Tufts held off a late furious comeback by Middlebury as the Jumbos (7-1) clinched sole possession of second place in the league with a 48-35 win over the Panthers (6-2) on Youngman Field at Alumni Stadium. Trinity clinched the NESCAC title with an 8-0 mark, while Middlebury and Wesleyan finished in a third-place tie. The two teams combined for nearly 1,000 yards of total offense.
Tufts scored on its opening drive in just 2:02 when Chance Brady found the end zone on a one-yard rush. Middlebury tied the game on a drive that began late in the first quarter, ending in a 31-yard scoring strike from quarterback Jared Lebowitz to Frank Cosolito with 12:47 remaining in the second. Lebowitz found James Burke for 20 and 23 yards on the drive and Diego Meritus on a 24-yard connection.
Tufts responded with a pair of field goals from Willie Holmquist, giving them a 13-7 lead after connections from 41 and 37 yards. The two scores were the first of five-straight scoring drives for the Jumbos heading into halftime.
A short punt led to a quick drive for Tufts as Brady caught a 24-yard pass from quarterback Ryan McDonald, making it a 20-7 game at the 5:19 mark.
After a quick three-and-out, the Jumbos scored less than a minute later on their first play from scrimmage when McDonald found Brady on a near lateral pass that ended as a 49-yard scoring strike.
After another defensive hold and a short punt, Tufts drove 51 yards, extending its lead when McDonald went untouched into the end zone from 30-yards out for a 34-7 advantage heading into halftime.
Tufts added to its margin when the second half started, recovering a Panther fumble on the opening kickoff before taking a 41-7 lead on a seven-yard rush from Brady.
Middlebury mounted its comeback, scoring on four of its next five drives. The first came when Lebowitz found Conrado Banky over the middle for a 26-yard touchdown. The margin closed to 41-21 after an 11-yard touchdown pass from Lebowitz to Meritus.
Tufts ended the run when Brady scored again, this time on an 18-yard rush to put his team up 48-21 with 3:54 left in the third quarter.
A drive later, Middlebury found the end zone once again when Lebowitz connected with Cosolito for a 60-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-two play.
After a quick defensive hold, Lebowitz scored on a read option play, scampering 34 yards on the keeper, bringing his team within a pair of scores at 48-35.
The defense held once again before the Panthers drove to the Tufts 39. On a key fourth-and-three play, Lebowitz was sacked by Zach Thomas and Micah Adickes, as the Jumbos took over with 4:25 remaining.
Lebowitz finished the game 28-54 for 411 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. He ended the year second all-time on Middlebury's single-season list with 29 touchdown passes and fifth with 2,580 yards passing.
Cosolito caught five passes for a career-high 125 yards and two touchdowns. Banky finished with seven receptions for 100 yards with a touchdown, while Burke (83 yards) and Meritus (52 yards, TD) each caught six passes. Meritus also added 54 yards of rushing on 16 carries. Banky's 11 touchdown receptions in 2016 place him in a second-place tie on Middlebury's single-season list, while his 925 yards are third.
John Jackson, Clay Hunt and Wesley Becton each made a dozen stops for the Panther defense. Jackson earned 1.5 sacks in the game to give him 7.5 on the season, tying him for fifth on the school's all-time single-season list.
Brady and McDonald had monster days for the Tufts offense. Brady rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns, while catching two scoring strikes for 73 yards. He became Tufts first 1,000-yard rusher (1,099) since 2001. McDonald completed 10-16 passes for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while rushing for 161 yards and a score. Defensively, Mike Stearns and Greg Holt each finished with nine tackles, as Stearns picked off a pair of passes.
With its 6-2 season, Middlebury is now 31-9 over the past five years.