With only 2:04 left on the clock, the Cardinals were winning 22-14 on the road against Middlebury and, more importantly, had possession of the football. With both teams coming off 7-1 seasons and shares of the NESCAC championship, a victory at Alumni Stadium was that much more necessary for the Birds’ title hopes.
After two carries from running back Kyle Gibson ’15, Wesleyan forced the Panthers to use two of their three remaining timeouts. On third and two, the Cardinals could seal a win with a conversion, but quarterback Jesse Warren ’15 was sacked for a loss of three yards, forcing Wesleyan to punt.
Middlebury called its last time-out to stop the clock on fourth down. On the ensuing play, Warren, who was still on the field as a punter, was illegally hit by a Middlebury defender while trying to kick the ball, giving Wesleyan a fresh set of downs. After the penalty, the Redbirds were able to run down the clock and win their first game of the season. Many exciting plays led up to Wesleyan winning its opening game.
After an uneventful first few possessions for both squads, Wesleyan opened up the scoring on a 66-yard pass from Warren to Jordan Fabien ’15. Warren found the senior wide receiver on a deep corner route. Fabien caught the ball at the Middlebury 35-yard line and evaded two defenders with a spin move, before being able to freely walk into the end zone.
The Panthers responded quickly with a score of their own, aided by Wesleyan penalties. On a half-back counter, the Middlebury back deked his way forward before being brought down at the opponent’s nine-yard line. On the next play, a pass was delivered to the corner of the end zone and was caught to equal the score at seven a piece.
Wesleyan answered the Middlebury score with another touchdown of their own. With linebacker Devon Carrillo ’17 running some plays out of the wildcat formation, the Cardinals drove down the field with ease. The drive was capped off with a 16-yard touchdown reception from Warren to Jon Day ’15 on a crossing route, where Day sprinted to the end zone and dove for the score. The score was then 13-7 Wesleyan, after Ike Fuchs ’17 was unable to convert on the extra point, hitting the goal post. No more points were earned before the game reached halftime.
The turning point of the afternoon came with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter, when the Middlebury quarterback dropped back to pass on a third and three. Defensive back Justin Sanchez ’17 jumped the curl route and took it all the way to the house for a pick-six. The interception would not have happened without Jordan Stone ’17 applying pressure to the Middlebury quarterback. Another failed extra point gave Wesleyan a 19-7 lead and control of the game.
The defense continued to thwart the Panther attack, and Wesleyan would get the ball back in great field position, following a 55-yard punt return from captain Donnie Cimino ’15. From there, the Birds would run the ball three times before expanding their lead to 22 on a 19-yard field goal from Fuchs.
The score was still 22-7 when Middlebury took the ball with 5:08 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Panthers drove 64 yards in just over three minutes to cut the lead to a one possession game. Eight points would be the closest Middlebury would come to catching the Cardinals, as the final score was 22-14.
Warren was 13-22 on the afternoon for 163 yards through the air. Gibson led the Cardinals in rushing with 60 yards on 25 carries, while Carrillo chipped in with seven carries for 22 yards. Lou Stevens ’17 added 17 yards on six rushing attempts. Day’s four catches were a team high, while Fabien totaled 87 yards on just three catches, averaging to 29 yards per reception.
Leading the defense was Sanchez, with 12 total tackles in addition to a sack and a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown. Captain Jake Bussani GRAD ’14 also added an interception for the Redbirds. Captain and lineman Nikolas Powers ’15 and lineman Ibraheem Khadar ’15 each added one sack. Alex Daversa-Russo ’16 led the team with three pass-breakups, while Cimino and Bussani had one apiece.
The Cardinals will look to make two straight wins to open up the season when they take on the Hamilton Continentals next Saturday, Sept. 27, at 1 p.m. Hamilton dropped its opening game to Tufts with a score of 24-17. Tufts had lost 31 straight games before the victory over Hamilton. Hopefully the stands in Corwin Stadium will be packed and the fans will be rooting the Cardinals to another triumph.