Making the nearly four-hour trek from Middletown up to Brunswick, Maine is hardly ever enjoyable. The last time the Cardinals visited Bowdoin in 2011, they ended up on the wrong side of a 12-6 defensive battle, making for an even crueler drive back. After coming off such an emotional high from beating Amherst for the first time in nine years last week, it seemed like the weekend trip to Maine might lead to a letdown. But these Birds proved just how mentally tough they are with a 34-14 victory on Saturday, Oct. 26. They returned home 6-0, their best start since 1993.
After Trinity’s loss to Middlebury on Saturday, the Cardinals now stand as the lone unbeaten squad in the NESCAC. A victory in their next game would assure them at least a share of the NESCAC championship.
The Cardinals started off the Bowdoin game in typical 2013 fashion, asserting their dominance on both sides of the football. Defensively, the Cardinals held their opponents to only 64 yards of total offense in the first half, allowing the Wesleyan offense to hold onto the football for 20 out of the first 30 minutes of play.
Once again, the Cardinal offense was spearheaded by LaDarius Drew ’15, who paced the Cardinals with 181 rushing yards and earned NESCAC Player of the Week honors in the process. Drew was responsible for both of Wesleyan’s first half scores, first on a 43-yard scamper and later on a two-yard plunge.
For Drew, the team’s unrelenting intensity throughout the season allowed it to secure another victory over the Polar Bears.
“Our greatest strength was knowing that we’ve worked too hard to travel all the way back home with a loss,” Drew wrote in an email to the Argus. “I’m not saying we felt like we deserved the win on a golden plate, but the effort we’ve put in up to this point in offense, defense, and special teams allowed us to be in the position we’re in right now.”
Defensively, the well-balanced Cardinals were led by defensive end Nik Powers ’15 and linebacker Myers Beaird ’14, who notched five tackles apiece. The Cardinal defense also improved on their league-leading plus-11 turnover ratio thanks in part to Beaird and Mitch Godfrey ’15, who each forced fumbles recovered by Wesleyan.
“What really has helped us dominate on the defensive side of the ball thus far is everyone doing their job to the best of their ability and playing assignment football,” Godfrey said. “When you can trust the guys around you to take care of their assignment like we can, it really makes your job as an individual that much easier. Our ability to trust in one another is a product of the great team chemistry that we have this year.”
While the Cardinals pounced on the Polar Bears early, there was a marked drop in intensity by the second half, as Bowdoin came within striking distance of the Cardinals’ lead early in the third quarter.
After captain Jake Bussani ’14 forced and recovered a fumble on the opening kick off of the second half, the Cardinal offense failed to generate any downfield progress and ended up punting away to the Polar Bears. On the next drive, Bowdoin marched downfield 86 yards for their first score of the game, bringing the score to 14-7. This inability to lock away the contest early on led to an unusual moment of frustration for Coach Mike Whalen.
“I was just disappointed with the start of the second half,” he said. “Instead of scoring with great field position and really building momentum, we let them back in it. It didn’t go exactly as hoped. It’s going to happen in the game of football, and it’s going to happen when you go up to Maine for an overnight. Its not easy to win in Maine; it’s a tough trip. That’s just the way it is.”
The Cardinals avoided a late game scare as Jesse Warren ’15 maintained composure to find his receivers in the end zone on Wesleyan’s first two offensive sequences of the fourth quarter. Warren struck gold first with Josh Hurwitz ’15 and then again with Rob Manning ’16, extending his NESCAC lead in touchdown passes to 14 and putting the game out of reach for good.
Although the Cardinals earned a well-fought victory, the team came away from the game fully aware of their vulnerabilities.
“After we beat Amherst, everyone on campus was going ‘Little Three, Little Three, Little Three, Williams and Homecoming,’” Whalen said. “No one was paying attention to Bowdoin. We just tried to really reinforce the fact that we can’t look past anyone. Bowdoin played hard; when they could’ve packed in, they didn’t. It’s a lesson that we learned, and we still went on to win the game 34-14. We didn’t do too poorly, but there were some things that we did that were uncharacteristic of us at this point in the season.”
The ability to learn lessons from victories is a great indication of the level of maturity that this team displays. When Williams comes to town on Saturday, Nov. 2, the Cards will need to utilize the same discipline and team chemistry that has positioned them within reach of the Little Three Championship as well as the NESCAC title.