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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Thursday, February 22, 2024

Football loses tough opening NESCAC matchup

The Sept. 17 Tufts football game against Trinity is pictured.

The Tufts Jumbos suffered a heartbreaking loss after a valiant fight against the Trinity College Bantams this past weekend, just barely losing 26-23. In their last 10 meetings, Tufts has been 1–9 against Trinity. The Bantams came in second place in the NESCAC in the 2021 season with a record of 8–1. Their only loss was to the NESCAC champion, Williams. In last season’s matchup between the Bantams and the Jumbos, Trinity dominated throughout the game and only a late surge of scoring from Tufts made the game more competitive. The final score was 42–28. 

Entering the opening game of the NESCAC season, the Bantams were heavily favored. 

“We definitely knew they were going to be good. They always have athletes and they’re always ready to go to start the year,” sophomore quarterback Michael Berluti said. 

This showed very quickly in the first half of the game, as Trinity scored on the second play from scrimmage. Trinity’s Will Kirby took a handoff 53 yards to the endzone to put the Bantams on the board 7–0. On the Jumbos’ opening drive, they were forced to punt. The snap went high and over the head of punter and starting quarterback Berluti and through the back of the end zone for a safety, making the score 9–0 within the first three minutes of play. The safety resulted in the Jumbos having to punt away the ball, and the Bantams were able to mount a long, time consuming drive that led to a 3-yard touchdown from Trinity’s Spencer Fetter to DeVante Reid. 

The two teams went back and forth for the rest of the quarter until Trinity was able to score once again at the start of the second quarter on a field goal to increase the Bantams’ lead to 19–0. Things were starting to look desperate for the Jumbos, as they weren’t able to generate any offense to that point. On the ensuing drive, Berluti completed a pass for a first down to senior wide receiver Phil Lutz who had the ball knocked out from behind. He was ruled down before the fumble, granting the Jumbos a respite. Berluti was sacked on the second down and the Jumbos were unable to convert on the long third down, resulting in another punt. 

On Trinity’s following drive, the Bantams intercepted Fetter’s pass to set the Jumbos up in Trinity territory. Senior running back Tyler Johnson picked up a good chunk of yardage to get Tufts within field goal range, and first-year kicker Vaughn Seelicke knocked it through the uprights to get points on the board for Tufts, making it 19–3. 

Trinity then received the kickoff with under two minutes to play in the half and drove down the field. A successful screen pass picked up 20 yards on the third down and set up 1st and goal with under 30 seconds left. The Bantams scored another touchdown, making it 26–3 heading into halftime. 

The second half was a completely different story in terms of scoring than the first. 

“I think there wasn’t a lot that changed. I think we just executed a lot better. ... At the end of the day, guys just started making plays that we weren’t really making in the first half,” junior wide receiver Jaden Richardson said. 

It started out in the same fashion, favoring the Bantams, with the Jumbos’ first drive stalling on a three and out. Trinity once again drove down the field, but the defensive line read a screen pass beautifully and forced a field goal attempt for the Bantams that was no good. 

On the next Jumbos drive, Johnson had a few good runs that picked up some larger chunks of yardage, but an incomplete pass intended for sophomore wide receiver Cade Moore forced Tufts to punt once again. Berluti’s passes were on target the majority of the time, but his receivers were having trouble gathering the ball in to complete the passes. 

A couple more good runs from Johnson set up a 31-yard completion from Berluti to Lutz. Going into the hurry-up offense, Berluti was able to find Lutz again, and the pass along with a ‘roughing the passer’ penalty on Trinity brought the ball to the Trinity 2-yard line. From there, Johnson was able to run the ball in and score, making it 26–10. 

At the start of the fourth quarter, Tufts started driving towards midfield and Berluti completed to Lutz again. Unfortunately for the Jumbos, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty set them back 15 yards and caused a very long third down try. Berluti hit Lutz over the middle on a crossing route, and Lutz made a couple of good moves around Bantam defenders to take the ball all the way to the house. The Jumbos tried a 2-point conversion, but Berluti’s pass fell incomplete, and the score stayed 26–16. 

The defense was able to force yet another Trinity punt with 10 minutes left in the game. The punt was low and the Jumbos blocked it to get the ball deep in Bantam territory. Tufts was called for a holding penalty and also lost yardage on a screen play to result in a field goal attempt. The 41-yard try by Seelicke was no good, but it was the only kick he missed throughout the entirety of the game. Holding strong, Tufts was able to get the ball back quickly, and picked up a first down through senior wide receiver Jackson Butler. Lutz gained another 35 yards on the following play. The Jumbos were stopped short of the first down marker, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Trinity gave Tufts the first down and kept the drive alive. Two passes to the end zone were just barely incomplete for Berluti, and Tufts set up for a field goal attempt.

Instead of kicking the field goal, the Jumbos faked the kick, with Butler taking the snap and standing up to throw a pass for the first down. Tufts was called for a false start but still attempted the fake on the following play. Butler’s pass was intercepted and Trinity took over. 

The Bantams stalled once again on offense, but it took all three of Tufts’ timeouts to prevent the clock from running all the way down. Tufts got the ball back and ran a hurry-up style offense, with two passes to Butler to put Tufts in Trinity territory. A long pass to the end zone from Berluti to Richardson scored a touchdown for the Jumbos and made the score 26–23 with less than two minutes remaining.

On the kickoff, Tufts attempted an onside kick, but Trinity was able to recover and run out the clock to end the game. The decision to run the fake field goal ended up being crucial in the end, with Tufts losing by just three points. 

“I think one of the biggest takeaways is you have to start fast. You certainly can’t wait till the second half and can’t wait until later in the game to really get going,” Berluti said. 

Berluti ended with 280 yards passing and two touchdowns, while Lutz picked up where he left off last season and went for 192 receiving yards on nice catches along with a touchdown.

It’s a tough loss to swallow for the Jumbos, coming close to upsetting one of the top teams in the NESCAC. They will look to right the ship against Bates next weekend in Maine.