But for an inch on offense, a step on defense, and a foot on special teams, Wesleyan football could have dealt Amherst a shocking defeat and come out of Homecoming Weekend with a 5-0 record. Instead, the Cardinals outplayed their Little Three rival, but just failed to execute. The result was a 17-9 defeat, sullying Wesleyan’s perfect record and dropping the Cardinals to 4-1 on the year.
Let me repeat this, because it bears repeating: on Saturday, Oct. 20, the Wesleyan Cardinals played a better game of football than the Amherst Lord Jeffs, who have not lost to Wes since 2002. Wesleyan came out with a more consistent offense and a better defense, and that shows up in the box score. The Cardinals outgained Amherst, 356 yards to 303, completed a higher percentage of their passes, ran for more yards on fewer carries, and converted more third downs at a greater rate. Amherst only won a single facet of the game: turnovers. Unfortunately, that proved to be the Cards’ undoing, as they failed to capitalize on Amherst’s one giveaway but shot themselves in the foot with three turnovers of their own.
For the most part, Wesleyan’s defense held the Lord Jeffs in check throughout the afternoon. Amherst was held to just 3 yards per carry, and the quarterback tandem of Jonathan Pieterse and Max Lippe completed only nine of 22 passes for 172 yards. Donnie Cimino ’15 registered Wesleyan’s lone takeaway when he intercepted a pass by Pieterse in the first quarter. With the running game rendered ineffective and the aerial attack inefficient, there was little Amherst could do offensively but pray for a big play. Despite Wesleyan’s staunch efforts, the Lord Jeffs broke through twice, both times on screen passes. Amherst’s Jake O’Malley scored on a 30-yard scamper in the second quarter for the first score of the game, and James Durham turned a bubble screen on first and 30 into a backbreaking 64-yard score to put the Lord Jeffs up 17-9. The Cardinals’ defense stood strong all day against one of their toughest opponents, but those two lapses proved to be devastating.
Led by Kyle Gibson ’15 and Jesse Warren ’15, the Cards were the more effective team in terms of moving the ball on Saturday. In the absence of first-string running back LaDarius Drew ’15, Gibson once again got the bulk of the team’s carries, and he once again made the most of them. Gibson ran the ball 32 times for 107 yards, his fourth 100-yard game of his career. Though he did not find the end zone against the Lord Jeffs, Gibson punished the Amherst defense with his bruising style of running to help Wesleyan matriculate the ball down. With Amherst forced to focus on stopping the ground attack, Warren was able to produce through the air. He accumulated 220 yards on 20 of 41 passing, 62 of which came when Josh Hurwitz ’15 beat the defense for a catch and run for a score late in the third quarter.
While this big play energized the Cardinal faithful, it did not undo the controversy from earlier in the third. Wesleyan was on the Amherst 23-yard line and driving when Warren lofted a pass into the end zone on third down. The Homecoming crowd erupted when Dan D’Arcy ’13 hauled in the pass and tiptoed the sideline to stay in bounds for an apparent go-ahead score. However, the referees conferred and flagged the receiver for illegal touching, claiming he ran his route out of bounds and was not allowed to be the first to touch it upon coming back into the field of play. Though it was dubious whether D’Arcy went out of his own power or was forced out by an Amherst defender, the touchdown was nonetheless taken off the board. The Cardinals failed to score on the drive, just as they didn’t turn Pieterse’s interception into points. On the other hand, Amherst scored on a short field following a fumble by Jay Fabien ’15 in the second quarter, and two interceptions by Warren in the fourth hurt Wesleyan’s comeback efforts.
The special teams game did Wesleyan no favors, either. Sebastian Aguirre ’14 did convert on a 24-yard field goal to put the Cardinals on the board going into halftime, but his 40-yard kick following the D’Arcy penalty corkscrewed short, and he later shanked a point-after attempt off the right post. His performance was not the difference between a Wesleyan win and a loss, but Aguirre’s miskicks were deflating, especially against such a formidable opponent.
With just a couple more completed passes or defensive stops, Wesleyan could have beaten Amherst for the first time in a decade. Instead, the Cards can only look ahead and try to bounce back from this frustrating loss. They will get their next shot at their fifth win when the Bowdoin Polar Bears come to town on Saturday, Oct. 27.