|Senior tri-captain Nick Falk was part of a strong Jumbo defensive effort
SOMERVILLE - Middlebury College junior running back Remi Ashkar (Glen Rock, NJ) scored from two yards out on fourth down with two seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Panthers a dramatic 19-17 come-from-behind victory at Tufts in a NESCAC finale on Saturday at Ellis Oval/Zimman Field.
The host Jumbos had led 17-7 after the second touchdown pass of the day by senior QB Johnny Lindquist (Highland Park, IL) for a 35-yard score to junior Dylan Haas (Yorktown Heights, NY) with 10:30 remaining in the fourth.
However, the Panthers answered with a 38-yard touchdown pass from sophomore QB McCallum Foote (Newton, MA) to junior tight end Billy Chapman (Greenwich, CT) to make it 17-13 at 8:23 of the fourth. The extra point attempt failed after a bad snap. The Middlebury defense then stopped the Jumbos, leading to a 19-play, 79-yard game-winning drive for the Panthers.
Middlebury avoids its first losing season since 2005 and finishes at 4-4. They have won 10 straight in the series against the Jumbos dating back to 2002. Tufts ends the 2011 campaign at 0-8.
The Panthers entered the contest ranked first in NESCAC for total offense (414 yards per game) and tied for first in the league scoring 29.7 points per game. However, the Jumbo defense held Middlebury scoreless through three periods and Tufts led 10-0 heading into the fourth. Twice in the first half the Jumbo defense kept Middlebury off the scoreboard when they had the ball inside the five-yard line.
Tufts opened the game with an 11-play, 49-yard touchdown drive. They converted three third downs on the drive, including a 12-yard Lindquist to junior Mike Howell (Phoenixville, PA) pass on third and eight from the Panther 26. On third and nine, Lindquist connected with junior tight end Nick Kenyon (Norwich, CT) for a 13-yard touchdown pass at 8:06 of the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.
Middlebury earned a first and goal on the ensuing possession, but Tufts senior tri-captain Nick Falk (Riverside, IL) defended a pass on fourth down from the four-yard line to turn the ball over on downs. Falk was one of 15 Jumbo seniors recognized before the game.
Taking over at their own four, the Jumbos marched 89 yards on 20 plays to add to their lead (10-0) with a 24-yard field goal from senior Adam Auerbach (Glen Rock, NJ). It was the 22nd field goal of his career, breaking the Jumbo all-time record of 21 previously held by Chris Wild from 1988-91.
After the Tufts defense forced a Middlebury three-and-out, the Jumbos were also forced to punt on their next possession. However, junior punter Marty Finnegan (Oak Park, IL) had to fall on the ball after a bad snap giving the Panthers possession at the Tufts 38 with 2:05 to go until halftime. The Jumbo defense answered the call again after Middlebury got to first and goal at the one. Junior Sam Diss (Ridgewood, NJ) made a tackle for no gain on a third-down pass completion, and then sophomore Sean Harrington (Chelmsford, MA) forced Foote into a fourth-down incompletion to again turn the ball over on downs.
Middlebury received to open the second half and again had the ball in Jumbo territory before Tufts junior Kyle Weller (Hingham, MA) intercepted a pass at 17-yard line. The Middlebury defense forced a Tufts punt, and the Panthers moved the ball into a first down on the Jumbo 18. Tufts' defense stiffened again, stopping the Panthers on downs including a third-down pass defended by Falk.
On Tufts' next possession, Panther senior DL Roy Langley (Charlotte, NC) sacked Lindquist creating a fumble that junior DL Jimmy Tilson (Basking Ridge, NJ) recovered at the Jumbo 25. Foote hit senior Nick Resor (Westwood, MA) for eight yards to convert a fourth down early in the drive. On another fourth-down play, Foote's six-yard pass to Chapman set the Panthers up at the two-yard line. Ashkar took it in from there to cut the Jumbo margin to 10-7 with 14:57 left in the fourth.
The Jumbos answered with a touchdown drive covering 58 yards in seven plays. On third down and nine, Lindquist scrambled and passed 35 yards to Haas for a touchdown that put Tufts up 17-7 with 10:30 remaining.
Uncharacteristically inaccurate for most of the game up to that point, Foote drove the Panthers 70 yards in six plays to bring them within 17-13. His 22-yard connection with freshman WR Brendan Rankowitz (Westport, CT) converted a third and 11. He found Chapman over the middle for the 38-yard touchdown with 8:23 remaining.
Lindquist kept the next Tufts drive alive with a nine-yard run on third down, but the Jumbos eventually had to punt. Middlebury took over at their 21 and Foote led them downfield. He passed 12 yards to senior WR Matt Wassel (Rumson, NJ) to convert a third and seven. On a fourth down and 10 play from the Jumbo 40, he and Resor hooked up for 14 yards. An eight-yard pass to Chapman set up third down and goal from the two. After Diss stuffed Ashkar, the Panther running back scored his second touchdown of the game with two seconds remaining to give the visitors a 19-17 advantage. Middlebury, who scored 19 fourth-quarter points, squibbed the kickoff to end the game.
Foote completed 34 of 57 passes for 314 yards, including nine balls for 109 yards to Chapman. Wassel received eight passes for 88 yards. Ashkar rushed for 105 yards on 23 carries. The Panthers finished with 422 yards of total offense. They were five for eight converting fourth downs in the game.
Sophomore running back Ryan Pollock (Reading, MA) became the first Jumbo to rush for 100 yards since November 2009 with 27 carries for 104 yards. Lindquist completed 14 of 19 passes for 152 yards and the two scores. Haas led the Jumbos with six receptions for 91 yards.
Defensively, Middlebury's junior DB Daniel Kenerson (Gloucester, MA) and senior LB Zach Roeder (Keene, NH), along with Diss for Tufts had game-highs with 10 tackles. Panther senior DL Chris Dola (Arlington, VA) had 1.5 tackles for losses, while Jumbo junior Austin Crittenden (Deerfield, IL) was credited with three passes defended.