Jumbos take down 3-time defending NESCAC champions Trinity

Quarterback Ryan McDonald (LA'19) prepares to pass the ball while (from left to right) offensive line Nick Roy (LA'19), wide receiver Tanner Gordon (LA'19) and offensive line Dan MacDonald (LA'19) block defenders in the homecoming football game at Bello Field against Bates on Sept. 29, 2018. Ben Kim / The Tufts Daily Archives

The Jumbos opened the 2019 season with an impressive 14–8 victory over the three-time defending NESCAC champions the Trinity Bantams on Saturday at Ellis Oval. Tufts’ win marks its first win against Trinity since the 2007 season. Additionally, the final score of Saturday’s game deviated from recent history in that Trinity has put more than 20 points on the board against Tufts in every meeting since 2012.

Tufts coach Jay Civetti, who is a Trinity alumnus and was a captain for the Bantam football team, spoke about the win.

“Any time you get to get a win in this league it feels great,” Civetti said. “I was certainly happy for our guys and happy for our program. But again, it’s one game and while it’s a big one we need to make sure we’re moving on from it.”

The sturdy Jumbo defense led the way as its allowed the Bantams to gain only 281 yards of total offense, 189 yards fewer than their meeting just 11 months ago. The Trinity offense only found the end zone once and was never able to put the football through the uprights, as it missed its one extra-point attempt and its one field goal attempt early in the third quarter. The Bantam defense was responsible for the other two points that the team added to the scoreboard when junior running back Mike Pedrini was tackled for a loss in the end zone.

The defense was led by senior co-captain and linebacker Greg Holt, who totaled 10 tackles along with a standout performance by sophomore defensive lineman Jovan Nenadovic, who added nine tackles, five of which were for a loss. Nenadovic’s five tackles for loss and three sacks doubled and tripled his numbers from the 2018 season, respectively. For his breakout performance, Nenadovic was also honored as the Jumbos’ first NESCAC Defensive Player of the Week for the 2019 season.

When asked about the honor, Nenadovic emphasized that his performance — including his three sacks — was a result of following his assignments.

“I kind of just wanted to go out and … just do what I’m supposed to do, follow my gap assignments,” Nenadovic said. “With the rest of the defensive line behind to fill their gap so I was just the one open [to make the sack].”

The Jumbo defense was firing on all cylinders as they held a Bantam offense led by the 2018 NESCAC Co-Rookie of the Year, sophomore quarterback Seamus Lambert, to only 111 yards passing. To add insult to injury, the Trinity quarterbacks, Lambert and senior Jordan Vazzano, were each intercepted once by Tufts’ stingy defensive backs. Additionally, the Jumbo secondary was able to successfully limit the damage done by All-NESCAC First Team receivers junior Jonathan Girard and senior Koby Schofer. The Bantams finished the game with a third-down conversion rate just above 13% as they were forced to punt the ball nine different times.

Civetti spoke about how they worked around Lambert, praising his team’s work ethic against a formidable Trinity opponent.

“It was certainly part of our emphasis to make sure we were getting [Lambert] off his launch point and getting him uncomfortable in the pocket,” Civetti said. “Ultimately, our kids just took the coaching and did an awesome job doing that.”

On the other side of the ball, the loss of the 2018 NESCAC Co-Offensive Player of the Year, former quarterback Ryan McDonald (LA’19), did not seem to hurt the Jumbos. While the offense was unable to take advantage of several key opportunities, they performed in a manner that would eventually lead the Jumbos to victory. Senior quarterback Jacob Carroll piloted the offense from under center after only having attempted one pass in his previous three seasons in the brown and blue.

Carroll spoke about his first start for the Jumbos and praised his team for its stellar performance on both sides of the ball.

“It felt good to be playing again,” Carroll said. “I really love being out there with my team … I thought we really played well and the defense played a really good game.”

The infrequent but ever-important scoring began with just under three minutes remaining in the first quarter when Girard went over his defender to come down with the ball in the corner of the end zone on a fourth-and-goal play. After a missed point-after attempt, Trinity took a 6–0 lead, its only lead of the afternoon.

While the Jumbos took a little longer to get settled offensively, they finally found the end zone early in the second quarter. The drive, which started at Tufts’ 16-yard line, got off to a hot start as Carroll completed a 44-yard pass to junior wide receiver Brendan Dolan. A few plays later Carroll found Pedrini in the flat, who broke a one-on-one attempted foot tackle and sprinted into the end zone from 12 yards out. After the Jumbos took the lead with the extra point they wouldn’t look back. Throughout the rest of the second half, neither team would add to the scoreboard, as neither the Bantams nor Jumbos were able to put together a drive more than seven plays.

The beginning of the second half pushed the momentum in Tufts’ direction. After the Bantams missed a field goal attempt on their first drive, the Jumbos took over at their own 20-yard line. Tufts spent the next five minutes moving 80 yards down the field. The drive was saved by Carroll’s legs on a fourth-and-two play in which coach Civetti elected to go for it. On the Trinity 18-yard line, Carroll scrambled for eight yards to gain the crucial first down. Several plays later, Carroll found senior tight end Jack Donohue in the end zone for Carroll’s second touchdown completion of the day, giving the Jumbos a 14–6 lead.

Carroll credited both his offensive line and the performance of his receivers when asked about his team’s lengthy and successful offensive drives.

“The [offensive line] did a good job getting me some time back there,” Carroll said. “Guys made good catches and good runs after the catch.”

After a safety by the Bantams defense in the fourth quarter, the score was 14–8. The Bantams got the ball back with 44 seconds left at their own 37-yard line, needing just a touchdown and extra point to pull off the comeback. On a crucial third and 10, recently inserted Trinity quarterback Vazzano found Schofer at the Tufts 18-yard line for a 34-yard completion, which was then moved to the nine-yard line following a penalty on the Jumbos. For a moment, it looked as though Trinity was destined to get their 12th straight victory against the Jumbos. 

However, two plays later, with virtually no time left on the clock, Tufts junior linebacker John DeLuca explosively met Vazzano in the backfield, bringing him down for a three-yard loss in the backfield, promptly ending Trinity’s comeback hopes. With no timeouts remaining, the Bantams were unable to stop the running clock following the sack. Upon the realization of their victory, hordes of Jumbo players stormed the field to celebrate the stunning defeat of one of their most bitter NESCAC rivals.

The Jumbos look to continue their winning ways on Saturday, as they travel to Williamstown, Mass., to take on the Williams Ephs (0–1). The Ephs fell to the Middlebury Panthers in a close battle, and they will be looking to redeem themselves as they host the Jumbos for their first game on home soil this season.