The reigning NCAA Div. III champion Tufts Jumbos were on the road this weekend competing against the Williams Ephs in their second game of the season and first NESCAC matchup. Despite entering the second half down 2–1, the Jumbos came back onto the field full steam ahead, regaining the lead and beating out the Ephs with a final score of 3–2.
Tufts senior midfielder Brett Rojas commented on Tufts’ matchup against Williams.
“The first NESCAC opener is always a tough one,” Rojas said. “There were lots of Williams fans watching, and the energy was really high. It was a super physical matchup. Williams is a great team, and they have one of the most dangerous players in the NESCAC [Williams senior forward/midfielder and co-captain Demian Gass] in their lineup.”
Williams took an aggressive approach in the opening minutes. After stealing Tufts’ first possession, Gass fired the first shot of the game toward Tufts junior goalkeeper Will Harned, who saved the shot. Tufts managed to keep the ball in Williams’ defensive third in the following minutes. Tufts junior midfielder Travis Van Brewer took an unsuccessful free kick from the 18-yard box that was followed by two failed corner kicks by the Tufts offense. As the game became more back-and-forth, Tufts defense remained solid, deflecting attempts by Williams’ offense.
The Jumbos took to the board first with a goal from junior forward Max Jacobs just under 30 minutes into the half. Rojas fired a shot from outside the 18-yard box that found Jacobs, who then repositioned and successfully found the back of the net.
Senior midfielder Zach Lane spoke about Jacobs’ performance in the Williams game.
“Max Jacobs had a great game,” Lane said. “He didn’t play a lot in our first game against Framingham State, but he started against Williams and put up a great performance.”
The Ephs did not let the deficit deter them as they dominated the remainder of the first half. In the 36th minute, Williams capitalized on a turnover; Gass drove the ball up the sideline and fired a seemingly impossible shot, deflecting off the right post and into the net to tie up the game. Riding this momentum, the Ephs scored a second time right before the end of the first half. Junior defender/midfielder Nick Ranieri took a corner kick for the Ephs that found sophomore midfielder/forward Jake Saudek, who used his head to tip the ball in, giving the Ephs the lead moving into the second half.
Rojas reflected on the Jumbos’ performance in the first half against the Ephs.
“We played well in the first half,” Rojas said. “The end of the first half could’ve gone differently. Williams scored off of our errors. But that’s what it takes for us to be a good team. To push ourselves to come back when we’re down, especially at away games. These are the games that make or break our season.”
Tufts proved its resilience in the opening minutes of the second half, maintaining dominance and attempting multiple shots on goal. In one such attempt, Rojas found junior defender/midfielder Calvin Aroh in the box, but Aroh’s subsequent shot was deflected by Williams sophomore goalkeeper Teddy Rader. The Jumbos also had two more corner opportunities that they were unable to see through.
The Rojas and Aroh pair had a second assist-and-score opportunity in the middle of the second half. Rojas received a pass in the box and was able to find Aroh by the left post with a clear shot on goal. Left unguarded, Aroh tied up the game for the Jumbos to make the score 2–2.
After Aroh’s goal, the Jumbos found their groove and refused to give up any more goals. As its defense remained solid, Tufts offense scored again at minute 77. Senior midfielder/forward and co-captain Gavin Tasker drove the ball to the goal after engaging a defender and passing to his left side. The pass found Van Brewer, who perfectly executed a shot to the top right corner of the net, securing the Jumbos’ ultimate 3–2 win.
Rojas elaborated on the team’s outlook coming out of the late win.
“This was a gutsy performance,” Rojas said. “Coming back at away games is never easy. We’re happy with the result and that we got three points out of this game, but I would say we definitely have some things to tighten up and improve upon. Our defense shape as a collective team can improve, and we need to start moving the ball with more tempo and purpose. NESCAC play is highly competitive, and I think we could’ve been a little more prepared for the physicality of it.”
Coach Josh Shapiro further commented on takeaways from Tufts’ matchup against Williams.
“The Williams game was a tremendous test and great reminder of how competitive and physical NESCAC games can be,” Shapiro said. “I felt Williams was better prepared to compete and play with great tempo early in the game. Credit to our guys, we made the necessary adjustments and performed much better in the second half, controlling most of the play. To come from behind in such a tough environment shows what our team is made of. There is a lot of character and experience in our group, and they had to call on that in Williamstown. Great win, recover, learn from it, and on to Keene State.”
With this win, Tufts improves to a 2–0 record overall this season and a 1–0 record in NESCAC competition. The Jumbos will be on the road again Wednesday to take on the Keene State Owls. The game is slated to begin at 7 p.m.