The 6-2 Tufts Jumbos wrap up their successful 2018 season with an overnight trip to play at Middlebury College on Saturday afternoon.
Just five Jumbo teams since 1960 have won seven or more games and that's the opportunity in front of the team when it takes on the 5-3 Panthers. Tufts will also be attempting to win for its seniors, who currently have the second-most victories by a Tufts football class at 24. If they can get to 25, this year's group will tie the 1979-82 class for the most wins in the modern era of Jumbo football.
|Junior Winton Blount scores one of Tufts' seven touchdowns versus Colby last week|
Tufts is currently alone in third place in the conference standings. Though they can't win a league championship, they could tie for the best record in NESCAC if both Amherst (who plays Williams) and Trinity (Wesleyan) were to lose on Saturday. So there is plenty to play for as the year comes to a close in Vermont.
Tufts finished its home schedule undefeated with a 48-0 victory over Colby College at the Oval last weekend. It was the Jumbo program's biggest win over a New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) opponent since 1914.
Middlebury enters Saturday with wins in three of its last four games, including 35-17 last week at Hamilton. The Panthers are gunning for their third straight season with six or more wins and are looking to accomplish that feat for the sixth time in the last seven years. Middlebury hasn't had a losing season since 2005.
The last three games in the series between the teams have been high-scoring affairs. Middlebury won last year 35-24 after the Jumbos had won two in a row by 48-35 and 31-28 finals. The series record is very even, with the Panthers holding a 31-29 edge.
The Jumbo defense would like to have a say in changing the offensive trend when the teams play. They posted their second shutout of the year last week against Colby following a 28-0 win at Bowdoin on October 6. Tufts held the Mules to just 124 total yards, including 25 in the first half. They allowed just one first down in the first 30 minutes of play as Tufts built a 35-0 lead.
Tufts is ranked third in NESCAC allowing 260.4 yards and 13.4 points per game. Junior tri-captain and linebacker Greg Holt led the Jumbos with eight tackles in the Colby game and is third overall in NESCAC with 68 stops. He's at 250 tackles for his career. Tufts added three sacks of Mules quarterback Matt Hersch last week and have 21 overall now. Junior Stephen Timmins leads the Jumbos and is fifth in the league with four including one for a 10-yard loss last week. Senior Nmesoma Nwafor, one of 26 seniors who were honored before the game, had an interception, shared a sack and added a quarterback hurry to the defensive effort.
The Middlebury offense that Tufts will go against is a more balanced unit than usual. The Panthers led NESCAC in passing offense from 2011-17, but rank fourth at 179.9 yards this fall. However, in last week's win against Hamilton, sophomore QB Will Jernigan passed for 246 yards and four touchdowns. Senior Conrado Banky caught three passes for 97 yards and a TD, while junior TE Frank Cosolito snagged two TD passes among his six receptions for 69 yards. Both were All-NESCAC first team selections last season, as was junior offensive lineman Kevin Woodring. The Panther rushing attack is led by sophomore Peter Scibilia, sixth in the league with 536 yards and owner of a 184-yard game against Bowdoin and 143 versus Williams.
The Jumbo offense is enjoying one of its best seasons ever averaging 29.1 points (second in NESCAC) and 376.8 yards (third) per game. Senior quarterback Ryan McDonald passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more in last week's win against Colby. He's second in the league with 193.6 yards passing per game also has 435 rushing yards. His nine rushing TDs are second in NESCAC while his 12 passing TDs are tied for third. He completed 19 of 23 passes last week, an 82.6-percent success rate that improved his season mark to 59.2 percent (second in NESCAC).
Tufts rushed for 265 yards and five touchdowns against Colby with 10 different ball carriers. Senior Dom Borelli ran for his fourth touchdown of the season, senior back-up QB Ryan Hagfeldt had a 17-yard touchdown run and junior Jay Tyler scored on a three-yard run. The Jumbos' 19 rushing touchdowns this fall are second in NESCAC, while their 173.3 rushing yards per game is fourth.
The 48 points scored by the Jumbos were the most since that 48-35 win at Middlebury on November 12, 2016. Tufts scored 49 at Amherst on October 30, 2010. Remarkably, the margin of victory was the highest against a conference opponent since the 1914 Tufts team earned a 61-7 victory against Bates and a 60-7 win over Bowdoin.
Middlebury is sixth in the league defensively allowing 374.1 yards and 27.5 points per game. Sophomore DB Jonathan Hobart is the leading tackler with 54 and has also intercepted two passes. The Panthers' 10 interceptions overall is tied for the league lead as senior Wyllis McKissick and sophomore Charles Roselle also have two. Senior LB Kevin Maxwell and sophomore LB Jack Pistorius have made the most plays in the opponent's backfield with 6.5 and 5.5 tackles for losses, respectively. Middlebury has the NESCAC's top punter with junior Maxwell Rye averaging 39.8 yards per kick.
Tufts' two wins over Middlebury in 2015 and 2016 ended a 14-year losing streak against the Panthers. However, Middlebury quarterback Jack Meservy threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more as the Panthers got back into the winning column in the series with a 35-24 victory over the Jumbos in Somerville last year. Meservy, who finished 26 of 45 for 275 yards passing, connected three times with Cosolito for touchdowns. Tufts was led by 145 yards rushing from McDonald.
TUFTS VS. MIDDLEBURY SERIES
Series Record: Middlebury 31-29
First Game: 1915, Tufts 34-0
Last Tufts Win: 2016, 48-35
Last Middlebury Win: 2017, 35-24
Current Streak: Middlebury, 1 game
Large Margins: Tufts 47-6 in 1953; Middlebury College 52-10 in 2013