Middlebury football drops finale to Tufts; finishes 5-3

MEDFORD, Mass. — Host Tufts on Saturday edged the Middlebury College football team, 31-28, in the teams’ final game of the season. The Jumbos improved to 6-2, their best record since 2001, with their first win vs. Middlebury in 15 tries, while the Panthers finished at 5-3, their 10th straight winning season.

Tufts junior quarterback Alex Snyder threw two of his three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter as the Jumbos overcame a 20-17 deficit. Jumbo running back Chance Brady rushed for 138 yards on 28 carries and four Tufts receivers caught touchdown passes for the hosts. The Jumbo defense intercepted three Middlebury passes.

The Panthers gained 518 yards of total offense as Middlebury senior QB Matt Milano completed 39 of 69 passes for 410 yards and three touchdowns. Senior Matthew Minno caught 10 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns to become the school’s all-time leader with 30 receiving touchdowns. Tight end Daniel Fulham hauled in 12 receptions for 103 yards, while senior Gil Araujo blocked a punt, had a sack and finished with 11 tackles for the Panthers.

The Panthers pulled to within 31-28 in the final minute of regulation, but Jumbo Mike Miller recovered an onside kick and Tufts ran out the clock.

A pair of trick plays helped Tufts take a 14-7 lead into halftime. On the Jumbos’ second possession, J.P. Garcia took the snap on a punt from the Middlebury 38 and ran 20 yards to convert a fourth down and 10. Two plays later, Snyder passed 14 yards to Jack Cooleen for a 7-0 Tufts lead at 5:53 of the opening stanza.

Middlebury answered immediately. A 28-yard Milano to Minno pass gave the Panthers first down on the Tufts 41. Milano then had a 16-yard completion to Fulham, a 15-yard pass play to Emilio Ovalles-Misterman and a 10-yard scoring strike to Minno to tie the game at 7-7 at 3:42 of the first.

Tufts’ second score came after the teams traded interceptions on consecutive plays. Kevin Hopsicker intercepted Snyder at the Panther 10-yard line, but Tufts’ Tim Preston grabbed a deflected ball on the next play. That gave Tufts the ball at the Middlebury 25. On the first play from scrimmage, receiver Joe Nault took a direct snap and passed 25 yards for a touchdown to junior Ben Berey to make it 14-7 at 6:15 of the second quarter.

Willie Holmquist kicked a 28-yard field goal giving Tufts a 17-7 lead with 10:15 remaining in the third. The Jumbos failed to capitalize from the Middlebury 10 in the third, with Holmquist missing a 34-yard field goal.

Milano threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Minno with 16 seconds left in the third quarter to make it 17-14.

That set up a fourth quarter where the teams combined to score four touchdowns and blocked punts by both squads would be huge factors. Early in the fourth, Araujo blocked a punt to give Middlebury the ball at the Tufts 19-yard line. After an 18-yard Milano pass to senior Trevor Miletich that took them to the one, freshman Diego Meritus plowed into the end zone at 13:11 to give the visitors their first lead at 20-17.

Tufts came right back, scoring on a 31-yard pass to Mike Rando from Snyder at 11:20 as the Jumbos regained the lead at 24-20.

Both teams punted on their next possessions. When Middlebury lined up to punt in the middle of the fourth, Tufts sophomore Brett Phillips blocked it and the Jumbos took over at the Panther 24. Three plays later, Snyder hit tight end Nik Dean for a 16-yard touchdown and Tufts led, 31-20, with 4:12 remaining in regulation.

Middlebury then drove 75 yards on 15 plays in 3:18 to score on a two-yard reception by James Burke from Milano with 54 seconds left in the fourth. Meritus picked up a fourth and one with a two-yard rush during the drive, and a 10-yard Milano to Burke pass converted another fourth down during the possession.

However, the Panthers’ onside kick failed and the Jumbos secured their 6-2 season.

Snyder passed for 199 yards and the three touchdowns while completing 14 of 29 attempts. The Jumbos totaled 403 yards, 179 rushing.

Meritus finished with 83 yards on 23 rushes for Middlebury, which picked up 31 first downs. Hopsicker led the Panthers with 12 stops and two break-ups to go with his interception. 

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