MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – In his final game, senior quarterback Ryan McDonald broke Tufts records for touchdown passes in a season and career while tying the mark with five in a game as the Jumbo football team finished its 2018 season with a 35-13 victory at Middlebury College on Saturday.
|Senior Dom Borelli hauled in 12 passes for 121 yards and two TDs|
Trailing 13-7, Tufts scored with five seconds remaining until halftime as McDonald threw a one-yard TD pass to senior Jack Dolan. That started a run of 28 unanswered points for the Jumbos as they pulled away from the Panthers (5-4).
The Jumbos finished the season at 7-2, becoming just the sixth Tufts team since 1960 to win seven or more games. The victory was also the 25th for the Tufts seniors, tying them with the 1982 seniors for the most victories by a Jumbo football class. The 2018 seniors finished their careers with an excellent 25-9 record (.735 winning percentage) over the last four seasons.
Host Middlebury, which hasn't had a losing season since 2005, finished with a 5-4 mark. The Panthers were led by 187 yards passing and two rushing touchdowns from sophomore QB Will Jernigan.
The five TDs by McDonald today tied a 35-year old Tufts record originally set by Dave Piermarini against Wesleyan in 1983. Tufts' all-time leader in total offense, McDonald finished the season with 17 touchdowns, surpassing the 16 thrown by Anthony Fucillo in 2010 as the Jumbo standard. McDonald also eclipsed Piermarini's all-time record of 32 touchdown passes from 1981-83 by finishing his career with 33. The Jumbo tri-captain completed 25 of 31 passes for 262 yards today against Middlebury.
The Panthers scored on their first possession as Jernigan directed a seven-play, 60-yard scoring drive that took barely three minutes. He scored from seven yards out for a 7-0 Panther lead at 11:42 of the first. Tufts had a pass interference penalty on a third down play during the drive.
The Jumbos answered when McDonald tossed his first TD pass to classmate Spenser Clouse, whose 17-yard TD reception was the first of his career. Senior Dom Borelli, who caught 12 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns on the day, had three receptions during the drive including a 19-yard gain on a first and 20 play following a Tufts penalty.
A six-yard sack by Tufts freshman Jovan Nenadovic helped force a punt on Middlebury's next possession. However, the Panthers replied with a big defensive play as well with Coltrane Marcus intercepting McDonald at midfield.
Middlebury turned that into points as they covered 50 yards in five plays highlighted by a 28-yard pass from Jernigan to Jimmy Martinez. Jernigan scored the touchdown on a nine-yard run and Middlebury led 13-7 after missing the extra point at 9:58 of the second quarter.
Following punts by both teams, Tufts took over at its own 22 with five minutes remaining in the first half. McDonald converted a fourth and two play with a two-yard run as time dwindled. He then had completions of five yards to junior tight end Jack Donohue and the one-yard scoring pass to Dolan with five seconds remaining putting Tufts up 14-13 at intermission.
A pair of punts started the second half, but then Tufts got hot. They would score on their next three possessions to take control of the game.
The first of those scores was jump-started by an 18-yard punt return by sophomore Bryce Adam and 15 more yards tacked on due to a Middlebury personal foul. Starting at the Panther 30, the Jumbos scored in four plays with Borelli catching a 25-yard touchdown from McDonald on a fourth-down play at 7:34. Tufts led 21-13.
The Tufts defense had a three-and-out, and the offense got to work on what would be an eight-play, 68-yard touchdown drive. Sophomore Mike Pedrini had a 16-yard rush and a 17-yard reception on back-to-back plays early in the drive. Tufts was fortunate to recover its own fumble on the five-yard line, then McDonald and Borelli connected again for a 28-13 Tufts lead at 2:46 of the third.
The defense continued to play its part as junior linebacker Greg Holt intercepted Jernigan at the Middlebury 27. His eight-yard return to the Panther 19 led to McDonald's 19-yard pass to senior Dan de Leon for a touchdown on the first play of the Jumbo possession. The visitors were up 35-13, having scored 21 points in less than six minutes during the third quarter.
On its next possession, Middlebury would see an 18-play drive that moved all the way down to the Tufts 14 produce no points. The hosts went for it on fourth and goal from the 14 and Jumbo senior Nmesoma Nwafor made the stop after a one-yard gain to turn the ball over on downs. Jumbo junior Kevin Quisumbing had a 12-yard sack during the drive. The Panthers had converted a fourth down and 20 play earlier with a 20-yard Jernigan to Frank Cosolito completion.
An interception by senior Tim Preston, the 16th of his career, at 1:44 of the fourth quarter put a fitting end to the game, the season and the careers of 26 Jumbo seniors.
Tufts accumulated 397 yards of offense including 85 yards rushing on 13 carries (6.5 average) by Pedrini. With his 25 completions today, McDonald also became the Tufts record holder with 369 as a career total. The defense recorded four sacks, including a team-high fifth of the season for a nine-yard loss by junior Stephen Timmins. Preston led Tufts with eight tackles. Tufts limited the Panthers to 27 yards rushing on 26 attempts.
Jernigan finished 17 for 28 passing including six completions for 60 yards to Conrado Banky. Bobby Ritter's eight tackles led the hosts, while Kevin Maxwell had a pair of tackles for losses totaling eight yards.
The Jumbos finished the season in sole possession of third place in NESCAC with their third victory over Middlebury in the last four seasons. The Panthers tied with Wesleyan for fourth place in the league.