After notching an emphatic home victory under the lights, the football team took to the road this past weekend to deliver a 35-6 beating to Hamilton. Now 2-0, the Cardinals have outscored their opponents by a combined mark of 87-15, and their conference-leading tally of 12 touchdowns nearly doubles the next highest total, held by Middlebury with seven.
The Cardinals swiftly mounted their aerial assault on hosting Hamilton with a long touchdown to start their second drive. Continuing his stellar early season form, quarterback Jesse Warren ’15 connected on a screen pass to receiver Kevin Hughes ’14, who dodged a pair of tacklers and darted from Wesleyan territory into the Continental endzone for a 66-yard score.
Warren would connect on two more touchdown passes in the game, finishing with 203 yards and 14 completions on 19 passing. After earning NESCAC Player of the Week honors for his effort against Tufts, Warren solidified himself as one of the most electrifying and efficient gunslingers in the ’CAC. Warren should also be thankful for the efforts of his offensive line and receiving core; he has not been intercepted or sacked so far this season.
While the air game jumpstarted the offense, Wesleyan’s running attack bested Warren’s total yardage with 211 gained on the ground. LaDarius Drew ’15 led the charge for the Cardinals, taking the ball 11 times and racking up 96 yards. At the onset of the third quarter, Drew busted through a shattered Hamilton defense for a blistering 76-yard run into the end zone, one of his two scores of the day. Lou Stevens ’17 also proved serviceable with the ball in his hands. The newcomer caught a three-yard touchdown pass of his own and racked up 85 yards.
The 414-yard effort by the Cardinals gave Head Coach Mike Whalen plenty to be happy about, especially in comparison to the team’s previous trips to upstate New York.
“The Hamilton game in particular was really good because we didn’t play well the last time we traveled up there,” Whalen said. “We lost a 7-6 game up there and offensively in particular we were weak. It’s a long trip, it’s an overnight, and I think that this group had a lot more focus and maturity. They treated it a lot more like a business trip and prepared well.”
As Whalen saw it, the Cardinals were not flat on any side of the ball, as the defense and special teams played effective football to allow Wesleyan’s offense to take control of the game.
“I thought our special teams in particular, with Donnie Cimino [’15], did a great job returning punts and really setting us up with good field position,” Whalen said. “Our defense did a really good job getting the ball back to the offense. It was a real solid performance. We were fortunate to be able to play a lot of players, which will give us more depth and more experience that will be pivotal for later games down the road.”
The Cardinal defense worked tirelessly to keep the home side off the board through the first three quarters of play and facilitate the offensive effort. Nik Powers ’15 led the Cardinals, collecting eight tackles and one for a loss. According to defensive end Anthony Muraco ’16, the Redbirds knew just how crucial their defensive assignments would be.
“We knew going in that we would have to play very physical up-front,” Muraco said. “They have a very talented backfield, and played Amherst tough the previous week. We needed to focus on staying in our gaps, and doing our jobs individually. Good tackling and swarming to the ball was a strong emphasis at practice.”
It will be of paramount importance that the Cards don’t suffer a drop in intensity as they face a tough squad from Colby on Saturday, Oct. 5. Most notably, the Mules picked up a massive victory over Little Three rival Williams in their opener by a resounding score of 31-8.
For Whalen, the circumstances of the Colby-Williams matchup speak to how consistent his team will need to be.
“[The result against Williams] catches the attention of our players,” Whalen said. “Anytime you can beat Williams it shows that you’re a good football team. The mentality that we carry is that the crucial moments at the begin of the game really define you.”
For the Cardinals, this Saturday’s matchup against the visiting Mules will be less about the thrilling runs and stunning catches and more about the grit and determination of Redbirds football.