Tufts outlasts Bates in rainy homecoming contest

Senior running back Chance Brady cuts upfield in the homecoming game against Bates on Oct. 1. (Max Lalanne / The Tufts Daily)

On a gray Homecoming day, the Jumbos beat the Bates Bobcats 12-7, to improve to 2-0 overall. The weather clearly played a major factor in the game, as the field deteriorated throughout the contest and the ball was more slippery than usual. Despite the weather, Tufts senior kicker Willie Holmquist knocked a 48-yard field goal through the uprights, the longest in the NESCAC since 2008. He earned NESCAC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for that kick and a 22-yard field goal he contributed earlier in the game.

“[The weather] affected both sides,” coach Jay Civetti said. “It’s a great equalizer. The footing was hard and obviously the rain makes the balls wet. Being able to run it allowed us to take advantage of some holes and move the ball.”

The defining trait of the first half was sloppiness. The Bobcats botched two snaps at crucial moments just a minute apart, costing them a field goal attempt and forcing them to punt after a bad second down snap. There were also a number of penalties as Bates finished with four that cost them 44 yards and the Jumbos with five for 45 yards.

“When you can’t get [the passing game] going [it] can get frustrating at times,” senior wide receiver Ben Berey added. “You just have to react to what happens and control what you can control. I know all the receivers were hoping to get the ball a little more, but we can only do what we can do.”

The Jumbos did manage to jump out to a lead in the first half, as Holmquist connected on a pair of second quarter field goals from 22 and 48 yards out.

Holmquist also gave the Jumbos reliable punting on a day with extremely difficult conditions. He sent a number of high-spiraling balls that were difficult for Bobcat returners to field. With an average of 43.5 yards per punt, Holmquist often set Bates’ offense up with long fields and made the Tufts defense’s job easier. 

The Jumbos entered halftime up 6-0. The Bates triple-option offense, which potentially allows for three separate ball carriers on every play, was something the Jumbos had no problem attacking in the first half.

“We had a great game plan going in,” senior tri-captain and outside linebacker Mike Stearns said. “[They played] like we expected, and it was just about playing disciplined football, knowing our responsibilities and slowing it down.”

If Tufts had one weakness, it was covering the third player in the option attack, known as the pitch, who generally gets the ball if the quarterback opts to keep instead of handing it to the running back down the middle (the dive) but still feels pressured by defenders. Bates had a number of players in the pitch role, and the majority of its big plays came from the Jumbos losing containment and allowing the pitch-man extra yards on the outside.

“It just comes down to assignment football,” Civetti said. “Someone’s got the dive, someone’s got the QB and someone’s got the pitch.”

Pushing the play away from the middle of the field was also part of the Jumbos’ game plan, according to Stearns.

“Our main priority was to stop the dive,” Stearns said. “We want to get it outside to where everybody is running at the ball.”

The second half was less sloppy as a whole, but didn’t start out that way. After forcing a three-and-out, the Jumbos lined up for the Bobcats’ punt with senior wideouts Berey and tri-captain Mike Rando back to return.

The short punt took a bounce, and rather than simply letting it stop on the ground, Rando attempted to field it but couldn’t get a good grip on the wet ball and lost control. Bates recovered the ball on the Tufts’ 30-yard line.

After two failed option runs, Bates sophomore quarterback Sandy Plashkes lined up for a pass to junior wideout Brian Daly, who streaked toward the end zone. Plashkes’ pass was on point, and his only completion on 10 attempts went for a 30-yard touchdown.

After the extra point, Bates led 7-6. Snyder entered the game for a single drive in the second half before he was replaced by sophomore quarterback Ryan McDonald.

“We felt like in the second half there were some things that Ryan could do that we needed to get the offense rolling,” Civetti said. “He really capitalized. I think the offensive staff made some great adjustments at halftime and took advantage of them.”

While the Jumbos failed to get their offense going in the third quarter, they sealed the game on a touchdown drive that started with 12:26 to play in the fourth. Tufts started the drive on its own 37 following a fair catch from Rando.

With senior running back tri-captain Chance Brady in the backfield, the Jumbos dominated the ground game in the fourth and consistently moved the chains. McDonald, who added more mobility to the backfield, contributed to the drive with runs of nine, nine, 18 and 15 yards, the last of which gave the Jumbos their only touchdown of the game with 9:02 left to play.

“I was just trying to grip the ball,” McDonald said. “It was difficult to get a grip, and it definitely got frustrating after a while. The footing wasn’t great, but [running] was extensively easier than throwing the football.”

Up by five and trying to extend the lead to seven, Tufts lined up for a two-point conversion try in a strange formation. The majority of the offensive line was wide left with just McDonald and Brady in the shotgun in the middle of the field. Surprisingly, Tufts snapped the ball and a designed run for McDonald failed to make it a seven-point game.

With the Jumbos still up five and the defense stifling Bates’ dive option, the rest of the game was largely uneventful. The rain made passing a difficult prospect for either team, and with Brady in the backfield the Jumbos had no problem running out the clock after forcing the Bobcats to punt.

“I think as a whole the defense played great,” Civetti said. “That Bates football team is the real deal. Our guys did a great job, they rallied together and got challenged, even different than we got challenged last week. I really think our guys stood up and did a great job and took charge.”

With the weather playing a major role in the game, neither team put up significant passing numbers; Snyder connected on six of 14 for 44 yards, while McDonald connected on just one of eight for no gain. Brady was unsurprisingly the offensive star. The game was fought in the trenches and Brady rushed 32 times for 140 yards, averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

McDonald was also a massive factor in the Jumbos running game with 11 rushes for 75 yards in his limited second-half time. The Bobcats’ rushers combined for 188 yards to go along with Plashkes’ single 30-yard completion.

“The defense really is the heart of our team right now,” Civetti said. “[The team is] still doing good things on offense, but I think the defense has kept us in two games. They get challenged in a lot of ways, but again we’ve got a lot of good players out there. I think our speed on defense is significant and up front our line continues to own the line of scrimmage.”

In a game that saw 23 total punts, the Jumbos were no doubt glad to have Holmquist, who averaged 43.5 yards per punt, with a long of 60 yards.

“I have all the confidence in the world in [Holmquist],” Civetti said. “He is stone-cold. He’s got ice water running through his veins. He does a great job; he is a perfectionist and is really focused on his craft and works really hard at it.”

After improving to 2-0 the Jumbos will look for a third win on the road against Bowdoin at 2:00 p.m. next Saturday.