After a 27-10 road victory against the Amherst Purple and White (3-3), the Jumbos (5-1) return to their home turf this weekend for their final home game of the season against the Colby Mules (2-4).
Last year, the Jumbos bested the Mules, 28-10, when senior tri-captain running back Chance Brady scampered for 261 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, and junior defensive lineman Zach Thomas earned three and a half sacks on the day.
Senior wide receiver Ben Berey said he believes that a focused mindset is the key to achieving a similar showing this year.
“[Colby] has had a lot of good, close games in the past couple of weeks,” Berey said. “We’re approaching it like any other game. Each game is its own championship, so we’re just looking to be 1-0. [We’re] not really looking ahead or looking behind us; [we’re] really just focusing in on this week.”
The Jumbos had one of their most balanced offensive showings of the year against the Purple and White last week. Fresh off of his record-breaking performance against the Williams Ephs (0-6), Brady had another superb afternoon. Brady, who was last week’s NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week, turned 24 carries into 136 yards and two touchdowns against a stout Amherst run defense. Brady is now within striking distance of another major milestone: 2,336 career rushing yards.
Brady is just 318 yards shy of the school record set in 1988 by Tim Fanikos (LA ’88). The running back was far from the only bright spot for the Jumbos offense in Saturday’s contest, as sophomore quarterback Ryan McDonald bounced back from a couple of down weeks to produce an efficient and effective performance. In addition to completing eight of 11 passes for 108 yards and a touchdown, McDonald carried the ball 20 times for 104 yards and a score.
“Our mindset and our goal was to throw the ball to set up the run,” coach Jay Civetti said. “Because we [were] able to stretch the field vertically against [Amherst], it allowed us to have the success in the run game that we did.”
Facing off against Brady, McDonald and the rest of the Tufts offense is a Colby team that has been unable to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks. Through six games, Colby’s defense is tied with Hamilton’s for the fewest sacks in the NESCAC with eight. The Colby secondary, however, has been able to compensate for this weakness to some degree, as three Mules rank in the top ten in the conference for passes broken up. One of the key members of this position group is junior strong safety Ian Dickey, who is tied for second in the NESCAC with three interceptions. Tufts sophomore cornerback Tim Preston leads the league with four.
Meanwhile, Colby’s offensive has found it difficult to score this year, as its average of 12.5 points-per-game ranks second to last in the NESCAC. A major factor explaining the Mules’ flailing attack is an ineffective ground game. One of the two running backs named to last year’s all-conference first team, senior running back Jabari Hurdle-Price’s production has fallen off precipitously from 91 yards per game last year to 42 this season.
His teammates have not fared much better, as Colby’s running backs failed to secure a single first down for the team, with four ball carriers combining for a net total of zero rushing yards on 20 attempts in last week’s 21-19 loss to the Bates Bobcats (2-4).
Civetti said that the Jumbos defense would continue to respect the Mules’ ground game.
“Defensively, we’ll still plan to stop the run,” Civetti said. “I mean, that’ll still be part of the game plan. [Sophomore running back Jake] Schwern is still a good back. I don’t know the status of Jabari [Hurdle-Price], because he had played in five previous games [but did not play against Bates]. I don’t know if he got hurt or something like that; we’re not sure as to what happened. They can still run the ball well, and I would imagine that they would come in here and want to.”
The Mules’ difficulty running the ball has caused them to depend heavily on two quarterbacks — junior Christian Sparacio and first-year Jack O’Brien — to heave their way to victory. Against Bates, Colby sophomore wide receiver Sebastian Ferrell led the way with 11 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns, while three other wideouts had at least three catches. The absence of an established running game has allowed teams to send more pressure against the Mules offensive line. As a result, Colby quarterbacks have been sacked 23 times; only Bowdoin (0-6), with 25 sacks suffered, has been brought down more. In turn, Civetti sees plenty of opportunities for his pass rushers, especially after the Jumbo defense came out of last week’s contest with four sacks against an above-average Amherst offensive line.
“I think our defensive line just really took it upon themselves to step up to the challenge [against Amherst],” Civetti said. “[Defensive line coach Kyle] Duncan was harping on that throughout the course of the week with those guys. It’s fine to have half of a move, but you’ve got to finish it.”
Saturday’s game will also mark the last time that the senior members of the team will play in front of the Tufts faithful at the Ellis Oval. Ten starters from the Amherst game — including eight out of 11 members of the offense, senior defensive end Tucker Mathers, and senior kicker/punter Willie Holmquist — are playing their last season before they graduate. For his part, Civetti trusts his players to not be overcome by the moment.
“Those guys have been there, done that,” he said. “They’ve been through a lot of emotional experiences. That’s one of our goals weekly: to control our emotions. I think it’s always hard and it’s always a challenge to think that that’s your last game playing at home. But, then again, it’s also a motivator to leave it all out there and to make sure that you’re giving [your all]. That’s the last game at home you’re going to have on film.”
Civetti also reflected upon his own experiences as a player on the field.
“I still remember my last game,” he said. “You don’t want to have a ‘woulda, shoulda, coulda’ moment. You need to apply yourself throughout the course of the week and stay focused, and I would say the maturity level of our guys will allow us to do that.”
Berey said that he feels that the Class of 2017 is a special group because of the progress the group has made since their losing streak in 2013.
“I’m very proud to be with this group of seniors,” he said. “We’ve stuck with it through being 0-8 our freshman year, being the last class to go 0-8. That’s something we take a lot of pride in — not so much pride, but we hold it as sort of a chip on our shoulder. We really don’t like to bring up the past, but it’s sort of hard not to think about that as you’re going into the last game.”
The senior wide receiver also expressed his and his teammates’ awareness of the wider importance of the game.
“We’re setting ourselves up to hopefully compete for a championship next Saturday. Hopefully, we can get a big win this weekend,” Berey said. “But yeah, I’m kind of melancholy about it. I’m going to miss it. It’s the best group of guys I’ve ever been around.”
The Jumbos will host the game against the Mules on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Ellis Oval.