Last Saturday, Sept. 22, Tufts football narrowly edged out Wesleyan for a late-night victory of 16-13. Tufts managed a flurry of points in the second quarter and did not score again, but it was still enough to carry them to a win. The Cardinal defense was not as strong as last week, but still managed a sack and an interception. Wesleyan managed to dominate the time of possession and were able to sustain drives, converting 7 of nineteen opportunities on third down and two of three on fourth down. However, the Cards could not quite capitalize on the opportunities offered to them.
The first quarter started off slowly as both teams struggled to find their rhythm. In the third drive of the game, the Red and Black started on Tufts’ 40-yard line and were making good progress. Glenn Smith ’21 rushed for a touchdown, but the play was called back due to a holding call. A few plays later, quarterback Mark Piccirillo ’19 forced a throw into a tight window which was intercepted, but the play was again called back due to a Tufts penalty.
To start the second quarter, kicker Patrick Wolff ’21 clocked a beautiful field goal to open the scoring and give Wesleyan the lead 3-0. Tufts made good progress on their next drive but stalled shortly before the the 50-yard line and with a solid punt, pinned Wesleyan back into their own red zone. The Cardinals couldn’t make much progress and were forced to punt back almost immediately. A strong Tufts return started the drive on the Wesleyan 26-yard line, and though the Cardinals defense managed to slow them down, the Jumbos still found a way onto the scoreboard with a field goal to tie the game 3-3.
All of a sudden, the Cardinals seemed to lose their concentration. On the returning kickoff, the Red and Black return man coughed up the ball and gave possession right back to Tufts on Wesleyan’s 11-yard line. The very next play, Tufts passed for an 11-yard touchdown to take the lead that they would hold for the rest of the game. Wesleyan still did not have their mojo and were forced to punt after a three-and-out on their subsequent drive. The defensive side of the ball was not much better. After a long drive and a 28-yard touchdown, Tufts held a commanding 16-3 lead.
This was the spark needed to help the Cardinals back in the game. To start off the ensuing drive, Piccirillo scrambled for 39 yards. Despite some inconsistent play that bogged down the momentum, Wolff bagged another field goal to close the lead to 16-6. Tufts made a strong effort to score again, but this time the Wesleyan defense held strong and the half ended with minimal action.
The Red and Black carried that energy and momentum to kick off the second half. With a good deal of Tufts’ help from penalties, a Smith rushing touchdown closed the lead to 16-13. Still carrying that same mojo, Will Kearney ’20 picked off the first Tufts pass of the half, but the offense did little with the possession. The Jumbos had little success on that side of the ball as well, making decent progress on their next drive, but a handful of foolish penalties stopped them from progressing. Wesleyan snapped up this opportunity, nickel and diming their way down the field to the Tufts red zone. The Birds then made a controversial call late in the game, going for it on fourth down near the Jumbos’ ten yard line. Sean Penney ’21 made a valiant effort but could not quite pick up the distance, and Tufts managed to keep the Cardinals from taking the lead.
Once again, Tufts tripped themselves on offense, and penalties held them back. Similarly, once again the Red and Black offense found themselves driving down the field and before they knew it, were in scoring position. David Estevez ’22 tried three times to drive the ball in on the Tufts goal line but, after a tremendous effort from the Jumbos, was kept out. Unfortunately, Wolff could not convert the field goal opportunity. The score stayed at 16-13 in favor of Tufts.
Both teams struggled on offense and found a way to contain their opponent on defense before Wesleyan forced a punt with two minutes left and started to gain momentum. Piccirillo completed a gorgeous pass to Hallvard Lundevall ’20 for 45 yards and carried the team to the Tufts 30-yard line to give the Cardinals one last shot at ending the game. It was not enough and Wolff missed his mark, ending the Cardinals hopes of getting back in the game.
The Red and Black effort was marred by lapses in concentration that gave away foolish fumbles and let in easy touchdowns. The defense seemed to opt for a bend-don’t-break strategy this week, which seemed to be successful but lacked many of the flashy plays displayed in their match against Middlebury. Lundevall and Piccirillo proved to be a deadly combination, snatching drives back throughout the game, and are my selections for players of the game. During family weekend next Saturday, Wesleyan will square off against Hamilton at 1 p.m.
Jacques Slaughter can be reached at email@example.com.