Undefeated football looks to reverse history against Trinity

Tufts' offense lines up for a snap in the team's 47–14 win over Bates at Bello Field on Sept. 29. Rachel Hartman / The Tufts Daily

The last time the Jumbos beat the Trinity Bantams, “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” was the No. 1 song on the Billboard Top 100. It’s been almost exactly 11 years since then, and the undefeated Jumbos (4–0) will travel to Hartford, Conn. on Saturday in an attempt to finally take down the reigning NESCAC champion Bantams.

Saturday’s matchup also marks the first time since 2007 that the Jumbos have started the season with a 4–0 record. After victories over Hamilton (1–3), Wesleyan (2–2), Bates (0–4) and Bowdoin (0–4), Tufts hopes to maintain momentum in undoubtedly its tallest task yet.

Meanwhile, Trinity’s lone loss of the 2018 season came on Sept. 29 against undefeated Williams (4–0). The Bantams trailed the Ephs 21–9 after three quarters but managed to pull within one score with a touchdown in the fourth quarter. However, the Ephs hung on for a 21–16 victory at home.

Last year’s matchup between Tufts and Trinity stayed close throughout and was highlighted by strong individual offensive performances from both teams. For the Bantams, then-senior quarterback and co-captain Sonny Puzzo completed 18 of his 31 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown. Senior quarterback and co-captain Ryan McDonald also put up impressive numbers for the Jumbos, going 20-for-36 for 267 yards and a touchdown. Trinity employed a run-heavy offense, with 50 rush attempts, while Tufts opened for a more balanced offensive strategy with 31 rushing attempts to their 36 passing attempts.

The Bantams’ defense capitalized on the Jumbos’ emphasis on throwing the ball, as it put pressure on McDonald, who finished with a career-high three interceptions. One of those picks came in a decisive moment in the third quarter, with the game tied 7–7 and both defenses buckling down. With Tufts set up at Trinity’s 19-yard line, McDonald threw to the end zone in an attempt to take the lead. However, his pass was intercepted at the goal line by then-senior cornerback Dominique Seagears, who took it 100 yards for a momentum-turning pick-six.

Ultimately, it was senior running back Max Chipouras — the NESCAC’s leading rusher last year with 907 yards (104.7 yards per game) — who secured the win for the Bantams. With the score tied 16–16 at the 12:44 mark of the fourth quarter, Chipouras rushed seven times to move the ball down to Tufts’ 1-yard line. The Longmeadow, Mass. native’s efforts paid off as he punched it into the end zone to give Trinity a 23–16 lead. With the host Jumbos unable to score on their next drive, time ran out, and the Bantams emerged victorious from the hard-fought battle.

McDonald spoke about the Jumbos’ reaction to last season’s narrow loss, as well as what they’ve focused on in preparing for Saturday’s rematch.

“Last year, we definitely had the opportunity to win that game, and I think everybody knows that,” he said. “[This year], we’re going to stick to our assignments and distribute the ball a lot. We’ve got a lot of really great playmakers, and the offensive line has really come into [its] own as probably one of the best units in the league. We’re [going to] let our defense take care of business and hopefully come out on top.”

Tufts enters Saturday’s grudge match coming off a decisive victory over winless Bowdoin. The Polar Bears struggled to move the ball offensively in the Jumbos’ first shutout since 2006. Bowdoin sophomore quarterback Austin McCrum completed less than 45 percent of his passes, going 21-for-47 for 162 yards. Moreover, the Tufts defense repeatedly stopped Bowdoin on third down, as the hosts converted just four of their 18 third-down attempts (22 percent).

Nevertheless, Tufts coach Jay Civetti highlighted multiple areas in need of improvement before his team takes on Trinity this weekend.

“We [need to] continue to be better in the red zone and to continue to protect the ball,” Civetti said. “We turned it over twice last week. That certainly wasn’t good enough on our account. We dropped a couple of big passes out there [and] missed some conversions on third down. It really wasn’t a very productive day of execution for us on offense. Certainly, no one in our room is very satisfied with how the day went.”

Despite a few drops by his receivers, McDonald completed 19 of his 25 pass attempts for 231 yards and two touchdowns against Bowdoin. The Annandale, N.J. native threw for both of his touchdowns in the third quarter, to senior wide receiver Jack Dolan and junior tight end Jack Donohue, respectively. Following the touchdown by Donohue, which put the Jumbos up 28–0, Civetti elected to replace McDonald with senior quarterback Ryan Hagfeldt, who finished the game with 20 passing yards and 53 rushing yards. 

Along with a steady performance in the passing game last week, Tufts also looked promising running the ball. Sophomore running back Mike Pedrini finished with 52 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while senior running back Dom Borelli recorded 73 yards on just seven carries.

Civetti acknowledged the Jumbos’ promising performance in the run game, adding that expectations of the backfield are high for Saturday’s game against the Bantams.

“[Pedrini and Borelli] are tremendous backs, as is our entire backfield,” Civetti said. “Add [juniors Andrew] Sanders and Jay Tyler to that conversation, along with Ryan [McDonald], and we really have five tailbacks that can carry the load. Trinity’s front seven is pretty solid, and they present a great challenge for us in the run game, so we just need to be hitting the holes right, be great in our exchanges and take it one play at a time, taking what the defense gives us.”

For Civetti, the game also marks a return to his alma mater. Civetti played offensive line for Trinity from 1997 to 2000 and captained the team in his senior year.

“I loved my time at Trinity,” he said. “As [my] alma mater and a place [I’ve] been a captain, it’s a program that I’m incredibly proud and honored to be a part of. It’s Homecoming down there. Luckily for me, I’m not the one playing the game. What I care most about is that my kids are there, they’re playing hard and they’re doing what they’re supposed to do, and that I’m being the best head coach I can be for them. I love being able to play Trinity every year — they’re a tremendous program. They’re back-to-back league champs and present a great challenge for us, so it’s awesome to just be on the road and playing down there.”

Tufts’ bid to move to 5–0 kicks off Saturday at 1:30 p.m. on Trinity’s Jessee/Miller Field.