Tufts’ 30-15 road victory over Williams on Saturday was more than just another win for the Jumbos. It was the team’s first win in Williamstown since 1981, and it came in dominant fashion, with Tufts taking a 23-point lead for part of the game. The victory ties the Jumbos’ win total from last season at four. Now sitting at 4-1, Tufts’ NESCAC championship hopes are still alive, with only Amherst and Trinity left as the two undefeated teams in the conference. Williams, dropping to 2-3, faces a potential repeat of last season’s 2-6 record.
“It’s a place that I think we should be,” coach Jay Civetti said. “It’s nice to be at a place where you’re having the success that you expect out of your program, your players, your coaching staff and yourself. I expect us to be a winning program that is competing for championships year in and year out.”
Junior running back Chance Brady led the charge on offense, with 162 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Through five games, Brady leads the NESCAC with 116.6 rushing yards per game and is tied with Trinity first-year Max Chipouras for the NESCAC lead in rushing touchdowns with eight apiece.
In contrast, the Ephs abandoned the run game early after finding little success on the ground. They rushed 17 times for 35 yards as opposed to the Jumbos’ 49 attempts for 250 yards. Williams, however, nearly doubled Tufts’ passing yardage total, 363-185.
Brady earned Tufts’ first two touchdowns of the day. The first came early in the first quarter on a 21-yard run up the middle. Brady broke two arm tackles at the line of scrimmage, spun around a linebacker and ran untouched the rest of the way to the end zone. His second, in the second quarter, was a one-yard dive up the middle set up when junior quarterback Alex Snyder, while getting hit, threw a 19-yard pass to senior wide receiver Jack Cooleen. Earlier in the drive, sophomore quarterback Mike McLaughlin took a snap out of shotgun and kept the ball for a nine-yard gain to the right.
With 10 minutes left in the second quarter, Williams’ senior quarterback Austin Lommen connected with senior wide receiver Darrias Sime, who is listed at a towering 6-foot-4-inches, four times for a total of 53-yards and earned a first-and-1 on Tufts’ goal line. The final reception was a 21-yard lob to the mountainous Sime over first-year Tim Preston, the six-foot tall reigning NESCAC player of the week. Tufts senior defensive lineman Ife Adebayo stuffed Williams junior running back Thomas Cifrino on first down. Tufts junior Patrick Williams and sophomore defensive back J.P. Garcia prevented Cifrino from crossing the plane on second down. Lommen’s third down pass was incomplete, and after a timeout, Williams decided to go for it on fourth-and-1. Lommen rolled right, scanning the field as defensive lineman chased him down but could not find an open man. He made it all the way to the right sideline before forcing a bad pass to junior tight-end John Dillon and the Jumbos took over at their own 1.
With 17 seconds remaining in the first half, Williams’ sophomore running back Connor Harris returned the punt from junior punter Willie Holmquist 33 yards all the way to Tufts’ 28 yard-line. Harris’ return, made possible by strong blocking, was especially impressive for the speed he displayed and his willingness to run north-south. However, the Ephs were unable to advance the ball past the Jumbos’ 21 and settled for a field goal attempt with one second remaining. Williams called timeout before sophomore kicker Bobby Webster lined up to take the kick.
Then, Civetti called a timeout to ice the kicker and force him to line up again. A common strategy, Civetti added his own personal wrinkle and drew boos from the home crowd by repeating the process a second time with another timeout. Although two timeouts to ice a kicker is unorthodox, Civetti’s strategy worked well, as Tufts first-year defensive back Alexander LaPiana was able to block the kick.
“They had some serious yardage,” Civetti said. “Our defense bends, but it doesn’t break. I think we were pretty good at the point of attack, getting hands on and rerouting guys. Certainly we gave up some things on the outside, but that was by design. We feel like we can cover those guys on the outside. [Senior] Alex Way, the big tight end that they have — he’s a pretty impressive guy on the inside, and certainly one of our focal points was to limit his touches.”
Williams entered halftime losing 13-0, but coach Aaron Kelton clearly motivated his team during the break, as the Ephs broke open their first scoring drive of the game early in the third. On a fake counter run play, both of Tufts’ safeties bit on the run and allowed senior quarterback Mark Pomella to get open 40 yards downfield in the end zone, bringing the score to 13-7 after William’s PAT.
Another Tufts drive ended with junior kicker Willie Holmquist’s field goal from 37 yards away to put Tufts ahead 16-7. The drive was comprised mostly of two long passes, one to Brady for 21 yards and another to senior tight end Xavier Frey for 25 yards.
Less than a minute later, senior defensive back Patrick Williams intercepted Lommen on a high throw to the right. Lommen had barely escaped being sacked on the play, and a defensive lineman grabbed at his ankles as he made the throw.
The interception set Tufts up in Williams territory, and after Brady rushed three times for 10 yards, the Jumbos turned to junior wide receiver Mike Rando. Rando took a sweeping path to the left and sped up the sideline for a 17-yard gain, narrowly missing the end zone after being pushed out of bounds at the 1. A false start set the Jumbos back to the 6 but Snyder fired a bullet to the back of the end zone that Rando caught practically rolling on the ground. It was Rando’s first career touchdown and brought the score to 23-7 Tufts.
“It was a good moment to get in [the end zone], for sure,” Rando said. “Finally. There will be plenty more to come. [I] just had to break the seal there.”
Another Tufts drive at 2:22 in the third quarter started with excellent field position on Tufts’ 41-yard line thanks to a 13-yard return by Rando, and featured first-year running back Dominic Borelli zipping around to the outside for gains of seven and eight yards on the first two plays. Next Snyder hit peer wide receiver Ben Berey, who led Tufts in the game with five receptions for 50 yards. Brady trucked through a gap in the defense for a 17-yard gain and Snyder threw a perfect ball to Berey who was tightly covered along the right sideline. Berey was forced down at the 1-yard line after a 24-yard gain. Snyder then ran untouched through a sizable gap that the offensive line opened and scored the touchdown to put Tufts up 30-7 after the first play of the fourth quarter.
“We pride ourselves on being the most physical team in the NESCAC, and we really believe that,” sophomore defensive end Zach Thomas said. “If a team wants to establish the run, [our goal is to] shut that down and force them to pass and that allows us to go into pass-rush mode and rush the quarterback.”
The very next play, Williams marched from their own 20 and set up a first-and-goal at the Tufts 8. Lommen lobbed a ball up to Sime for a touchdown. Lommen was able to hook up with senior wide receiver Colin Brown at the front of the end zone for the two-point conversion, bringing Williams within reasonable striking distance at 30-15.
Yet with 3:17 remaining in the game and a two possession lead (30-15), Tufts dropped back into coverage and only rushed three defensive linemen. Thomas, however, still managed to sack Lommen for a loss of eight yards. The sack forced a Williams timeout, helped kill the drive and all but sealed the game for the Jumbos.
“Usually if we have a multiple score lead, you know the other team is going to want to pass the ball and that helps [me] out because [I] can get a jump on the tackles,” Thomas said. “You want to put the nail in the coffin, you don’t want to give them any life. It goes back to wanting to be the best on every play, whether you are up or whether you are down.”
Thomas leads the NESCAC with 5.5 sacks on the season and sophomore teammate Micah Adickes is second with 4.5.
Despite dominating for much of the game, Tufts was called for 15 penalties, which gifted Williams 141 yards. The officials called a tight game, and the Ephs were also penalized seven times for 75 yards.
The Jumbos are now 3-0 while away this season, a clear contrast from last year’s 0-4 away record.
“Home or away, I think a lot of what it says is, our guys are very good at focusing in and at doing their job regardless of the uncontrollable events that are around them,” Civetti said. “Like I said to the guys earlier in the week, ‘You can’t control that the game is on the road. You can’t control what the weather is like. You can’t control what calls they are going to make [or] what the officials are going to say.’ We spend a lot of time just as a whole talking about what you can control, and that’s your response to those events: how do we show up, how do we travel, what’s our focus, how do we mentally prepare ourselves. Those are more the areas that I will commend the guys on doing a positive job.”
Tufts takes on 5-0 Amherst at home next weekend in a game that could potentially determine the NESCAC championship. Trinity is the only other 5-0 team and has yet to play Amherst.
“Last year, everyone just really really wanted to get a win — and we did — and it was amazing,” Brady said. “It’s one of the best memories I’ve ever had. This year our focus is different. We want to compete for a championship. That’s what’s on every guy’s mind when staring at the standings. We have guys that just won’t lose at anything.”