Football explodes for 34 in first half, goes on to win at Tufts

Kenny Gray '20 (Josh McKee photo)
Kenny Gray '20 (Josh McKee photo)

The Hamilton College Continentals scored the first 21 points and held on for a 36-21 NESCAC win against the Tufts University Jumbos at Tufts' Zimman Field at Ellis Oval on Saturday afternoon.

Hamilton (4-3 NESCAC) reached the four-win mark in a season for the first time since the Continentals finished 5-3 in 1996. Hamilton racked up 392 yards of total offense including 156 on the ground, was plus-3 in turnover margin and held the ball for nearly 38 minutes. The Continentals limited the Jumbos to 37 yards rushing.

Kenny Gray '20 was 21 of 31 passing for 236 yards with three touchdowns and an interception for Hamilton. Gray became the program's all-time leader in passing touchdowns with a 21-yard toss to Will Budington '21 late in the first quarter and he finished the day with 41 for his career with the Continentals. Seamus Crotty '86 held the old record of 39 set from 1982 to 1985. Gray also averaged 37.5 yards on eight punts and he leads the conference with 39.1 yards per punt.

Joe Park '22 led the Hamilton rushing attack with a season-high 126 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Christian Donahoe '20 caught four passes for 106 yards and a score. Donahoe has seven 100-yard receiving games in his collegiate career.

Sam Thoreen '22 booted field goals of 26 and 35 yards in the second quarter and was a perfect 4-for-4 on extra-point tries for the Continentals. Thoreen has been successful on all 10 of his field goal attempts this fall and leads the NESCAC in field goals made and in points with 49.

Defensive lineman James Ball '21 tied a career-best with 10 tackles including eight solo stops for Hamilton. Alex Street '22, Mike Friedman '21 and Chad Dubin '21 recorded one sack each. Street and Dubin picked up the first sacks of their career with the Continentals. Ian Esliker '21, Justin Leigh '20 and Jared Schwartz '22 had interceptions. Esliker is tied for third in the conference with three picks this year. Mike Cairns '22 recovered a fumble at the Tufts 10-yard line in the first quarter that led Hamilton's first touchdown.

Jacob Carroll was 14 of 29 for 214 yards passing and three touchdowns with two interceptions for the Jumbos. Frank Roche scored all three touchdowns for Tufts as he finished with six receptions for 136 yards. Greg Holt paced the defense with a game-high 12 tackles, Stephen Timmins and Uzochi Oparaji chipped in a sack apiece, and Michael Mughetto returned an interception 21 yards.

The Continentals scored their first touchdown with the benefit of a short field after a bad snap by the Jumbos on third-and-1 led to a loose ball that was recovered by Cairns at the Tufts 10. Three plays later, Gray found Sam Robinson '20 for a 3-yard touchdown with 8:41 left in the first quarter.

Hamilton's next drive also started with great field position after a 3-yard punt by the Jumbos. It took the Continentals just four plays to go 36 yards as Gray hooked up with Budington for the second touchdown with 4:27 remaining in the first.

Another poor punt by Tufts gave Hamilton the ball at its own 48 on the Continentals' next possession. Park carried the ball six times for 28 yards during the drive, including the last 8 yards into the end zone for his second touchdown this season. Thoreen's extra point made it 21-0 with 12:43 to go in the second quarter.

Carroll and Roche connected for a 46-yard touchdown on the Jumbos' next possession, but Hamilton pushed its lead to 17 at 24-7 on a 26-yard field goal by Thoreen with 3:23 left. The field goal was set up by a 41-yard catch by Donahoe to the Tufts 14 on third-and-5.

The Continentals' defense forced a three-and-out and then their two-minute offense went to work. Gray drove Hamilton 73 yards in 86 seconds on a drive that ended with an 8-yard scoring toss to Donahoe with 46 seconds remaining. Gray was 5 of 5 for 70 yards including a 54-yard pass to Donahoe on third-and-13 from the Continentals 35.

Three plays later, Leigh returned an interception 17 yards and a personal foul flag on the Jumbos moved the ball down to the Tufts 17 with 15 seconds to go. After two incomplete passes, Thoreen split the uprights from 35 yards out for a commanding 34-7 advantage as time ran out in the first half.

The Jumbos pulled within 13 points on 27-yard touchdown passes early in the third and fourth quarters but came up empty on their last two drives in the fourth.

A 37-yard punt by Gray pinned Tufts back at its own 1-yard line with 6:11 left and three plays generated zero yards. The Jumbos were forced to punt from the back of their own end zone and for the second game in a row, Zack Weinstein '20 came up with the block. Weinstein's blocked punt rolled out of the end zone for a safety with 5:12 remaining and gave Hamilton a 15-point lead at 36-21. Schwartz ended Tufts' final drive with an interception of a halfback pass at his own 3-yard line with 3:43 to go.

The Continentals travel to 7-0 Middlebury College for the Old Rocking Chair Classic on Saturday, Nov. 2. Opening kickoff is scheduled for 12:30 p.m.