Tufts overcomes 14-point halftime deficit for away win at Bates

Senior Jack Cooleen catches a touchdown pass against Bates on Sept. 27, 2014. Matt Schreiber / The Tufts Daily

Tufts defeated Bates 17-16 at Garcelon Field in Lewiston, Maine to improve to 2-0 on the season, while dropping Bates to 0-2. The Jumbos surmounted a 14-0 halftime deficit by scoring 17 unanswered points. Despite giving up a safety in the fourth quarter, a fumble recovery by Tufts on the ensuing possession all but sealed the victory.

Down by one – 17-16 – following a safety and with roughly 11 minutes left in the game, Bates marched from their own 47-yard line to Tufts’ 1. Bates sophomore running back Ivan Reese converted a 4-yard run on fourth and three from Tufts’ 13-yard line to set up a first and goal. Three run attempts later on fourth and goal from the Tufts 1-yard line, Reese attempted to jump over the pile, but Tufts stripped the ball away into the end zone and recovered. Bates had one more drive beginning at 1:42 but did not make it past their own 34.

“I think it came down to the players wanting to compete and having the ability to press pause and reevaluate,” coach Jay Civetti said. “We talk a lot about how you respond to an event. I don’t believe that you have to do something miraculous. You just have to reevaluate, you have to reassess, you have to figure out what the problem is as quickly as you can and you have to improve it that one percent in order to be more successful.”

The play prior, the Jumbos gave up a safety. Backed up on his own goal-line, Jumbos sophomore wide receiver Mike Miller snapped the ball over the head of junior punter and last week’s NESCAC Special Teams Player of the Week Willie Holmquist, who managed to dive on the ball and roll out the back of Tufts’ end zone to prevent a Bates touchdown. Miller is filling in as long-snapper for injured sophomore linebacker Wes Hartmann.

“Mike’s out there doing something for the team to the best of his ability because we think he’s the best at it, so if there’s anybody that’s going to own [responsibility for the safety], it is going to be me,” Civetti said. 

Earlier in the fourth quarter, Tufts first-year cornerback Tim Preston intercepted Bates senior quarterback Patrick Dugan to earn his first college interception.

“[Defensive backs] coach [Kevin] Farr is really good at preparing us for the games, so we knew what was coming at us,” Preston said.

In an extremely rare occurrence, the Jumbos technically ran two plays at the end of the third quarter in zero seconds of regulation time. Civetti strategically called a timeout just before the end of the third quarter to force Bates to punt against the gusting wind. On Tufts’ ensuing drive, offsetting offensive holding and defensive pass interference penalties caused a repeat of Tufts’ second down play. However, the clock had already run down to zero seconds, meaning the Jumbos would get an untimed play, which, after an incomplete pass and another penalty on Tufts, resulted in a second untimed play.

On their second untimed play, Tufts junior quarterback Alex Snyder hooked up with senior wide receiver Jack Cooleen for a 45-yard gain, tying himself for the longest catch of the day for either team. The Jumbos finished off the drive with Holmquist’s game winning 34-yard field goal.

Cooleen led the Jumbos in receiving, consistently finding space behind the Bates secondary, catching seven balls for 178 yards and earning both of the Jumbos’ touchdowns.

“We saw a hole early in their defense, and I think our offensive coordinator did a great job exploiting it throughout the second half,” Cooleen said.

In the third quarter, Snyder found Cooleen all alone in the left side of the end zone. The wide receiver dropped to his knees for another 45-yard catch and Tufts’ first score. With two minutes remaining in the third quarter, Snyder again found Cooleen behind the defense on the left side for a 25-yard touchdown to tie the score at 14-14. Bates switched first-year defensive back Arthur Churchwell to the right side to cover Cooleen, but at that point the damage had already been done.

“Just coming out of the gates [in the second half] we knew we had to get downfield, and that’s also Alex [Snyder’s] strength; he can stretch the field vertically with his arm,” Civetti said. “Jack Cooleen obviously showed his abilities yesterday — that receiving corps, they are a pretty gifted group of guys.”

Neither team had success moving the ball in a first half that saw 10 combined punts. Tufts had an opportunity to put points on the board at the end of the half, but Holmquist missed a 22-yard field goal attempt with heavy pressure coming from the right.

Bates’ second touchdown drive started on the Tufts 49-yard line in the second quarter after the wind took Holmquist’s punt out of bounds after just 14 yards. Despite first-year defensive back Alex LaPiana forcing a fumble, Dugan was able to find sophomore slot receiver Mickoy Nichol in the end zone.

A low snap to Holmquist in the first quarter forced the punter to suffer a tackle for loss and turned over the ball on downs at Tufts’ 14-yard line. Bates slot receiver Frank Williams punched in a 1-yard touchdown four plays later for the first score of the game at 1:28.

Tufts defensive line sacked Dugan four times and forced three fumbles, preventing Bates from gaining the momentum crucial to their triple-option offense.

“The last two weeks, we’ve been fortunate enough to have some guys make some big time plays for us at big time moments in the game,” defensive line coach Kyle Duncan said. “[Senior captain and defensive lineman] Corey Burns made a play on the first series that was able to force a fumble out there, which was important for us… He lost some weight in the offseason, dropped about 20 pounds, and he’s been doing a good job for us. He’s been a good leader in our group.”

Sophomore defensive lineman Zach Thomas was credited with 2.5 sacks and flushed Dugan out of the pocket multiple times.

“First of all [Zach Thomas] is a great athlete, a very athletic guy,” Duncan said. “He’s able to kind of redirect and make some plays that most [defensive] linemen can’t make. Then when you pair that with his attitude toward the game and just his motor, he continues to just finish plays. A lot of the plays that he’ll make are from the backside chasing it down. I’m excited to see how he grows and develops as a player.” 

Despite heavy blitzes in the third and fourth quarters, Tufts offensive line held up and Snyder consistently dodged defenders, refusing to go down and give up a sack.

“I think Alex grew a lot as a quarterback on Saturday,” Civetti said. “He did not have a great first half. He did not perform the way that’s expected. We put a little bit of extra protection in there for him, got him a little more comfortable with his feet underneath him. I think he worked really hard just to get his mind focused in the way it needed to be in that second half. That’s difficult for a quarterback, especially against a defense like Bates, and I think he’ll be the first to credit the offensive line on the job they did, as well as the backs and coach Hauser to put him in a position to succeed.”

For Bates, it was both Parents and Alumni Weekend. Tufts hosts Bowdoin and their coach JB Wells next Saturday for Homecoming. Wells coached Civetti for a year in 1998 during Civetti’s playing career at Trinity.