Tufts will take on Williams at Ellis Oval on Saturday in what is perhaps the highest-stakes game of its season so far. The two teams are currently locked in a three-way tie with Trinity for second place in the NESCAC with matching 4–1 records. The only team ahead in the standings is first-place Amherst (5–0), so a win for either Tufts or Williams will be crucial in chasing the top spot.
The Jumbos are coming off of their first loss of the season, to the Bantams, last week. Trinity put up a bevy of points in its 38–24 win over then-undefeated Tufts. The Jumbos’ offense got off to a good start in the first quarter, with two touchdown drives led by senior quarterback and co-captain Ryan McDonald. He scored on both of those drives with a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown to senior wide receiver Jack Dolan, putting the Jumbos up 14–0 early.
The Jumbos’ defense had started the season in fine form, allowing just 7.25 points per game through its first four games. The unit’s success came despite losing several key players to graduation last year.
After shutting out Bowdoin on Oct. 6, Tufts’ defense picked up against Trinity where it left off. On Trinity’s first drive, Tufts senior linebacker and co-captain Greg Holt tipped a pass from Trinity junior quarterback Jordan Vazzano, which resulted in an interception by senior defensive back and co-captain Alex LaPiana.
LaPiana credited his teammate for creating the turnover but acknowledged that the defense allowed Trinity to get rolling soon thereafter.
“Greg Holt made a great play on that ball,” LaPiana said. “He tipped it up, and I was able to catch it and get some return yards for us. I think after that, we lost our focus and stopped executing the way we needed to. That was uncharacteristic of our team.”
The Bantams followed with three straight touchdowns to take a 20–14 lead at halftime before posting 10 more points in the third quarter. With 30 unanswered points, Trinity was able to hold off Tufts in the fourth quarter.
Despite the unit’s struggles, LaPiana is confident in the defense going forward.
“We haven’t played our best game yet as a defense,” LaPiana said. “We can still continue to improve. As last week showed, we still have some things to iron out. It’s a work in progress, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Tufts showed some fight toward the end of the game. The Jumbos kicked a field goal at the beginning of the fourth quarter to bring them a bit closer, but the Bantams proceeded to put the game on ice with a one-yard rushing touchdown by Vazzano and the subsequent two-point conversion to give them 38 points.
Even then, the Jumbos did not give up. They mounted another scoring drive, ending in another touchdown throw from McDonald to Dolan with 6:53 left. This proved to be the last score of the game, however, as Trinity closed it out at 38–24 to bring the teams even in the conference standings.
Coach Jay Civetti noted the difficult task of confronting a three-score deficit and praised his team’s optimism despite the score.
“I’m really confident in our seniors and our leadership,” Civetti said. “I think that [mentality] is just a caveat of our program. It’s one of the main tenets of what we’ve built — it doesn’t matter if you’re up or down. It’s an expectation that you’re giving it your all, all of the time, regardless [of the score].”
Like Tufts, Williams entered its fifth game of the season, on the road at Middlebury, undefeated with a 4–0 record. In their first four games, the Ephs’ offense, led by sophomore quarterback Bobby Maimaron, posted an average of 32.25 points per game. Last week, however, Williams sputtered offensively, falling 21–10 to Middlebury.
The Jumbos will have to be aware of the threat presented by sophomore running back TJ Dozier, who has 496 rushing yards, good for second in the conference. Maimaron has 311 rushing yards of his own to rank 10th in the conference. Overall, the Ephs have the third-best running game in the league, averaging 214 yards per game.
Civetti emphasized the need to gameplan for Maimaron, even comparing the Ephs’ quarterback to his own team’s signal-caller.
“Williams has a quarterback that’s a lot like [McDonald],” Civetti said. “He’s very versatile — he can do a lot of things. The focus is certainly on [Maimaron] and how you can contain him to the best of your ability.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Civetti wants his team to improve one aspect of its game in particular.
“We need to run the ball better,” he said “We didn’t do a good enough job running the ball last week. We had some decent yardage, but we couldn’t put the ball away. You’ve got to be able to score on the ground.”
The Jumbos came away with a 21–13 victory in last season’s matchup between the two sides. The Jumbos dominated in all aspects of the game, with 336 yards passing and 148 yards rushing. Tufts’ scores came via rushing touchdowns from sophomore running back Mike Pedrini and junior running back Jay Tyler, a 59-yard throw to Dolan, as well as a safety.
Tufts will need to match, if not improve on, its performance last season to stay in contention for the NESCAC title against visiting Williams on Saturday. The Jumbos’ bid to move to 5–1 will kick off at 1:30 p.m. at Ellis Oval.