Football (5-0) maintained its perfect record, earning the team’s fifth win in defeating Tufts 35-24 on Saturday in what proved to be the most difficult game of the season so far. The Ephs’ sloppy play in the second quarter allowed Tufts to take command of the game in front of a vocal home crowd but, showing the team’s resilience in a hostile environment, Williams managed to persevere. With the help of a stingy defense and methodical running attack, the Ephs took control of the game with two unanswered touchdowns in the third quarter to take the lead. A third straight score in the fourth quarter put them ahead by 11 as the game ended.
The game was closely contested up until the final minutes. “We have never been in that situation,” Head Coach Aaron Kelton said. “It showed that we could handle some adversity. As long as we don’t panic and we stay in scope of our game plan, we can win no matter what the situation.”
Initially, however, it appeared as if the men were going to add a notch to their belt relatively easily. The defense forced a three-and-out on the first two Tufts possessions and did not allow a single opposing player into the red zone during the first quarter. After a one-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter by top-performing running back Ryan Lupo ’11, the Ephs took a 7-0 lead and appeared ready to hold onto it. Lupo, who finished the game with 39 carries for 180 yards and four touchdowns, was given the ball early and often but couldn’t manage to score again in the first quarter.
The Jumbos fought back in the second quarter, putting together a solid drive at the beginning of the quarter which culminated in a game-tying 28-yard touchdown reception. After Williams fumbled on special teams, Tufts was able to punch a field goal through the uprights for a 10-7 lead. On the very next drive the Ephs regained the lead by utilizing yet another of their offensive weapons: the arm of quarterback Pat Moffitt ’11. Moffitt completed three huge passes – a 26-yarder to tri-captain and tight end Jon Carroll ’11, a 10-yard connection to Lupo and an 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tomas Kearney ’12 – to give Williams a 14-10 lead midway through the second quarter. After the two quarterbacks traded interceptions, however, the defense got flagged for holding and then gave up two huge passing plays. The second of these two plays was a 22-yard Jumbo touchdown catch as time expired in the second half, giving Tufts a 17-14 lead.
Going into halftime after such a demoralizing play was not easy for the Ephs. “It was a difficult situation,” Kelton said. “As a team it was new for us. We made some plays and had good stops on defense.”
Coming out of halftime down 17-14, Kelton made sure his team would come back out on the field ready to play a cleaner second half. On the very first drive, however, a fumble by running back Alex Scyocurka ’14 allowed a Tufts linebacker to recover the fumble and score for a 24-14 lead.
“We didn’t change anything in terms of play calling, but our execution changed,” tri-captain wideout Bryce Bennett ’11 said. “We just executed and once we were able to do that, we knew we had the better team. The defense buckled down and the offense finally didn’t shoot itself in the foot.”
On the next possession, Moffitt completed two passes for 32 yards, leaving the Ephs on the Jumbos’ 32-yard line. Lupo punished the Tufts defense with five carries totaling 30 yards and finally punched the ball into the end zone on a 10-yard run, cutting the lead to 24-21. The defense then recovered a fumble in Tufts territory which, with the help of a 15-yard personal foul against the Jumbos, allowed the offense to start at the Tufts 37-yard line. After an offensive pass interference penalty left the Ephs at the 23, Lupo again pounded the ball right down the opposition’s throat, finding his way into the end zone to give the Ephs a 28-24 lead that they would not relinquish.
“Offensively, it was a strange game,” Bennett said. “During the game, it seemed like we weren’t having the success we were having during the previous weeks even though we had 500-plus yards of offense. When it comes down to it, we are going to run the football, so the fact that Lupo came through for us was huge. You can’t underestimate his contribution. The offensive line opened up holes and he ran right through them.”
Kelton echoed Bennett’s sentiments, singling out Lupo’s contribution. “[Lupo] has been that way for us all year long,” Kelton said. “He did a great job … They didn’t stop him, so we kept giving him the football.”
Lupo would score one more time on the first play of the fourth quarter for his fourth touchdown of the day; he garnered honors as Co-NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week. The defense proceeded to shut down the Tufts offense despite the excessive number of penalties, and the men preserved Williams’ pristine record.
Kelton, however, indicated that the team’s victory was more in question during the game than he liked. “[We need to] eliminate stupid penalties,” he said. “We cannot give the other team so many opportunities to score and expect to win. Protect the football, don’t turn it over. Simple things. We won’t prepare differently this week. We will stick to our game plan.”
Williams will look to preserve its perfect record when the team travels to play Hamilton for a 1 p.m. game on Saturday.