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

Football loses heartbreaker at home

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The Tufts football team is picture playing Amherst on Saturday, Oct. 22.

The Tufts football team suffered a heartbreaking defeat on Saturday to Amherst, losing 20–17 on a last-second game-winning field goal. Entering the game, the Jumbos were the expected favorites, as they came in with a conference and overall record of 3–2 in the season. On the opposing side, the Amherst Mammoths were winless in the five games that they had played. 

The game wasn’t expected to be a walk in the park. However, Amherst came in with one of the top-rated defenses in the conference in yards per game allowed. Their losses this year were primarily due to the lack of offensive production. Conversely, Tufts experienced success this season through high-scoring games and relying on their stellar offensive weapons. Throughout the game, Amherst was able to stifle the Jumbos’ passing attack and limit the offense. Ultimately, the offensive struggles for Tufts cost them the game. 

“Our execution lacked from the very start, we made a lot of mistakes and did not capitalize when we needed to,” sophomore quarterback Michael Berluti wrote in a message to the Daily.

The first quarter started out with a bang, as on the Jumbos’ first drive, Berluti broke free for a 56-yard touchdown run to put Tufts on the board 7–0. The Mammoths quickly responded with a score of their own. Amherst quarterback Mike Piazza answered with a 50-yard touchdown run of his own to tie the score. 

In the second quarter, Amherst found themselves once again in Tufts territory. In order to extend the drive, they opted to go for it on fourth-and-6 from the Tufts 31-yard line but the pass fell incomplete and Tufts took over on downs. Their drive was quickly snuffed by the Amherst defense and the Jumbos were forced to punt the ball away. Fortunately, the defense made a good play to regain possession of the ball. Piazza’s pass was intercepted by sophomore defensive back Louis Timmins, and he ran it back all the way to the Amherst 32-yard line. From there, the offense gained enough yardage to get first-year kicker Vaughn Seelicke a field goal attempt, which he put through the uprights to take the lead 10–7. The teams traded possession of the ball once more. Amherst was able to sustain a drive and get into Tufts territory. Instead of going for it on 4th down again, they decided to try a 49-yard field goal, which did not succeed. On the next drive, Tufts finally started to gain some momentum on offense. Berluti spread the ball around to his receivers, getting junior wide receiver Jaden Richardson, senior wide receiver Jackson Butler and senior wide receiver Phil Lutz involved in the passing game. They drove all the way to the 2-yard line and decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal. Berluti fumbled the ball, and it was recovered in the end zone for an Amherst touchback. The Mammoths ran the clock out to finish the first half with Tufts leading 10–7.

The third quarter started with the same offensive momentum for the Jumbos. They embarked on a 13 play, 75-yard drive that took almost five minutes in total. Johnson had good rushes, and Berluti was completing his short passes. Instead of attempting to force the ball over the middle of the field, Berluti took his open receivers on out routes toward the sidelines, and the Jumbos moved the ball steadily downfield. To cap off the drive, Johnson ran the ball into the end zone from the 1-yard line to extend the Tufts lead to 17–7. The Mammoths were unsuccessful on their ensuing drive and turned the ball over to Tufts. Trying to capitalize on the momentum they built up, the Jumbos went for it on fourth-and-4, but Berluti’s pass fell incomplete intended for Johnson. Amherst capitalized on its next possession, gaining yardage with good runs and finishing the drive with a 23-yard touchdown pass to cut into Tufts’ lead and make the score 17–14.

In the beginning of the fourth quarter, Amherst was able to drive into Tufts territory once more and kick a field goal to tie the game at 17–17. The Jumbos’ drive stalled, and they were forced to punt. On the punt return, senior defensive back Jack Racine forced a fumble and recovered the football to put the Jumbos in good field position. The Amherst defense held strong, however, and sacked Berluti for a 5-yard loss. Two incomplete passes kept the Jumbos out of field goal range, and Berluti, acting as a punter, pooch punted to try to pin the Mammoths deep. The ball unfortunately rolled into the end zone and Amherst took over on their 25-yard line. The Jumbos’ defense was able to force a punt and regain the ball. Berluti continued to take his short passes to the sideline to get into field goal range. Seelicke’s kick from 31-yards away sailed wide left, and Tufts left Amherst with 2:27 left and three timeouts to attempt to drive down the field. The Mammoths’ offense found their groove, picking up solid yards on each play and kicking the game winning field goal from the Tufts 22-yard line to end the game 20–17. 

Berluti had a solid day, going 30 for 48 for 219 yards. He had a rushing touchdown, but the lack of passing yards was uncharacteristic. He still leads the conference with a total of just over 1900 yards. 

“Our biggest weakness was lack of execution. Turnovers as well hurt us, fumbling on the 1 yard line was a crucial mistake that loses games so the adjustments for us is to take care of the ball and to score in the Red zone,” Berluti wrote.

A few defensive players were standouts for Tufts throughout the game. Junior linebackers EJ Comerford and Shane Reiner both had nine tackles on the day, and Comerford tacked on a sack in addition. 

“We’re not really going to change who we are as a team. Like I said, we’re gonna run the ball [and] stop the run. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to finish. coming off a loss, we’ve got to come out strong,” said Comerford.

Ultimately, it was a disappointing loss for the Jumbos, as it puts them in fifth in the conference after what was a very winnable game. They will look to get back on track next weekend against Hamilton College.