MEDFORD - With the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) football season opening on Saturday afternoon, no two teams in the league are more eager to get going than the Tufts University Jumbos and the Wesleyan University Cardinals. They will kick off at Ellis Oval/Zimman Field at 1 pm.
|Sophomore Jack Doll will make
his first start at QB for the Jumbos
Tufts is anxious to prove themselves to the rest of the league this fall after finishing last in NESCAC with an 0-8 mark in 2011. Second-year head coach Jay Civetti's squad had a good performance in their scrimmage against Bowdoin last weekend and now looks to carry it over into the regular season. Likewise, Wesleyan is in a rebuilding mode entering its third season under head coach Mike Whalen. The Cardinals finished 3-5 last fall with only games against undefeated Amherst and 7-1 Trinity decided by more than a touchdown.
Saturday's contest between two squads looking to move up the NESCAC ladder should prove to be very competitive.
Ironically, Saturday also marks the Jumbo debut of former Wesleyan head coach Frank Hauser. He was hired during the offseason as the offensive coordinator at Tufts. Hauser directed the Cardinals for 18 seasons from 1992 to 2009 and is second all-time in coaching victories at Wesleyan. The 1997 team won the conference championship under his guidance. New Jumbo defensive line/co-special teams coach Patrick Madden is also a Wesleyan grad, Class of 1999. He was a defensive back on Hauser's conference champs.
Due to the NESCAC football schedule rotating the first game of the each team's season between two opponents every two years, Tufts and Wesleyan have not played since 2009. The Cardinals won that contest 7-3 in a defensive struggle. For this year's seniors, the 2009 game was the first of their collegiate careers. Only one current player from Tufts and two from Wesleyan recorded statistics that day. Jumbo receiver Mike Howell caught one pass for 10 yards and rushed once for eight yards. Cardinal running back Te'Rhon O’Neal rushed twice for -1 yards and returned two kickoffs for 36 yards. Linebacker Andy McKeon had a tackle assist.
Three years later, both squads hope to be more productive offensively in 2012. Wesleyan ranked seventh in the NESCAC for 2011 with 271 yards per game and was eighth in points scored with 13.0 per game. The Jumbos were last in both categories at 219.5 and 9.4, respectively. Defensively, the Cardinals ranked in the top half of the league last year with 17.4 points allowed per game (fourth) and 314.4 yards allowed (fifth). The Jumbos expect to be much improved from their 24.4 points and 342.9 yards allowed last season, both ninth in the league.
Both squads return productive running backs in Tufts junior Ryan Pollock and Wes sophomore LaDarius Drew. With an average of 90.8 yards rushing per game and seven touchdowns last season, Drew was the NESCAC Rookie of the Year and an All-Conference second team pick. The bulk of 15 starters returning to the Cardinals are on offense, including linemen Jim Curley and Pat DiMase, and receivers Jay Fabien and Kevin Hughes.
New starting quarterbacks will be unveiled by both programs on Saturday afternoon. Tufts sophomore Jack Doll will lead the Jumbos, while sophomore Jesse Warren - NESCAC's leading punter last season - earned the starting nod for the Cardinals. Jumbo senior John Dodds, the only QB on either sideline with much previous playing experience, gives Tufts a veteran back-up.
The only player in uniform for the Cardinals who has thrown a pass in his collegiate career is defensive back Jake Bussani with one last fall. However, he is better known for intercepting passes. His four last fall to go with 36 tackles and eight pass break-ups earned him All-NESCAC first team honors. He's joined as a leader in the secondary by fellow tri-captain Jon Lis. McKeon, now a senior tri-captain and lineman, senior lineman Morgan Hanson, and junior linebacker Myers Beaird also return as starters.
The Jumbos have fared well in season-openers during the past 10 years, posting a 7-3 record. They had won four in a row on opening day prior to the 2009 loss against Wesleyan. The Cardinals enter this afternoon's contest with a 5-5 record in openers since 2002. Conversely, their 2009 victory over Tufts stopped a four-game losing streak on opening day. The series between the teams is tight (22-20-2 Tufts). Since 2000, each has three wins apiece.
On opening day at Tufts Saturday afternoon, the Jumbos will present Football Alumni Awards to Ed Schluntz A50, G51 and Dave Thompson E62, G68. Schluntz was a football, basketball, and baseball star at Tufts who made outstanding contributions to football as a coach and administrator. Thompson was a lineman for the football team and a hurdler for the track team at Tufts who is a nationally recognized leader in the geotechnical engineering field and has been a faculty member in civil engineering at Tufts.
Tufts hosts Bates College on Homecoming Day at Ellis Oval/Zimman Field on September 29. Game time is 1:00 pm.
Series Record: 22-20-2 Tufts
First Game: 1892, Tufts 16-10
Last Tufts Win: 2008, 20-14
Last Wesleyan Win: 2009, 7-3
Current Streak: Wesleyan, 1 game
Large Margins: Tufts 42-16 in 1983; Wesleyan 37-7 in 2004