Football visits Amherst in matchup with championship implications

Sophomore kicker Matt Alswanger attempts an extra point in Tufts' 28–21 win over Williams on Oct. 20. Evan Slack / The Tufts Daily

Tufts faces perhaps its most important game of the season tomorrow. The Jumbos, now 5–1 after last week’s win over the Williams Ephs, will visit the Amherst Mammoths (6–0) and try to spoil their undefeated season. Amherst sits atop the NESCAC standings with Tufts and Trinity one game back, so tomorrow’s tilt could very well decide the conference champion. It will be a Mammoth task for the Jumbos to emerge with a victory.

After suffering its first loss of the season on Oct. 13, Tufts bounced back to beat Williams 28–21 on Saturday. The game was a tale of two halves — one offensive and one defensive. Both teams put up 21 points in the first half, with strong play from Tufts senior quarterback and co-captain Ryan McDonald and Williams sophomore quarterback Bobby Maimaron.

The second half turned into a defensive battle, with the Jumbos scoring the only single touchdown. However, the team’s defense shut out Williams, forcing three punts, two turnovers on downs and a fumble.

Senior linebacker and co-captain Greg Holt forced the fumble, along with his game-high 13 tackles. Junior defensive back Miles Shipp had 10 tackles of his own, leading the Jumbos’ secondary in that regard.

Tufts’ offensive standouts included junior tight end Jack Donohue, who caught four passes for 72 yards and a touchdown, and senior running back Dom Borelli, who recorded a passing touchdown on a trick play to go with a rushing touchdown.

McDonald highlighted the difference between the two halves, emphasizing that it took a full team effort to clinch the victory.

“The first half was a little bit rough for the defense, and the second half [was rough] for the offense,” McDonald said. “So, [the key to the win] was really just playing a complete game as a team, with each side of the ball looking after the other.”

Coach Jay Civetti discussed the dichotomy, as well, noting that there is ample room for the team to improve.

“There are plenty of things that we’ve got to get better at,” Civetti said. “You love the adjustments that we made defensively at halftime, and offensively, we had a great first half, but they were able to figure us out. We need to have better adjustments for the second half for the offense.”

For Amherst, it has been nothing but wins in its first six games — a streak it hopes to continue against Tufts. The Mammoths continued their dominant run in Saturday’s 33–3 win against the Wesleyan Cardinals.

Wesleyan entered the game with a 3–2 record and is generally regarded as one of the NESCAC’s top teams. Hosting the Mammoths at Andrus Field in in Middletown, Conn. and coming off of a 44–13 drubbing of the Bates Bobcats, it seemed they were positioned to make the game competitive. Amherst dispelled that notion, however, blowing out Wesleyan in a 33–3 rout.

The Cardinals scored their only points of the game on a field goal at the end of the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Amherst defense was strong, as usual, holding the hosts to 4-of-13 on third down conversions, recording six sacks and two turnovers while also notching a safety.

The teams’ total yards of offense told the story of the game: Amherst amassed 421 yards while Wesleyan managed just 101. This discrepancy could largely be attributed to the running game on both sides, as the Mammoths went for 218 yards on the ground while holding Wesleyan to -3 yards.

Amherst’s strong rushing attack is led by junior tailback Biafra Okoronkwo. On his 18 carries against Wesleyan, the Towson, Md. native went for 119 yards and two touchdowns. After the impressive performance, Okoronkwo sits second in the NESCAC in rushing with 501 yards.

Recent history suggests that tomorrow’s game will not go the same way as Amherst’s matchup with Wesleyan. Last season, Amherst prevailed in a close game at Ellis Oval, leaving Medford with a 31–26 victory. The Jumbos struggled early on, allowing the Mammoths to grab a two-score lead, and failed to contain the visitors’ passing game. Then-sophomore quarterback Ollie Eberth and then-senior Reece Foy combined for 315 yards for Amherst. The Mammoths’ aerial attack is something that Civetti and the Jumbos have focused on and will look to limit, given that Eberth put up 203 yards passing against the Cardinals.

Civetti discussed the game’s championship implications and how he approaches that aspect with his players.

“We talk about it,” Civetti said. “At this point in the season, when you’re in the position that we’re in, that conversation has to happen. Amherst has been in that position before. They’re a really good team — the statistics speak for themselves. This is as close to a NESCAC playoff game as you get.”

McDonald also recognizes the challenge ahead, noting the strength of the Jumbos’ opponent.

“You’ve got to give credit where credit is due,” McDonald said. “Amherst is a really great team. They’re really well-coached, but we’re focusing on Tufts football and what we can do well to take advantage of what they don’t do well.”

Tufts will look to take down its undefeated adversary with kickoff scheduled for 1:00 p.m. at Amherst’s Pratt Field.