyder would find senior wide receiver Greg Lanzillo for a one yard touchdown and, despite a missed extra point, the Jumbos were down by only eight points.
Milano continued his impressive play in the final three minutes of the half. The junior completed four passes for 62 yards and ran for his first touchdown of the game from three yards out. After a blocked extra point, Middlebury took its 27-13 lead into the half.
Tufts was forced to punt on its first drive of the half, which led to yet another Milano touchdown pass. The quarterback was 3-4 for 46 yards and his fourth touchdown pass went to Middlebury’s leading receiver, senior Brendan Rankowitz.
On the Jumbos next drive, Falk, who punted eight times in the game, launched a 47 yard punt to pin Middlebury back to its own 15. But even with the poor field position, Milano and his offense had no trouble scoring. The quarterback found Rizzo for a monstrous 72-yard touchdown pass. The receiver finished the day with five catches for 116 yards and the touchdown.
Milano threw his sixth touchdown pass of the game to Rankowitz from 33 yards out and came out on top with an incredible 442 yards, six touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
Neither team scored in the 4th quarter so when the final whistle blew, Middlebury finished the game with a 48-13 win.
Although Tufts did not get the result it wanted in the final game of the season, the team still had many highlights in an exciting season.
The Jumbos opened the year with a big 24-17 win over the Hamilton Continentals, which ended the school’s 31-game losing streak. Then, the very next week, Tufts beat Bates 42-24 on Homecoming. The Jumbos won a tight game over the Williams Ephs at home a few weeks later, and finished their home schedule with a 28-7 drudging of Colby.
“We have high expectations every year,” Civetti said. “This year’s senior class exceeded expectations. Everybody played a role, from the everyday starters to the players who emerged later on. Our goal always has been and always will be to be champions in the classroom, in the community and on the field.”
Throughout the season, Tufts showed that it has several players on both sides of the ball who can alter a game with just one play. Doll was one of the NESCAC’s best passers until he was injured in the sixth game of the season. He finished the year averaging the fourth most passing yards per game, and was the conference’s leading passer through the first three weeks of the season.
Trause, the team’s starting running back, rushed for 363 yards on the season, but his true impact was felt in the receiving and return games. The senior ran for four touchdowns, caught four touchdowns and returned two touchdowns. His 10 touchdowns were second in the conference and his kick return and punt return averages were both first in the NESCAC.
Defensively, junior linebacker Matt McCormack led the entire conference in tackles with 88, including 17 in the team’s loss to Middlebury. Stearns finished with 76 tackles, which was tied for third in the NESCAC. Meade added 69 tackles (sixth in the conference) and 10 of those were for a loss (fifth).
“[This] was not the way we wanted to end our season, [but at the same time] it was good to see some seniors who have been extremely dedicated to the team get to play in the final game of their careers, and some had big games,” senior tri-captain James Brao told the Daily in an email.
The team finished the year tied for fifth in the NESCAC standings with Bates, and it appears that with a solid recruiting class, the Jumbos could take the next step toward being one of the NESCAC’s elite teams next season.
“I think there are a lot of reasons to be excited for the program,” Brao told the Daily in an email. “A ton of key players are returning next year, and at every position that needs to be filled, there is someone ready to step up. Also, with the taste of success, I expect players and coaches will work harder than ever before to allow this program to take the next step.”