Bates College linebacker Chase Fulton (27) just misses an interception during the second quarter of the Bobcats’ game against Tufts University on Garcelon Field at Bates College in Lewiston on Saturday. Looking on at right ate Bates College’s Conner Suraci (24) and Jon Lindgren (19), and Tufts’ Jack Dolan.
LEWISTON — The unsackable Ryan McDonald made play after play to derail Bates’ pursuit of its first victory of the season.
McDonald tossed four touchdown passes for Tufts in a 37-17 NESCAC football victory over Bates College at Garcelon Field on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Bobcats turned their offense over to a freshman and might have found the spark they’ve been in search of.
Bates’ pass rush was constant, but McDonald sidestepped the pursuing defenders and took off downfield, or he weaved backward to create time for either a receiver to get free or for the field to open up for McDonald to run for a large gain.
“He’s a phenomenal athlete. He’s the guy that makes their offense go,” Bates coach Mark Harriman said. “Our guys maybe a couple times were a little too tentative going after him because we had missed him early — that didn’t help, either, because once you stop your feet on him, he can get around you. He’s an exceptional player.”
The junior quarterback’s wizardry was especially present on third-and-long situations, when he usually turned nothing into something, usually a first down.
Bates finally sacked McDonald in the final minutes when Max Breschi took him down on a fourth-down play deep in Bobcats territory.
Breschi also recovered a fumble after McDonald dropped the ball on the first play of the game, setting up the Bobcats with nice field position at the Tufts 32-yard line.
The Bobcats’ drive stalled 16 yards later, and Grant DeWald gave Bates its first lead of the season, 3-0, with a 33-yard field goal that just cleared the crossbar.
The Jumbos responded with an 11-play, 56-yard drive culminated by an 11-yard touchdown pass from McDonald to Jack Dolan.
In the second quarter, McDonald threw 29- and 59-yard touchdown passes to Dolan on similar plays, both times Dolan was wide open in the middle of the field.
With Bates’ offense sputtering with Matt Golden at quarterback (starter Sandy Plashkes missed the game due to injury), freshman Brendan Costa took over at quarterback. On his third play, Tylor Scales hopped on a screen pass, intercepting it and taking it 33 yards for a touchdown that make Tufts’ lead 27-3.
On the second play of Bates’ next drive, Costa sidestepped the Jumbos’ blitz and ran 70 yards, untouched, for a touchdown.
“It was actually a broken play. I wasn’t supposed to run that play,” Costa said. “So, I thought I saw a hole and my fullback did an awesome job of setting that hole for me, and the whole line, everybody, and I just took off running.”
Matthew Alswanger added a 22-yard field goal to give Tufts a 30-10 halftime lead.
Bates stuck with Costa in the second half, and with the quarterback lining up primarily in the shotgun, Bates started moving the ball with a mixture of pass and run plays.
“They put me in, they said it was my time,” Costa said, “so we kind of spread it out and threw a bit more.”
A muffed punt from deep in their own territory — recovered by Mickoy Nichol — gave the Bobcats the ball at their own 35.
Costa moved the Bobcats deep into the Jumbos’ territory, highlighted by a 28-yard pass to Jaason Lopez on fourth-and-13 from the Tufts’ 31-yard line.
Bates, though, couldn’t reach the end zone, turning the ball over on downs at the 1-yard line. But Tufts went three-and-out, and after short punt the Bobcats took over at the Jumbos’ 24.
This time, Bates finished the drive. Oak Hill graduate Kyle Flaherty scoring from 2 yards out to cut the deficit to 30-17.
The Jumbos responded on their next drive, though. On third down, McDonald avoided the pass rush and threw of the Bates pass defense for a 27-yard touchdown pass to Dan de Leon.
Down by 20 points, the Bobcats turned primarily to the pass, but several of Costa’s fourth-quarter passes were dropped, including a few that seemed like sure touchdowns.
“We had our opportunities,” Harriman said. “We had some guys that dropped some balls, to be honest with you, in critical situations.”
Harriman said following the game that it was too early to say who would start at quarterback for the Bobcats (0-3) next week against at Williams (2-1). That being said, Harriman was impressed with Costa.
“He did a really nice job,” Harriman said. “He can get the ball out quickly, which is really important. For, really, the first time being on the field, I thought he showed a lot of poise, and did a great job.”
Costa completed 14 of 33 passes for 134 yards. He also ran for 109 yards on 16 carries.
McDonald had 245 yards passing and 81 rushing.
The Bobcats were again plagued by miscues, including another momentum-killing running into the kicker penalty that turned a change of possession into a first down for Tufts.
Despite that and the 20-point margin, Harriman said it was evident that the Bobcats are making progress, and that they played better than last week’s 51-0 loss to Trinity.
“Just a whole different feel, the way our guys prepared throughout the week,” Harriman said.
“You know, it’s crazy to say that when you lose by that margin that you’re better, but I honestly think that we’re a better team than we were a week ago.”
Bates College quarterback Matt Golden looks for running room after sidestepping Tufts University’s Tylor Scales, left, and Kevin Quisumbing (96) during their game on Garcelon Field at Bates College in Lewiston on Saturday.Tufts University receiver Winton Blount, right, tries to get around Bates College defenders Jon Lindgren (19) and Kevin Claflin (1) during their game on Garcelon Field at Bates College in Lewiston on Saturday.Tufts University quarterback Ryan McDonald looks to pass against bates College during their game on Garcelon Field at Bates College in Lewiston on Saturday.Bates College defender Jon Lindgren (19) hauls down Tufts University receiver Joe Nault during their game on Garcelon Field at Bates College in Lewiston on Saturday. Also pursuing the play are Bates defenders Max Breschi (47), Jack Maritz (89) and Collin Richardson (60).Tufts University wide receiver Spenser Clouse hauls in a pass in front of Bates College defender Coy Candelario on Garcelon Field at Bates College in Lewiston on Saturday.Bates College quarterback Brendan Costa tried to shake Tufts defender Tylor Scales during their game on Garcelon Field at Bates College in Lewiston on Saturday.Bates College quarterback Brendan Costa, right, carries the ball past Tufts University defenders Greg Holt (diving) and Conor Chepenik (76) during their game on Garcelon Field at Bates Colege in Lewiston on Saturday. Costa ran the ball 70 yards for a touchdown on the play.Bates College’s Jon Lindgren (19) nearly blocks a field goal by Tufts University kicker Matthew Alswanger during their game on Garcelon Field at Bates College in Lewiston on Saturday.Tufts University quarterback Ryan McDonald, left, slips a tackle by Bates College’s Calvin Johnstone during their game on Garcelon Field at Bates College in Lewiston on Saturday.
Tufts University receiver Jack Dolan just misses a pass as he steps away from Bates Colege defender Joe Frake during their game on Garcelon Field at bates College in Lewiston on Saturday.