Football struggles with defense in defeat at Trinity

Senior quarterback and co-captain Ryan McDonald runs with the ball during Tufts' 47–14 Homecoming victory over Bates at Bello Field on Sept. 29. Rachel Hartman / The Tufts Daily

The Jumbos traveled to Hartford, Conn. on Saturday to take on the Trinity Bantams, the defending NESCAC champions. The Jumbos went into the game undefeated but came out on the losing end of this matchup, 38–24, dropping their overall record for the season to 4–1. Tufts is now tied with Trinity and Williams for second place in the NESCAC.

Senior co-captain and quarterback Ryan McDonald led the team with 293 yards passing and tied with sophomore running back Mike Pedrini for the lead in yards rushing with 27 each. The Jumbos also had a pair of 100-yard receivers in the game, as senior wide receivers Frank Roche and Jack Dolan finished with 116 and 104 yards, respectively.

Tufts’ defense went through a struggle against the Trinity offense. While the Bantams only managed 220 passing yards compared to the Jumbos’ 307, they out-rushed Tufts by an astounding margin of 250 to 68. Trinity’s ability to attack on the ground proved crucial to their resounding victory.

Tufts coach Jay Civetti saw the team’s defensive woes as a failure to satisfactorily execute the “do your job” motto that they have adopted from the Patriots.

“We’ve just got to be better at stopping the run,” he said. “I don’t think it was a matter of scheme or game plan. We need to be where we’re supposed to be, when we’re supposed to be there, and doing our jobs to the best of our abilities.”

The Jumbos started the game out strong with a 61-yard scoring drive. McDonald completed a 30-yard pass to Dolan on third and 10 in order to keep the drive alive, then rushed in for a touchdown to put the Jumbos on the scoreboard first.

On the hosts’ first drive, the Jumbos’ senior defensive back and co-captain Alex LaPiana intercepted the Bantams’ junior quarterback Jordan Vazzano at the Tufts-22 and returned the ball all the way to the Trinity-14. The turnover led to another Tufts touchdown, as Dolan soon caught a 10-yard pass from McDonald to put the Jumbos on top by two scores, 14–0.

The Bantams quickly responded with two scoring drives of their own powered by Vazzano’s arm. The junior led his team down the field to set up a rushing touchdown by first-year wide reciever Devante Reid. Vazzano then threw a touchdown of his own on his team’s next drive.

After a turnover on downs by the Jumbos on the following possession, senior running back Max Chipouras rushed for a touchdown to put the Bantams ahead. Senior defensive back Tim Preston was able to block Trinity’s extra point attempt, but Tufts still went into halftime trailing 20–14.

Despite this relatively close halftime score, a deeper look at the statistics foreshadowed the final result. The Bantams had out-gained the Jumbos in total offensive yards, 245 to 106, at the half.

Trinity capitalized on its opening drive of the quarter, which was punctuated by a 59-yard pass from VazzanoThe quarterback would soon rush for a touchdown and put the Bantams up 27–14.

Tufts’ offense seemed to get back on track the following possession. After a 30-yard kickoff return from sophomore wide receiver OJ Armstrong, McDonald was able to string together a number of completions, including a 15-yard pass to senior wide receiver Dan de Leon that put Tufts all the way at the Trinity 9-yard line. However, sophomore defensive lineman James Christiano intercepted McDonald on the next play, which ultimately led to a Trinity field goal. This drive was the final act of Trinity’s unanswered 30 points, as the momentum clearly shifted in favor of the hosts.

The Jumbos finally got back on the scoreboard on their next drive, with sophomore kicker Matt Alswanger nailing a 23-yard field goal that capped off a 17-play drive short of eight minutes. The Bantams then answered immediately with another scoring drive that included a 61-yard run by Chipouras, leaving the Jumbos to face a 38–17 deficit. However, the Jumbos held strong in the face of clear defeat, putting together one more successful offensive possession. Dolan caught his second touchdown of the game with 6:53 remaining in the fourth quarter, in what was the final score of the game for either team, which consigned Tufts to its first defeat of the season.

McDonald believes that in response to this defeat, the team has to get back to basics as he outlined in a plan for regaining the team’s momentum.

“It’s really just about getting back to what Tufts football is built on,” he said. “We need to focus on our attitude, effort and toughness as we gameplan this week and look to get back to our strengths as a program.”

Civetti gave credit to the Bantams, and stressed the Jumbos’ unwavering belief in themselves.

“I think we needed a bit of a wakeup call about staying in the moment and not being complacent,” Civetti said. “This was the first time this season, aside from the Bates game, that we’ve really played from behind. Trinity’s an excellent team — they didn’t miss anything on Saturday, and we did. At the end of the day, we’ve got to keep ourselves focused and keep paying attention to the individual jobs and battles that we each are required to do on Saturday. That starts with me.”

Tufts will look to bounce back from this defeat on Oct. 20 when they return home to take on the 4–1 Williams, another top-class NESCAC squad, at Ellis Oval.

McDonald made it clear that the team’s preparation for Saturday will be primarily directed inward.

“It’s really just about focusing on ourselves,” he said. “We’re looking at what we can do better as a team as opposed to focusing on our opponent.”