The Jumbos did not allow the grey skies to dampen their chances of winning Saturday, as senior tri-captain running back Chance Brady ran in four touchdowns to break the Tufts record for career rushing touchdowns and tie the school’s single-game record in the team’s 35-16 win over the Williams Ephs.
“Honestly, it’s huge,” Brady said. “Winning comes first, so obviously I’m very happy we won. I want to leave a legacy behind here, and that’s a good step in the direction of what I want to leave behind when I graduate.”
The Ephs received the opening kickoff and were immediately under pressure from the Jumbo defense, which forced a three-and-out. On the ensuing punt, senior wide receiver and punt returner Mike Rando — while chasing the punt upfield — signaled for a fair-catch but was hit as he tried to catch the ball and bobbled it, allowing Williams to recover at the Tufts 40-yard line.
The Ephs pushed forward and ultimately settled for a field goal on the drive to take the early lead at 9:51.
The Jumbo offense was also slow to start the game and took a few possessions to find the end zone, as the wet ball and soggy field hampered both teams’ offenses throughout the game.
After Tufts’ first drive stalled on the Williams half of the field with five minutes left to play in the first quarter, senior punter and kicker Willie Holmquist lined up to punt, but the snap sailed over his head. Holmquist rushed to recover the ball but rather than just falling on it and giving the Ephs the ball back around midfield, Holmquist snatched it up near the left sideline. He managed an off-balance punt, while being hit, to pin the Ephs at their own 18.
“When the weather is that bad, there’s not much you can do,” Brady said. “You can only control the controllables. There’s an emphasis on ball security, since it’s obviously slippery.”
On their next drive late in the first quarter the Jumbos got the ball around midfield and moved it down to the two-yard line on a series of read-option runs from Brady and sophomore quarterback Ryan McDonald. Brady took the ball in for his first touchdown of the day and Holmquist’s extra point put the Jumbos up 7-3.
Williams responded in the second quarter with a seven-minute, 68-yard drive that culminated in a 15-yard touchdown pass from first-year quarterback Peter Cahill to his big hybrid tight-end/wide receiver Tyler Patterson to retake the lead. The Ephs missed the missed extra point attempt, though, and only went up 9-7.
The Jumbos retook the lead before halftime, as Brady scored again in the first half, this time punching it in from the one-yard line at the 2:13 mark to put the Jumbos up 14-9 going into the break.
The Jumbos got the ball to start the second half, and while they did not move far on that first possession, the Jumbos made the second possession count, once again relying on the option attack from the dual-threat McDonald and the always dominant Brady.
The two combined to run down to the Ephs’ 32, where Brady took a handoff from McDonald, ran off the right guard, hit the second level with room to run and took it to the house. The Jumbos took a 12-point lead, 21-9, following Holmquist’s extra point.
Brady’s fourth and final touchdown came in the third quarter from the two-yard line. It followed a long drive with senior quarterback Alex Snyder under center. The rushing touchdown was Brady’s 25th of his career and put the Jumbos up 28-9.
“Just looking at the weather report I knew it was going to be a game where I would get a lot of touches,” Brady said. “The run game was going to be very important.”
The rest of the game was relatively uneventful, as the Ephs were forced to pass often to come back from the 19-point deficit with just a quarter left. That played into some of the Jumbos’ greatest strengths in their pass rush and their secondary.
The Ephs scored one final time, as Cahill rushed from the one-yard line to bring them back within 12 points with 6:20 to play, but the Jumbos recovered the ensuing onside kick.
After a short drive, senior running back Max Athy put Tufts back up by 19 on a 13-yard touchdown run to seal the game and pick up his first career touchdown.
Sophomore cornerback Tim Preston intercepted the Ephs’ first-year quarterback Jansen Durham late in the second quarter, and junior defensive back J.P. Garcia intercepted a throw in the end zone from Patterson on a failed trick play. The Jumbos also finished with two sacks. Senior defensive lineman David Neville and sophomore defensive lineman Nmesoma Nwafor teamed up on one and first-year linebacker Greg Holt and Neville shared the other.
Holt remains the NESCAC leader in total tackles with 68, after adding 15 in Saturday’s contest.
The victory was the Jumbos’ third straight over the Ephs, marking the Jumbos’ best streak in the overall match-up since their six-win streak from 1976-1981.
Brady earned NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his record-breaking performance and pushed the Jumbos to 4-1, while Williams fell to 0-5.
“Obviously Chance Brady had an enormous game,” Coach Jay Civetti said. “He broke the all-time rushing touchdown record. [With] four touchdowns on the day I’m not even sure what the rest of his numbers were, not that those even matter, because scores are what dictate the end of the game.”
McDonald and Snyder played relatively clean games under center for the Jumbos, throwing no picks and avoiding any sacks. That was unsurprising considering they only dropped back to pass 13 times with just six completions for 22 yards, as the team mostly relied on Brady’s legs due to the wet conditions. As a team, Tufts fumbled four times but recovered all but one of those.
“Overall, battling through the weather today and getting back to our basics, I think we played a really physical football game,” Civetti said. “I think we were challenged in a lot of phases and at each phase I think we rallied through it.”
On the horizon for the Jumbos is a matchup against perennial rival Amherst, which lost Saturday to fall to 3-2, one spot behind the Jumbos in the NESCAC standings.
Amherst is just the first in a trio of tough opponents to close out the season, as Tufts’ final games are against 2-3 Colby and 5-0 Middlebury. The Jumbos will try to carry momentum from this victory forward into their tough second-half schedule.
“We respect all of our opponents,” Civetti said. “We have a lot of confidence in each other. I think there is an expectation to win at Tufts. It’s a place everyone always said was a sleeping giant.”