Football blows lead in 4th quarter, loses to undefeated Wesleyan 20–13

Football players run back onto the field after halftime of their 47–14 victory over Bates at Bello Field on Sept. 29, 2018. Rachel Hartman / The Tufts Daily Archives

On Saturday night, Tufts football lost to Wesleyan 20–13 after coming out of the first half up 10–0. The 5–0 Cardinals stole the show at the death, scoring a touchdown on a 29-yard pass with just over 6 seconds left on the clock.

“That was a good team we played and, unfortunately, we made them better,” coach Jay Civetti said.

The loss brings the Jumbos’ record to 2–3, tied for sixth in the NESCAC; the Cardinals’ undefeated record is good for first in the NESCAC, tied with the Middlebury Panthers.

The Jumbos got on the board quickly, scoring in the first quarter for only the second time this season. After going three and out on the first drive of the game, the Jumbos converted when they got the ball back with a 38-yard field goal from junior kicker Matt Alswanger.

In the second quarter, senior running back Dom Borelli ran in from the goal line to extend the Jumbos’ lead to 10–0, capping off a 66-yard drive. Then, with just under two minutes remaining in the half, the Jumbos had another field goal chance, but Alswanger missed from 40 yards out.

Overall, the Jumbos defense — led by senior linebacker and co-captain Greg Holt — stymied the Cardinals offense in the first half, allowing just 87 yards of total offense and forcing five punts and one turnover on downs.

“I think the defense did well,” Holt said. “At the end of the day, we still have to focus on our assignments, and at the end of the day we didn’t do all the things we needed to do to get a win.”

The Cardinals shifted the momentum in the third quarter. A 36-yard kickoff return from sophomore wide receiver/quarterback David Estevez combined with a Jumbo penalty brought the ball to the Jumbos’ 38-yard line. It only took the Cardinals six plays to score, as sophomore quarterback Ashton Scott found junior wide receiver Delando Clarke in the end zone to cut the Tufts lead to three.

The Jumbos struggled to gain any footing on offense in the third quarter, failing to convert for a first down on their three possessions.

In the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, the Cardinals finished off a 33-yard drive with a game-tying field goal by first-year kicker/punter Mason Von Jess. When the Jumbos got the ball back on offense, senior quarterback Jacob Carroll threw his second interception of the game. The Cardinals capitalized with another Von Jess field goal on the next drive, going up for the first time in the game with a 13–10 lead.

The Jumbos answered. A 65-yard pass from Carroll to graduate student wide receiver Frank Roche brought the ball to the Cardinals 9-yard line. Although the Jumbos could not find the end zone, Alswanger successfully completed his 26-yard field goal attempt to tie the game at 13–13.

The Jumbos soon got possession back with sophomore defensive back Brandyn Jones’ interception. With just over six minutes remaining in regulation, the Jumbos led a slow drive down the field. However, Alswanger missed his second field goal attempt in the game from 33 yards out.

With 1:48 left on the clock, Scott led his offense down the field in a drive that ultimately ended with a 29-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Matthew Simco. The Cardinals got the extra point to bring their lead to seven, and with only six seconds remaining, the Jumbos were out of options.

“Defensively, it was concerning that they drove the length of the field in the time that they did and scored,” Civetti said.

Lack of execution on special teams proved to be costly for the Jumbos: Alswanger missed two field goals and they allowed long kickoff returns from Estevez, who tallied 88 total return yards. Along with special teams, Civetti emphasized failure to score in the red zone and turnovers as reasons for the loss.

“There’s four phases that I think are super important,” Civetti said. “You’ve got to be able to score in the red zone — we obviously didn’t do that and haven’t done that well this year. You need to be able to win on special teams — we did not do that yesterday. You need to be able to play great defense stopping the run — which we did a solid job in the run game. And the turnover game — we turned the ball over twice and took one from them, but that still leaves them plus one. We didn’t execute in the four arenas that we want to.”

There were some positives. The Jumbos defense stood strong throughout the majority of the game up until the final drive against a Cardinals team that ranks No. 3 in the NESCAC with 29.2 points per game. Despite his two interceptions, Carroll continued to solidify himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the conference with 297 passing yards.

Tufts now has a 2–3 record — the worst record through the first five games of the season under Civetti as head coach since his first three 0–8 seasons in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Four games remain on the schedule against Bowdoin, Hamilton, Colby and Middlebury. This weekend the team hosts Bowdoin (0–5) for Tufts’ homecoming weekend.

“It’s not a difficult process to figure out why we didn’t win the game [against Wesleyan],” Civetti said. “Luckily, I don’t think there isn’t a guy that walked off that field not knowing why we didn’t win. I don’t think there are a lot of questions, just good solid work to be done.”

Holt expressed a similar feeling, adding that the team will learn what it can from this matchup.

“I’d say we look back at the game and we take the corrections from it that we can make for next week,” Holt said. “But, as far what happened within the [Wesleyan] game, we’re focused on the next week.”

The homecoming matchup kicks off Saturday at 1 p.m. at Ellis Oval.

“We have an aggressive and hungry Bowdoin team coming down for homecoming and we need to be prepared to prove to ourselves and play for each other that we deserve a victory,” Civetti said. “We have a lot of work to do.”