MIDDLETOWN, CT - Host Wesleyan University scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to tie the game, including a touchdown with six seconds on the clock, and then won it in overtime to stun Tufts, 24-17, in a NESCAC football night game on Saturday.
|Junior Jack Dolan had an 85-yard punt return TD|
Tufts (1-1) led 17-3 after junior Jack Dolan returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown with 13:26 remaining in regulation. The Jumbos had dominated defensively up to that point, keeping the Cardinals out of the end zone and forcing three turnovers.
However, led by junior QB Mark Piccirillo, the Cardinals (1-1) stormed back. They went 69 yards in nine plays covering 3:12 on the clock to score their first touchdown of the game as Piccirillo hit Eric Meyreles with a three-yard scoring pass that pulled the hosts within 17-10 at 10:09 of the fourth.
After a Tufts punt, Wesleyan moved into Jumbo territory but fumbled with Tufts cornerback Alex LaPiana recovering at his own 21. Tufts moved to the Wesleyan 35, took a delay of game penalty and then punted. The Cardinals took over at their own 20-yard line with 1:39 to go.
Back-to-back sacks by Jumbo senior Zach Thomas put Wesleyan at fourth and 15 on their own 15-yard line. They converted as Piccirillo passed 33 yards to Mike Breuler. Later in the drive, Wesleyan was fourth and nine on the Tufts 38 and Piccirillo converted again with a 14-yard pass to Evan Hull. On the next play, Piccirillo scrambled to his right and found Meyreles open in the far side of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown that tied the game 17-17 with six seconds on the clock.
The Cardinals took the ball first in OT and scored on their second play as Piccirillo found Breuler over the middle from 14 yards out for a 24-17 advantage. On Tufts' possession, Wesleyan senior linebacker Shayne Kaminski intercepted a Ryan McDonald pass on third down to end the game.
It had been a defensive struggle for three quarters, controlled mainly by the Jumbos. After Tufts' Tim Preston blocked Wesleyan's 36-yard field goal attempt on their first possession, the Jumbos turned it into points. They went 78 yards in nine plays with McDonald runing 35 yards into the end zone on fourth and four. That would be the only touchdown of the first three quarters.
The Jumbo defense had held the Cardinals to just 124 yards and 0 for 5 on third down in the first half. Tufts added a 23-yard field goal by freshman Matthew Alswanger at 7:13 of the second quarter to take a 10-0 lead. A 40-yard McDonald to senior Joe Nault pass keyed that drive.
Wesleyan put its first points on the board in their opening possession of the second half as Corey Phillips hit a 25-yard field goal. Later in the third quarter, the Jumbos drove down to the Cardinal two-yard line and faced fourth down. They attempted a fake field goal, but Wesleyan's Grant Williams and Brandon Morris stopped it for a 14-yard loss. That took the game into the fourth quarter where Dolan's punt return TD preceded Wesleyan's impressive comeback.
Piccirillo finished 23 for 37 with 279 yards and three touchdowns leading the Cardinals. He found Breuler 13 times for 201 yards and the game-winning score. Piccirillo also ran 23 times for 66 yards. Meyreles' two touchdowns were a part of his four catches for 53 yards. The hosts ended up out-gaining the Jumbos 385-366.
The Jumbos ran for 211 yards as McDonald gained 122 on 17 carries (7.2 average) and junior Dom Borelli had 98 yards on 25 totes. McDonald completed 14 of 23 passes for 155 yards, including five balls for 51 yards to Dolan and three for 62 to Nault.
Morris led Wesleyan's defense with 16 tackles including half a sack. Kaminski had 11 tackles and the game-ending interception.
Tufts, who has gone to overtime in each of its first two games including last Saturday's 35-28 win over Hamilton, returns to the road next week when they play at Bates. Wesleyan is at Hamilton next Saturday.