Football triumphs in season finale at Middlebury

The Tufts University men's football team wins against Colby College 26-21 on Nov. 6. Tobias Fu / The Tufts Daily

Tufts football was victorious in its final game of the season on Nov. 13, defeating Middlebury 34–27. The win marked the fourth in a row for the Jumbos after dropping their first five games of the year. They finished the 2021 season with a record of 4–5, tied for fifth in the NESCAC. 

The first quarter was marked by strong defense by both teams — with Tufts and Middlebury exchanging punts on the first four possessions of the game. Tufts finally cracked through late in the first on a 1-yard touchdown run by senior co-captain Mike Pedrini. The drive was fueled by a 50-yard gain from junior running back Tyler Johnson. 

Midway through the second quarter, the Jumbos appeared to be cruising, with senior defensive back and co-captain Brandyn Jones intercepting Middlebury’s senior quarterback Will Jernigan. The next play after the turnover, freshman quarterback Michael Berluti found junior wide receiver Jackson Butler open in the end zone to put Tufts up 13–0. 

Middlebury was down, but not out. In just two minutes, the Panthers drove 75 yards for a score on a run by Jernigan, inching one score closer to catching the Jumbos. After a Tufts three-and-out, the Panthers again drove down the field and put up another score, making it 13–13 with seven minutes left in the first half.

The Panthers weren’t done yet. After another three-and-out, the Middlebury offense drove 30 yards — supported by a 24-yard punt return — to take its first lead of the game at 20–13. The Jumbos responded well, however, with junior receivers Philip Lutz and Billy Dunn helping chip up the field, piecing together a 12-play drive. The last second drive was capped off by a 26-yard touchdown pass from Berluti to Dunn, bringing the score to 20 all at the half.

After a Middlebury punt to start the second half, Berluti, Pedrini and Johnson teamed up to take the Jumbos’ offense 67 yards to the end zone, capped off by a Tyler Johnson touchdown run. Pedrini caught a pass for a 39-yard gain that opened up the drive in a big way for Tufts.

After a fourth down stand deep in Jumbo territory, the Tufts offense kept firing, with Johnson running in another touchdown and Berluti finding Lutz for another large gain to push the ball down field. 

Down 14 points, the Panthers kept fighting. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Jernigan threw for another touchdown on a fourth down in the red zone, capping off an 11-play, 75-yard drive. 

Defending a one-score lead, the Jumbos’ defense stepped up down the stretch in the fourth, with senior defensive end and co-captain Jovan Nenadovic coming up with multiple tackles-for-losses and a huge 9-yard sack. 

“The offense kept us in the game up to [the fourth quarter] so we had to do our part of keeping [Middlebury] out of the endzone,” Nenadovic said. “I was talking to the defense before the last couple minutes of the game, and I told them there’s no better way to win it than to leave it in the hands of our defense.”

The icing on the cake was a late interception by senior cornerback Jason Ndansi, capping off an impressive fourth-quarter stand by the Jumbos’ defensive unit.

Berluti finished the game with 217 yards and two touchdowns in the air for Tufts, with Johnson and Pedrini rushing for 120 and 81 yards, respectively. Lutz had yet another impressive performance out wide for the Jumbos, bringing in seven catches for 70 yards. 

Senior linebacker Matty Drouillard was everywhere for the Jumbos’ defense, leading the team with 12 tackles. Nenandovic came up big with seven tackles and a clutch sack. 

“It’s tough to imagine winning a game after losing five straight, but we never strayed from our mission this season,” Nenadovic said. “We were faced with adversity, but we stepped up and responded, and it feels good knowing we ended on a high note.”