Jumbos best Polar Bears 41-21 to remain undefeated

– Tufts quarterback senior is protected by running back senior Chance Brady, as he prepares to pass the ball in the game against Trinity on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015. (Evan Sayles / The Tufts Daily)

On the road for the first time this season, the Jumbos dominated the Bowdoin Polar Bears 41-21 to improve to 3-0 on the season. Tufts benefited from its unique quarterback situation in this game, as sophomore quarterback Ryan McDonald’s dual threat capabilities and senior quarterback Alex Snyder’s precision through the air helped the Jumbos’ offense capitalize on nearly every opportunity. Tufts netted over 500 yards from scrimmage for the first time since a 70-49 loss to Amherst on Oct. 30, 2010.

McDonald completed nine passes for 92 yards and got a touchdown and added 146 yards rushing with two touchdowns on just 11 attempts. His longest run of the day came on a 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

“Ryan [McDonald] continues to do a great job in our run game with our read [option] game,” coach Jay Civetti said.He was nine for nine passing. We didn’t ask him to throw the ball a lot. He’s a dual threat. I think he brings a different element to our offensive game.”

Snyder completed three of six passing attempts for 102 yards. Most of his yardage came on a 77-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Mike Miller.

“[Snyder] continues to be a pocket-passer,” Civetti said. “He certainly has a big arm and can be a big threat for us downfield. I would imagine they will continue to see both quarterbacks.”

Tufts first scored behind the strong leg of senior punter/placekicker Willie Holmquist, who kicked a field goal from 46 yards out on Tufts’ first drive of the game. While most NESCAC kickers aren’t asked to consistently drill field goals from 45-plus-yards out, Holmquist, whose season long is 48-yards, appreciates his team’s faith in his leg.

“I’m really happy that coach Civetti has confidence in me,” Holmquist said. “I’m not really doing a whole lot of thinking when I’m out there. I’m just lining it up and I trust my body to do what I’ve trained it to do. If I can put points on the board for my team, I think I’m doing a good job.”

A 14-yard touchdown run from McDonald gave the Jumbos a 10-0 lead at 9:18 in the first quarter. Despite the lead, the first half was not without its miscues for Tufts. While blocking on a punt return, sophomore defensive back Tim Preston ran into Tufts’ punt-returner and the ball fell loose. The Polar Bears recovered deep in Jumbo territory.

Tufts prevented Bowdoin from scoring and forced a turnover on the drive, as sophomore defensive back Frank Roche picked off Bowdoin sophomore quarterback Noah Nelson in the end zone. This was the first contest this season in which the Jumbos’ pass defense was thoroughly tested and Civetti was pleased with their play.

“I think as a whole, we went against a really good, young quarterback and a couple really good receivers,” Civetti said. “I think for the first game where anyone has really thrown the ball against us, we did a great job.”

Tufts allowed 246 yards through the air but limited Bowdoin to just 5.1 yards per pass play. Roche’s interception saved a potential touchdown and Preston, last year’s NESCAC leader in interceptions, earned his first pick of the season in the third quarter.

“It was a good test for our secondary,” Preston said. “We haven’t really gotten tested [this season], so it is definitely good ahead of [Saturday’s game against] Trinity.”

Tufts punted with just over three minutes remaining in the first quarter and Willie Holmquist sent a high spiraling ball downfield that Bowdoin junior wideout Nick Vailas fielded at his own 25-yard line. Vailas found a seam down the sideline and took it 75 yards to the end zone to make the score 10-7. 

“If something goes wrong, one thing I’ll never do is panic,” Holmquist said. “You can’t get too high; you can’t get too low. You’ve got to stay the course and worry about making the play out on special teams.”

The end of the first quarter saw the Jumbos start a long drive down the field from their own 30-yard line. That drive was capped off at 11:50 in the second quarter on senior tri-captain running back Chance Brady’s five-yard run. Brady ran 32 times in the Jumbos’ last contest against the Bates Bobcats but saw limited work in Saturday’s game, rushing eight times for 54 yards.

“[Brady] was in there to start the second half but at that point, we felt like it was an opportunity to get some other guys in the game,” Civetti said. “He had a big week the week before, no hidden secrets there.”

There was plenty of scoring to go around in the second period, as McDonald and junior wide receiver Joe Byrnes connected for a 17-yard touchdown just two minutes after Brady’s touchdown and first-year running back Nate Richam scored for Bowdoin on an 11-yard run at 5:09. Tufts entered into halftime with a 24-14 lead, its largest halftime lead of the season.

The Jumbos came out explosively in the second half. Starting on their own 25-yard line, McDonald took the snap and was immediately off running. Blockers gave McDonald room and he hit the open field for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the half.

Later in the half, the Jumbos scored once again in their first play of a drive as this time, Snyder lined up in the backfield. He took the snap and found Miller for a 77-yard touchdown pass with 7:07 left in the third.

“[Our game plan was to] be balanced and to get the ball where it needs to be,” Miller said. “Nothing special about [the game,] we just do what we need to do. Coach always stresses making the big play and we got an opportunity to do that yesterday and capitalized on it.”

Miller was also glad that the third game featured a more dynamic Tufts passing offense compared to the run-centric style the team was forced to play in the first two weeks.

“It was fun,” Miller said. “We’ve got a really good running back [in Brady] so I can’t really complain if we run the ball, but when we throw the ball, pass it around, it’s fun to play like that.”

With their defense playing well and their offense consistently putting up points, the Jumbos held onto their lead and eventually time ran out on the Polar Bears’ hopes for a comeback. The final score was 41-21 in favor of Tufts.

“So far so good,” Preston said. “It’s nice to be 3-0 for sure. I think we all know we still have a lot to work on but we can’t complain about being 3-0.”

The defense consistently laid Bowdoin passers on their backs, with four sacks in the game: one each from junior linebacker Chuck Calabrese, first-year defensive lineman Conor Chepenik and senior defensive lineman Quinn Metoyer, and a fourth shared between junior linebacker Zach Thomas and classmate defensive lineman Doug Harrison.

“[Each sack] is a big deal. It brings a lot of energy. Any time you get a hit on the quarterback,  it’s a big deal. It puts a lot of pressure on the offensive line and makes the quarterback have to make bad throws and certainly helps the secondary do [its job],” Civetti said.

Now 3-0, the Jumbos face their biggest challenge yet on the road against the 3-0 Trinity Bantams at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. The Bantams have scored at least 37 points in all of their games this year and lead the league in points per game and points allowed. The Jumbos rank fifth and fourth respectively in those categories. As two of the three remaining 3-0 teams, this matchup is a chance for both teams to definitively move toward winning a NESCAC championship.