SOMERVILLE - In overtime, Tufts University junior QB Ryan Hagfeldt recovered his own fumble for a touchdown and then the Jumbo defense stopped Hamilton College on their OT attempt to give the hosts a wild 35-28 victory over the Continentals on opening day of the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) football season Saturday afternoon at Ellis Oval / Zimman Field.
The teams went back-and-forth in the fourth quarter leading up to overtime. A nine-yard touchdown reception by Continental sophomore WR Joe Schmidt and a two-point conversion tied the game at 21-21 with 12:21 to play in regulation. Tufts answered with a 31-yard rushing score by sophomore back Andrew Sanders at 6:29. Hamilton tied the score again as Schmidt hauled in his fourth TD reception of the day from sophomore QB Kenny Gray, this one for 29 yards, and the score was 28-28 with 4:20 on the fourth-quarter clock. Late in the fourth, the Jumbos drove into field goal range at the Hamilton 20. However, a penalty and a sack took them out of field goal position and they missed a 51-yard attempt to win it.
In overtime, Tufts had a first and goal at the Continental three-yard line. The visitors keep the Jumbos out of the end zone on the next three plays with junior Tyler Hudson making all three stops. On fourth and one, Hagfeldt tried to sneak the ball over the goal line, but fumbled. After the officials cleaned up the pile, Hagfield had the ball at the bottom and Tufts went ahead 35-28. A defensive holding penalty gave Hamilton a first down at the Jumbo 11 in their overtime session. The Jumbo defense held, with plays by Stephen Timmins, Zach Thomas and Greg Holt. On fourth down, Gray's pass to Christian Donahoe was incomplete to end the game.
Tufts had scored on its opening possession, going 69 yards in 11 plays. Junior QB Ryan McDonald, who had converted a third and 12 with a 20-yard pass to junior Dom Borelli earlier in the drive, rushed for an 11-yard touchdown at 11:57 of the first and Tufts led 7-0.
Schmidt would start his sensational day for Hamilton on the visitors' first drive. On the Continentals' third play of the game, he caught a 70-yard touchdown pass from Gray. The Continentals missed the extra point though, and Tufts led 7-6 at 10:31 of the first. However, after a Jumbo punt, again on just the third play of their drive Gray found Schmidt for another bomb that produced a 51-yard touchdown giving the visitors a 13-7 lead. Schmidt would finish the day with eight catches for 214 yards and four touchdowns.
Tufts started a go-ahead drive late in the first quarter. A 10-yard rush by McDonald kept it alive on a third-and-seven play. Just 22 seconds into the second quarter, McDonald scrambled and found sophomore TE Winton Blount open in the end zone for a 27-yard TD connection that put Tufts up 14-13.
After the quick start offensively, the teams combined to go the next five possessions without points. Late in the second quarter, McDonald took Tufts 60 yards in seven plays including completions of 25 yards to Frank Roche, 27 yards to Borelli and a 16-yard TD pass to junior WR Jack Dolan with 2:13 on the clock. The hosts led 21-13 at the half.
In a scoreless third quarter, the Jumbo defense would stand tall on a couple of occasions. On Hamilton's opening possession of the second half, Tufts senior tri-captain J.P. Garcia had a pass break-up when the Continentals went for it on fourth and 11 from the Jumbo 30. Later in the period, a Tufts fumble was recovered by Hamilton's Hudson giving the visitors the ball at the Jumbo 25. A sack by Tufts senior Micah Adickes - one of his two in the game - on third down forced the Continentals to punt. A Hamilton possession that started at the Jumbo 37 at the end of the quarter was also squelched by the Tufts defense.
However, into the fourth, the Continentals would take advantage of a punt that was blocked by sophomore Alex Ganter. Taking over at the Tufts 26, Gray's nine-yard touchdown to Schmidt and a two-point coversion pass from Gray as he was being tackled to Will Budington tied the score at 21-21. Tufts surged back ahead on a fourth-down and one play when Sanders broke free through the middle for his 31-yard TD run. On the ensuing drive, Hamilton's Gray and Schdmidt were at it again from 29 yards out to tie the score at 28-28.
The two teams combined to run 164 plays and gain 894 yards of total offense over the course of a three-hour, 20-minute game. Tufts had 481 yards, with McDonald accounting for 359 yards (267 pass, 92 run). He went 26 for 35 passing with two touchdowns before leaving the game with an injury. Eleven different Jumbos caught passes, led by Dolan's nine receptions for 63 yards.
Gray finished the afternoon 22 for 44 passing for Hamilton, covering 365 yards with four touchdowns. In addition to Schmidt, he found Donohoe three times for 102 yards.
Defensively, Hudson led all players with 19 tackles including 14 solo stops. Junior Cole Burchill was in on 13 tackles for Hamilton. Sophomore Justin Leigh broke up three passes. Sophomore Tylor Scales topped Tufts with nine tackles. Junior Tim Preston finished with 3.5 tackles for losses and Adickes added three QB hurries.
Tufts travels to Wesleyan to open its road schedule under the lights next Saturday at 6 p.m. Hamilton hosts Amherst that day at 1 p.m.