Football | Too little, too late: Jumbos cannot overcome early deficit
Published: Monday, September 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 24, 2012 12:09
The Jumbos wanted a fresh start. What they got was a nightmarish first quarter.
Tufts’ first play from scrimmage on Saturday was intercepted, and eight plays later, Wesleyan was in the end zone. One mistake led to another, and before they could blink, the Jumbos were trailing 21-0.
“They came out and knocked us on our heels,” senior tight end Nick Kenyon said. “We just didn’t answer the call.”
It was anything but the start the Jumbos had envisioned, especially after an impressive victory against Bowdoin in last Friday’s preseason scrimmage.
“You can’t put yourself in a 21-0 hole in the first quarter and expect to win a game,” head coach Jay Civetti said. “We’re definitely not a good enough team to not take care of the football the way that we did — snap the ball over our punter’s head, backed up [near our own end zone]. Those are inexcusable mistakes.”
In the second quarter, the Jumbos clamped down on defense and put together a pair of scoring drives to cut the Cardinals’ lead to 14 points at halftime. But Tufts was unable to muster a second-half comeback, and Wesleyan left Zimman Field with a 35-14 victory in the season opener.
“I think the one glaring thing that you saw from that first half was our inexperience,” Civetti said. “We’re a young team, with a lot of guys that haven’t played a lot of football. I’m not using that as an excuse, that’s just the reality of where we’re at.”
The first quarter was especially rocky for sophomore quarterback Jack Doll, who made his first collegiate start. Doll’s first and last passes of the day were picked off, and in between he was sacked three times. With 37 seconds left in the opening quarter, he was leveled as he released his second interception and was forced to leave the game with an injury.
Meanwhile, on the Wesleyan side, sophomore quarterback Jesse Warren threw two first-quarter touchdown passes, while classmate LaDarius Drew picked up 55 rushing yards in the opening period.
“LaDarius Drew might be one of the best backs I’ve seen in this league in a long time,” Civetti said. “Maybe since Ray Jones, who played at Trinity when I was there [in the mid-’90s]. The kid’s fantastic.”
After the first quarter, though, Tufts’ defense began to settle in.
“After we realized that this is exactly what we’d seen all week in practice, in the second and third quarter we started meshing and we started playing team defense,”sophomore linebacker Tommy Meade said.
As the defense found its rhythm, so did the offense. Senior John Dodds, who appeared in six games last year, took over under center and injected new life into the Jumbos’ attack. On his second drive, Dodds marched the offense from the Wesleyan 40-yard line down to the 17 before connecting with Kenyon for a touchdown.
The Cardinals responded with their fourth score of the half to go up 28-7, but Dodds again had an answer, bringing the Jumbos all the way from their own 10 into Wesleyan territory.
Suddenly, the bounces were going Tufts’ way: On 3rd-and-10 from the Wesleyan 43, Dodds’ pass glanced off the back of the ducking referee and fell into the hands of junior wide receiver Pat Nee for a 23-yard gain.
With eight seconds left in the half, Dodds found Kenyon in the end zone once again to cap a 90-yard drive.
“I think there were glimpses of what we can be, and glimpses of what we will be,” Civetti said. “You saw the team fight back, you saw us rally. I think we got it to a point where the game was within reach.”
With one more break, the Jumbos could have made it even closer. On the opening kickoff return of the third quarter, junior A.J. Redmond forced Cardinals freshman Rob Manning to fumble at his own 24-yard line. But Manning’s teammate, sophomore linebacker Jake Siciliano, pounced on it, saving Wesleyan from having to defend a short field.
“We had a bunch of opportunities where we could have made big plays, we just missed it by an inch or two,” Kenyon said. “There’s definitely room for improvement, but there was definitely a lot to take away. A play here and there could have completely swung the game.”
For the remainder of the second half, the Jumbos were unable to push past the Wesleyan 37-yard line, and they were 0-for-3 on fourth down in the final two quarters.