Though the Wesleyan football team looked strong at times in their season opener against Middlebury, commanding a 19-7 lead at one point in the third quarter, the Panthers rallied to win a 28-25 victory. Twice in the second-half Midd responded to touchdowns by the Cardinals on the ensuing, not allowing Wesleyan to gain any momentum.
The deciding score for Middlebury came with 5:10 left in the game, as quarterback Matt Milano ’16 threw a screen pass near the line of scrimmage to running back Diego Meritus ’19, who outraced Wesleyan’s defenders down the right sideline for the go-ahead score. Only 33 seconds earlier Wesleyan had taken a 25-21 lead when Cardinal quarterback Mark Piccirillo ’19 broke off a 12-yard run to the left side of the end zone for the touchdown with 5:49 left in play.
Despite the loss, Wesleyan had reason to be encouraged by their play. The offense out-gained Middlebury 459-347, largely on the shoulders of a rush attack headed by Jaylen Berry ’18 (21-122, TD), who also had two receptions for eight yards. Gernald Hawkins ’18 added 55 yards on 13 carries, while Devon Carrillo ’17 rushed eight times for a total of 53 yards, and LaDarius Drew ’15 tacked on 35 yards on six rushes. These backs enjoyed smooth sledding behind Wesleyan’s experienced offensive line.
Additionally, the Cardinals defense stuffed the Panthers’ run game, allowing only 10 yards on 22 rush attempts. However, Milano got the better of the Cardinals secondary, throwing for 337 yards, including seven passes of 20 or more yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. The Panthers spread the ball well, as they had five receivers with four or more catches and 40 or more yards.
The Cardinals started a new quarterback, Hawkins, for the first time in four years and had difficulty getting anything going in the passing game. Hawkins went 8-20 passing, good for 154 yards, but threw two picks to only one TD. Apart from that 79-yard TD pass to Eric Meyreles ’18, who caught the ball about 25 yards downfield and then raced the next 54 yards to the end zone, Hawkins could not get the ball to his receivers. Mike Breuler ’18 led the Cardinals in receptions with three, while Meyreles had two receptions for 86 yards.
Wesleyan scored its other two touchdowns in the second-quarter on runs from Berry and Carrillo. Berry got the Cardinals’ first points of the year on a one-yard run to make the score 7-6 to Middlebury after the extra point was blocked. With 2:12 left in the half, Carrillo broke off a five-yard run to give Wesleyan a 13-7 lead.
Though both teams scored four TDs, the Cards missed two extra points in the game, though one of those was blocked by Gil Araujo ’19 of Middlebury. The other attempt, on Meyreles’ score, went wide left. Ike Fuchs ’17 made 24 of 27 PATs last season, while also making 10 of 13 field goals, with his only misses coming on tries of 30+ yards. Wesleyan also failed a two-point conversion attempt on its final TD, which would have made it a six-point game, when Hawkins was unable to connect with his receiver.
The Cardinals’ defense, which was stellar last year, was led by linebacker Shayne Kaminski ’18, who accounted for nine tackles against the Panthers. Tri-captain Jon Spivey ’16 also had a strong game, with six tackles, including one for a loss of five yards. Defensive end Jordan Stone ’17 laid down 2.5 sacks against Milano for a loss of 13 yards, leading the Cardinals. As a team, Wesleyan brought down Middlebury’s quarterback behind the line four times.
The redbirds will look to get their first victory in their matchup next week when they go on the road to face Hamilton on Saturday, Oct. 3. Last season, the Cardinals defeated the Continentals 43-21 at Andrus Field, also in their second contest of the season.