In what was predicted to be a potentially league champion-deciding matchup, both the Middlebury Panthers and the Tufts Jumbos were ready to rock and roll on Saturday. Middlebury started with the ball, and senior wide receiver Carter Stockwell got the Panthers moving with a 16-yard rush up the middle. The Panthers charged downfield, but a throw from senior quarterback Cole Kennon was picked off in the endzone by the Jumbos’ senior defensive back Drew Guida.
Junior quarterback Michael Berluti came onto the field and started with a nine-yard pass to senior wide receiver Jaden Richardson, later letting junior running back Chartellis Reece run for a series of possessions for a combined 10 yards. Berluti threw for 232 yards against Middlebury, completing 19 of 41 attempts. He got in on the rushing action himself and ran for a gain of 12 yards. Tufts made their way to the Middlebury one-yard line via a 12-yard pass to Richardson and a few rushing plays. On fourth and goal, Reece was tackled by senior linebacker John McCool and junior defensive back Rocco Stola of the Panthers and the Jumbos were kept out of the endzone.
The Panthers got the ball back and started on the one-yard line. Kennon was hit hard, forcing a fumble in the endzone that rolled in favor of Middlebury and was recovered by them. Kennon was forced to come out for injuries after this play. Sophomore quarterback Brian Moran came in and threw to sophomore wide receiver Mike Ahonen, who was wide open in the middle of the field, for a gain of 13 yards. Moran continued to be effective, throwing a 33-yard pass to junior wide receiver Patrick Jamin, who dodged a tackle and then was taken down on the Tufts 14-yard line by junior defensive back Jameer Alves of the Jumbos. Unable to find the endzone due to additional defending by Alves, senior linebacker EJ Comerford and senior defensive back Kristian Rosario, the Panthers elected to go for the field goal; junior kicker Zach Levy put it through the uprights to make it 3–0.
A three and out by both teams, highlighting both teams defensive abilities in this matchup, put the ball into Jumbo hands. Reece got the possession started, running and weaving past players for 18 yards to get to the Tufts 48-yard line. Berluti decided to run himself two plays later, gaining 33 yards. He again rushed for an additional 13 yards to put the Jumbos in field goal range. Sophomore kicker Vaughn Seelicke came onto the field, but his kick attempt was blocked by senior defensive lineman Tomás Kenary of the Panthers. The ball was recovered by the Panthers and brought to the Jumbos’ 41-yard line by senior defensive back Adam Harrington.
Moran hit Jamin with passes of 19 and 11 yards. The Panthers elected to kick again on fourth down, and Levy put it through the uprights to make it 6–0.
Berluti hit junior wide receiver Cade Moore for a 14-yard gain to try to gain momentum for the Jumbos. The drive quickly sputtered though, as a pass intended for Richardson was intercepted by senior defensive back Teddy Daniel on the Middlebury 35-yard line, who sprinted back and was able to get to the Tufts 40-yard line.
Cole Crider, the Panthers’ senior tight end, had a stellar catch on the next Middlebury possession, catching the ball in his hands and then in between his legs as he fell to the ground for an 11-yard gain. A pass interference play called on Tufts moved Middlebury even closer to the endzone, and Stockwell capitalized, running the ball in to make the score 12–0. The kick attempt was blocked. With the ball back into Jumbo hands, a holding penalty on Tufts stopped any momentum. Good defending by Middlebury and a false start by Tufts subsequently forced the Jumbos to punt.
A three and out by Middlebury gave the ball back to Tufts. On third down after two incompletions, Berluti threw a 31-yard pass to Moore who caught the ball on a half-jump-half-dive. The Jumbos would have to settle for a field goal though, and Seelicke put it through the uprights to make it 12–3.
After halftime, Tufts had two penalties that gave Middlebury first downs, preventing Tufts from getting any momentum going. The Jumbos had 11 penalties against the Panthers for a loss of a combined 111 yards. A pass thrown by Moran was intercepted by junior defensive back Louis Timmins, who was then hit by Jamin and fumbled the ball, but it was recovered by senior defensive back Jeremy Zuniga of Tufts.
Two throws to Richardson in the next Jumbos possession gained 30 yards. Reece rushed for 14 more yards, and then two passes got the Jumbos close to the endzone. A pass interference penalty on Middlebury put the Jumbos on the Panthers’ two-yard line, and Reece ran it into the endzone from there to make it 12–10 after a Seelicke PAT.
Moran was hit hard by senior defensive lineman Andrew Franco on the next Panthers drive and was forced to come out of the game, bringing in Middlebury’s third-string quarterback, senior Nick Perez. He threw on third down, but the pass fell incomplete and Middlebury was forced to punt. A three and out by the Jumbos gave the ball back to the Panthers.
Perez was sacked on third down by graduate student defensive lineman Michael Butler and Alves, and the Panthers were also forced to punt again.
Two slower non-scoring possessions later by both teams gave the Jumbos back the ball. Berluti threw a 15-yard pass to senior wide receiver Robbie Moret in this possession. A play later, Berluti was hit in the arm as he threw by Kenary, and the ball popped up and was intercepted by McCool who ran 59 yards for a pick six to make the score 19–10 Middlebury. The game ended at this scoreline.
The Jumbos actually managed 443 yards of total offense despite lacking it in crucial moments, while they held Middlebury to only 269 yards. The Jumbos on the season had 3,784 total yards of offense, holding their opponents to 2,257 yards total.
From an individual perspective, Reece rushed for a net of 808 yards and 8 touchdowns on the season. Berluti threw for 2,020 yards on the season and 19 touchdowns, with a completion rate of 55.09%.
“[There are] definitely things to be proud of and things to celebrate or feel OK about,” Berluti said. “But looking forward, looking towards next year, there's so much to improve on as well.”
The Jumbos finished the season with a 6–3 record. Middlebury will look to beat Colby on Saturday and hope for Trinity to be beaten by Bowdoin to secure a co-championship for Trinity and Middlebury.