College Football: Panthers Drop Season Finale at Tufts 31-28

Courtesy Middlbebury Sports Information

Sommerville, MA. — The Middlebury football team finished up its 2015 season with a 31-28 road loss at Tufts on Ellis Oval/Zimman Field. The Panthers finish the year at 5-3 for their 10th-straight season over .500. Middlebury is now 25-7 over the past five seasons. The 6-2 finish for the Jumbos is their best in 14 years, breaking a 13-game losing streak to the Panthers. Matthew Minno caught his ninth and 10th touchdown passes of the season in the game, becoming the school’s all-time leadertufts with 30.

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

The Panthers, who gained 518 yards of total offense in the game including 410 through the air, pulled within 31-28 in the final minute of regulation. However, Jumbo Mike Miller recovered the onside kick and Tufts ran out the clock.

In the final game of his outstanding career, Middlebury quarterback Matt Milano completed 39-69 passes for 410 yards and three touchdowns. Minno caught 10 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns, while tight end Daniel Fulham hauled in 12 receptions for 103 yards. Minno caught his ninth and 10th touchdown passes of the season to become the school’s all-time leader with 30. Gil Araujo blocked a punt, had a sack and finished with 11 tackles for the Panthers.

A pair of trick plays helped Tufts take a 14-7 lead into halftime. After Tufts’ J.P. Garcia intercepted Milano near midfield on the opening possession, the teams trade punts. On the Jumbos’ second possession, 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 tying the game at 7-7 with 3:42 remaining in 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 set up Tufts first and 10 at the Middlebury 25. On the first play from scrimmage, Joe Nault took a direct snap and passed 25 yards for a touchdown to Ben Berey and Tufts led 14-7 with 6:15 on the second-quarter clock.

The Jumbo defense made a pair of fourth-down stops in the final minutes of the second quarter and the hosts took the 14-7 advantage into intermission.

After a pair of punts to begin the third, Brady broke a tackle and went 56 yards to the Middlebury 11-yard line. The Panther defense held and Willie Holmquist kicked a 28-yard field goal giving Tufts a 17-7 lead with 10:15 remaining in the third.

Charles Calabrese intercepted Milano on Middlebury’s next possession, but Tufts could not turn it into points. The Jumbos would also fail to capitalize on a first and 10 from the Middlebury 10 in the third, with Holmquist missing a 34-yard field goal.

The Panthers turned that around as Milano threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Minno with just 16 seconds left in the quarter cutting the Tufts margin to 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 giving Middlebury the ball at the Tufts 19-yard line. After an 18-yard Milano to Trevor Miletich gain to the one, Diego Meritus plowed into the end zone at 13:11 to give the visitors their first lead at 20-17.

Tufts came right back, starting the next drive with a 24-yard Snyder to Dominic Borelli screen pass. Rando then took a pass from Snyder and broke free for a 31-yard TD 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 again in the middle of the fourth, Tufts’ 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 was up 31-20 with 4:12 remaining in regulation.

Middlebury took the ball and drove 75 yards on 15 plays using 3:18 of clock time 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, a Tufts holding penalty on fourth down also kept the drive alive and a 10-yard Milano to Burke pass converted another fourth down during the possession.

However, the Panthers’ onside kick was recovered without incident by Miller and the Jumbos secured their 6-2 season.

Snyder passed for 199 yards and the three touchdowns while completing 14-29 attempts. Rando led Tufts with seven receptions for 78 yards. Matt McCormack (14 tackles), Steve DiCienzo (11) and Patrick Williams (10) all had double-digit tackles for Tufts.

Meritus finished with 83 yards on 23 rushes for Middlebury, who accumulated 31 first downs in the game. He also added seven receptions for 46 yards, giving him 129 yards of total offense. Hopsicker led the Panthers with 12 stops and two break-ups to go with his interception.

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