For the first time since 1984 the Wesleyan football team traveled to Williamstown, Mass. and returned to Connecticut with a victory. The Cardinals (6-1) never let the Ephs (2-5) feel even slightly optimistic throughout the 60 minutes, and Wesleyan’s inaugural performance at the new Farley-Lamb Field ended in a 22-0 thrashing.
“Other than a couple of mistakes in the red zone and having to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns, I thought that it was a pretty clean game,” said Head Football Coach Mike Whalen. “Defensively, we completely shut them down, and anytime that you do that, it’s an indication that your defense is playing well, and you have to look at the statistics to see just how well we played. Considering the circumstances, playing in a brand new stadium, for their homecoming, in a place we haven’t won since 1984, we challenged our defense, and they stepped up. One statistic that our offense dominated in was the time of possession. On special teams, our return team had a couple of mistakes in covering returns, but [kicker] Ike [Fuchs ’17] was a major offensive weapon for us, scoring for us. It was a complete team effort for us.”
Running back Lou Stevens ’17 and Fuchs both had memorable afternoons, earning awards for NESCAC player of the week. Stevens had 32 rushes that amassed 191 yards and the lone touchdown of the contest, bringing him to a grand total of 393 yards on the ground in the last three games. Meanwhile, Fuchs set a school record for most field goals made in a game. His five successful attempts came from 31, 39, 35, 23, and 25 yards. The Wesleyan kicker also received the Gold Helmet Award, something only two other conference players have earned this season. This achievement is presented to a Division I, II, and III player each week who has given exceptional contributions to his team.
Fuchs’ five field goals plus the rushing touchdown from Stevens totaled a 22-0 triumph. The 22-point margin of victory against the Ephs is the largest for the Cardinals over their Little Three rivals since a 35-point win 99 years ago in 1915. The Birds have now posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time since the 1978 season.
Whalen discussed how Stevens has emerged as an integral part of the offense these past couple of weeks.
“A lot of it has to do with our offensive line and with offensive line Coach [Eric] Ludwig,” he said. “They’ve battled through injuries, and have moved around playing different positions. The last three weeks, the same guys have been on the field, and have gelled well. Lou has gained more confidence, and with every carry he gets, that increases. As a sophomore, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. He felt he was capable, but doing it on the big stage and in a Little 3 game has been really important to him.”
In pitching the shutout, the defense held Williams to only three rushing yards on 16 attempts, and 120 yards through the air. Conversely, the Cardinals gained 395 total yards on the day, including 312 from the ground.
“They gave up on the running game once we got ahead,” Whalen said. “They didn’t think that they could consistently run the ball, and just starting throwing. Because there were so many three-and-outs, and we possessed the ball, it took them out of rhythm offensively. Even though the scoreboard didn’t show that we were way ahead, we were in complete control for the whole game. When thegame gets like that, they felt like they had to throw the ball on every down. “
The Birds were able to convert 6 of 15 third-down opportunities, while Williams was only successful on 2 out of 9. Wesleyan dominated the time of position, holding the ball for 41:40, while Williams only controlled possession for 18:20. The Wesleyan defense was also able to generate two crucial interceptions, including one from defensive back Vincent Davis ’15 in the end zone on the Ephs’ only threatening drive.
“Anytime you can get a team into second and third-in-long situations, you can really apply pressure,” Whalen said. “The fact that we were able to generate pressure without blitzing, just with a four-man rush, that makes it really difficult for their offense. It starts up front, but we had two really big interceptions, one in the end zone on their only scoring drive in the game. Not turning the ball over and leading the league in turnover ratio is a good sign. I still don’t feel that we’ve played to our full potential, and we only have one more chance to do that this upcoming weekend against Trinity.”
Quarterback Jesse Warren ’15 brought the team to another win, despite not putting up huge numbers in the box score. He was 14-23 for 83 yards and his longest pass of the day was for 21 yards. Wide receiver Jordan Fabien ’15 led the Cardinals in receptions with three and in yardage with 24.
Jake Siciliano ’15 steered the defensive unit with six solo tackles, including one for a loss of yards. In addition to the aforementioned interception by Davis, Captain Jake Bussani ’14 had an interception of his own, his team-high sixth of the season, returning it for 29 yards. Nik Powers ’15 provided the only solo sack of the day for Wesleyan, while Alex Sakhno ’15 and Gregg Kelley ’15 each teamed up for half a sack.
Heading into their last match-up, the Cardinals will need a little bit of luck in order to repeat as co-conference champions. This task requires an Amherst (7-0) loss to Williams, as well as Wesleyan taking care of business against Trinity (5-2). Wes will also need to continue to cut down on committing penalties, as it was called for infractions six times against the Ephs, totaling a loss of 70 yards.
Whalen discussed what he thought would be the key to beating the Bantams next weekend, something Wesleyan has not done since 2000, having lost 12 consecutive match-ups.
“The key is controlling time of possession,” he said. “They want to run the ball and they want to control the time of possession, as well as dominate the line of scrimmage. Their offense is a run first and pass second offense. The biggest thing is that we have to be ready for a very physical football game on both sides of the ball. They are very physical and have excellent team speed on defense. It’s going to be a heck of a game. It’s two similar programs from the perspective of both teams want to win the battle for time of possession, so something has got to give.”