Football | Home opener presents golden opportunity
Published: Friday, October 4, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 4, 2013 08:10
Better performances beget increased expectations. For the football team, which played one of its best games in three years last week at Bates, it would not be unreasonable to expect a win in tomorrow’s home opener against Bowdoin.
Still, a few facts make it difficult to count the Jumbos as favorites. Tufts has not won in its last 25 tries. The Jumbos’ roster features 52 freshmen and sophomores. Only nine players have tasted victory in their collegiate careers.
But the team showed tangible signs of improvement in its 20-16 loss to Bates, a 5-3 squad in 2012, and now Tufts has a legitimate shot to beat Bowdoin, its weakest remaining opponent. The Polar Bears, like the Jumbos, are 0-2, and Middlebury and Amherst each defeated them handily, 27-5 and 27-11.
The key for Tufts is to keep improving. As fifth-year tight end Nick Kenyon pointed out on Sunday, the Jumbos have taken steps forward before, only to backtrack the next week. So far this season that has not been the case, as the team continues to mature.
“We’re right on schedule,” head coach Jay Civetti said after practice Wednesday. “Everything’s starting to happen right as it should.”
Does that mean there will be added pressure on Saturday?
“The first words my five-month old [daughter] said — she said, ‘Dad, we gotta win this one,’” Civetti said, tongue-in-cheek. “Do people say things? Yeah. People care; that’s why they say things. But has there been, ‘You must [win]’? No. All I hear is people that are constructive [saying] how they want to help us get there.”
The players may feel a little extra motivation this weekend — it’s the first home game, Parents Weekend and an opportunity to snap the streak — but they also know that tomorrow’s game is not the end-all.
“It’s not that ‘this is the one,’” sophomore linebacker Matt McCormack said. “It’s just that we’re really confident. We really believe, not necessarily for just this one, but for future games, as well.”
To convert their confidence into results tomorrow on Zimman Field, the Jumbos will need to deal with junior running back Zach Donnarumma. Last year against Tufts, Donnarumma returned from a bout with mononucleosis to rush for 137 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 2:36 to play. The host Polar Bears won, 17-10.
The senior has eclipsed 100 yards rushing all three times he has faced the Jumbos, and tomorrow he will likely be motivated by a subpar performance — 13 carries for 13 yards — at Amherst in Week 2.
“He’s been an Achilles’ heel for us for years,” Civetti said. “I think [Bowdoin] called ‘Power’ 27 times versus us last year. He, along with his offensive line — they singlehandedly put us away.”
Slowing him down will require a team effort.
“It’s a matter of playing your assignment, doing what your job is,” junior defensive lineman James Brao said. “For me, on the rush, it means playing just my gap and hitting my movements and stunts when they’re assigned. Stopping a player like [Donnarumma] isn’t a single-person job.”
Against Bates’ triple option offense, Tufts added four or five new defensive fronts, and every defensive player got a new assignment. This week, the defense has returned to its typical base 4-3. Much like at Bates, the challenge for Tufts will be to anticipate and contain the run.
“Just like Bates did, if [Bowdoin is] rushing 70 times, you’re not gonna give up less than 100 yards,” McCormack said. “So it’s about keeping them out of the end zone at the end of the day.”
Offensively for Tufts, junior quarterback Jack Doll and his receivers will look to build on what they established last week, when Doll broke a school record by completing 46 passes. For the first time, the Mater Dei High School product looked comfortable commanding the team’s no-huddle, spread attack, and he has become willing to throw to a handful of targets. Among them are junior Greg Lanzillo, sophomore Jack Cooleen and freshman Ben Berey, all of whom had career highs in receptions against Bates.
For Bowdoin, junior Mac Caputi — whose father Dave has been the Polar Bears’ head coach for 14 years — is the starting quarterback. Senior Thomas Romero, who saw the bulk of the playing time last year, has thrown 10 passes in each of the first two games.
The Jumbos hold the all-time advantage against Bowdoin, 58-47-2, and they last beat the Polar Bears in a Homecoming classic in 2009, when Adam Auerbach (LA ’12) hit a 37-yard field goal in the fourth quarter to tie, and a 35-yarder in overtime to win.
Tomorrow at 1 p.m., with temperatures expected to rise past 70 degrees inside Ellis Oval, the Jumbos will try to rekindle the magic that has been all but absent since Auerbach’s triumphant moment.
“[The players] know when it’s real and when it’s not — and I think they know it’s real,” Civetti said. “They know what they should be. They know what they’re capable of. The new challenge becomes, how do we accept that opportunity ... and how do we finish it? Saturday’s the only test to be able to decide that.”