Jumbos lose big under the lights at Wesleyan
Published: Monday, September 23, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 23, 2013 03:09
There were two clear takeaways from the NESCAC’s first-ever night game at Wesleyan on Saturday. One: The Cardinals’ offense is deadly. Two: Tufts has a long way to go.
After the first drive of the game, the Jumbos led 7-0. They lost 52-9.
“I expect more out of this program,” head coach Jay Civetti said Sunday.
The teams set a league record for total yards with 888, surpassing the previous record of 671 set by Tufts and Amherst in 2010. Wesleyan accounted for 592 of those yards.
Civetti acknowledged that while his team is young, the performance on Saturday was not acceptable.
“The guys on the field have to execute,” he said. “I think it’s great that, as a team, those expectations are real. I think we’ve got some good talent. But last night wasn’t good enough.”
Five thousand-plus fans watched the game from the bleachers and grassy hills surrounding Andrus Field, located at the heart of campus with brick buildings hugging the stadium on all sides. A single light fixture was turned on 45 minutes before the 6 p.m. kickoff and stayed on throughout the game.
The Jumbos’ opening drive was like clockwork. Junior Jack Doll was 8-of-8 passing, including four completions to freshman Ben Berey, and he fired a seven-yard strike to junior tight end Xavier Frey for a touchdown less than three minutes into the first quarter. Ten plays. 77 yards. 7-0 Jumbos.
The defense followed with a goal-line stand to limit the Cardinals to a field goal, but then the Jumbos unraveled. After Tufts went three-and-out in under a minute, Wesleyan marched 59 yards in nine plays to take a 10-7 lead. Junior LaDarius Drew gained just six yards on five carries, including a one-yard touchdown run, but that was the last time the Jumbos would slow the Cardinals’ rushing attack.
Offensively, the Jumbos were unable to recapture their rhythm, and they went three-and-out again. This time, Wesleyan needed just four plays to find the end zone and take a 17-7 lead.
After a third consecutive short possession for Tufts, Cardinals junior Kyle Gibson — the second half of Wesleyan’s two-headed tailback monster — broke free and sprinted 85 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown. Suddenly, Wesleyan had pulled away, 24-7.
Gibson broke multiple tackles on his touchdown run, which became a common theme as the game went along.
“Missed tackles killed us,” junior tri-captain linebacker Tommy Meade, who had eight tackles and 2.5 for loss, said. “It was outside zones all day, inside zones — everything we practiced. We just weren’t wrapping up, we weren’t finishing plays, and it catches up to you.”
The remainder of the first half followed a similar pattern, with Tufts struggling to move the ball and Wesleyan taking advantage. The Cardinals scored three more touchdowns, the last of which was set up by senior Jake Bussani’s interception. At halftime, the score was 45-7.
Missed assignments by the Jumbos helped Wesleyan rack up 484 yards of offense in the first half alone, including 215 on the ground. Senior tri-captain linebacker Sean Harrington noted that four Cardinals touchdowns were the result of Tufts’ critical errors.
Overall, the game underscored the potential downside of the Jumbos’ no-huddle offense and aggressive defense.
“As a program, that’s what we’ve decided is going to be our mindset and focus,” Civetti said. “Obviously, when it’s on offense and you go three-and-out, it’s easily highlighted. It’s part of the deal.”
The Cardinals’ backups entered the game in the third quarter and stayed in the rest of the way. They added one more touchdown in the fourth to complete a string of 52 unanswered points, and Tufts earned a safety to finish the scoring.
Drew finished with 120 yards on 20 carries, while Gibson reached 155 yards on just eight attempts.
“Those are two great backs we faced, and they’re gonna make their plays,” Meade said. “But we let them make way too many of them.”
Junior quarterback Jesse Warren was also stellar for Wesleyan, completing 13 of 17 passes for 215 yards and three touchdowns.
For Tufts, Doll was just 14 of 34 after the first drive and hit 10 different receivers in the game. Freshman quarterback Liam O’Neil played one series late in the game and went 1-for-2.
The brightest spots for Tufts came from several freshmen on offense. On top of Berey’s four catches, first-year running back Chance Brady looked great, gaining 78 yards on seven carries. Mike Rando seemed comfortable returning kicks, averaging 21.6 yards on eight chances.
Freshman Willie Holmquist solidified his role as the starting punter by pinning Wesleyan inside the 20 three times and averaging over 40 net yards.
“We’ve found some guys that are able to play at the college level, guys that I think we’ll be able to continue to rely on,” Civetti said.
While the 43-point loss was disheartening, the coach and his three captains each expressed the same sentiment: A loss is a loss.
“We continue to get closer to where we need to be,” Civetti said. “The score just isn’t indicative of that.”
“There’s seven more games,” Harrington added. “I don’t think we’re pressing the panic button.”
The Jumbos are 0-1. They visit Bates on Saturday.