Although the final score was close, the Cards were in control for most of their matchup against Bowdoin this Saturday, eventually claiming a 20-14 victory. Wesleyan improved to 4-2 on the season with the victory, while Bowdoin dropped to 1-5. The Cards dominated the Polar Bears on both offense and defense, putting up 429 offensive yards and two touchdowns, both on runs by Lou Stevens ’17, while allowing only 223 offensive yards from the Polar Bears. The Cards forced four Bowdoin turnovers, as Zac Cuzner ’17 had three interceptions and Elias Camacho ’18 scooped up a fumble.
“I think we’re in a good place going into our last few games,” said Eric Meyreles ’18, who had a career day for the Cards, finishing with a season-high ten receptions and 126 yards. “Guys are excited and flying around at practice, ready to finish out the season strong.”
The game started well for Wesleyan, as the defense put Bowdoin quarterback Noah Nelson on his back on the first play for their first of five sacks on the day, and forced the Polar Bears to punt. The Cardinals started their first drive with great field position, but only made it to the 22-yard line, where Ike Fuchs ’17 almost nailed a 40-yard field goal, but it hit the left upright to keep the game scoreless. Bowdoin then marched 53 yards down the field to get deep into Wesleyan territory, but Cuzner had his first interception of the game to give the Cards the ball back.
“We had a lot of great players on last year’s defense and we have a lot of great players this year, too,” said Cuzner, who earned the NESCAC’s Defensive Player of the Week award after an incredible showing. “It’s a next-guy-up kind of mentality and we’ve had a lot of new guys step up this year and make plays on both sides of the ball.”
Gernald Hawkins ’18 then completed three straight passes, each of more than ten yards, with the big play coming on a 32-yard reception by Meyreles, to get into the Polar Bears’ red zone. Stevens took it from there, running four straight times, eventually getting into the endzone for the score to give Wes a 7-0 lead.
“I prepared for this game like I would any other, showing up for practice ready to execute, make plays, and make Wesleyan football better everyday,” said Meyreles. “Our goal as a team was to get a win on the road at Bowdoin this weekend and we accomplished that.”
The Cards attempted to keep the momentum, forcing a three-and-out on Bowdoin’s next drive. However, Neil O’Connor ’17 coughed up the ball on the punt return, giving the Polar Bears the ball back. Wesleyan’s defense was unfazed, sacking Nelson before forcing a turnover on downs. In Bowdoin’s first drive of the second quarter, the Cardinal defense forced a fumble that set up a Fuchs field goal to put Wesleyan up 10-0, thanks in large part to a huge 40-yard run by Jaylen Berry ’18.
After trading drives that ended in punts, Bowdoin took over with only 1:18 left in the half and made a charge down the field, partly because of a couple Wesleyan penalties. Nelson eventually hit Bryan Porter with an 8-yard touchdown pass to slice the Cardinals’ advantage to three as the half came to a close.
In the second half, Mark Piccirillo ’19 took over as quarterback and led Wesleyan down the field thanks to three completions and a nifty 21-yard run. Stevens then took it from 15 yards out for the rushing touchdown, upping Wesleyan’s lead to 17-7.
“Overall I think I did pretty well, made some good throws and just executed what we had to do,” said Piccirillo. “I am pretty pleased with my performance besides a few throws I should have taken or made.”
Bowdoin got its next score off another Wesleyan fumble on a punt return, as Khephren Spigner ’18 lost the ball at the 35-yard line. A couple of passes from Nelson to Porter put the Bears at the one-yard line, and Nelson ran it in from there for the touchdown, cutting the Cards’ lead back down to three at 17-14.
Piccirillo and the Cardinals had another good drive to start the fourth quarter, but were not able to get a score out of it. Piccirillo completed five of six passes on the drive, but a pass of 27 yards to Meyreles was negated by a Wesleyan holding penalty. In the end, the Cards settled for a field goal try, but Fuchs missed wide left from 27 yards out. However, Wesleyan came right back at Bowdoin on their next drive. Starting in Polar Bears’ territory, the Cardinals moved the chains several times to set up a successful 32-yard field goal by Fuchs to give the Cardinals a 20-14 advantage with 5:26 remaining.
“I just did my best to focus on my responsibilities as a receiver and do whatever I could to contribute to our success as an offense,” said Meyreles, regarding the mid-game QB switch.
Wesleyan kept the momentum going as Cuzner picked off Nelson for the second time, running it back to Bowdoin’s 48-yard line. The Cards then ate up over two minutes on their next drive, and Fuchs and the punt unit were able to pin the Polar Bears at their own two-yard line with 2:26 remaining.
Needing a touchdown, Nelson was unable to complete either of his first two passes, and a delay of game put Bowdoin on its one-yard line facing a third-and-11. The Polar Bears managed to get a first down, but on the very next play Cuzner intercepted Nelson for the third time in the game, sealing Wesleyan’s 20-14 road victory.
“As a defense, we’ve been in a few similar situations, so I think we were all confident in someone making a play,” said Cuzner.
He and the rest of the Cards host Williams (2-4) in a marquis homecoming matchup, before its final contest away against Trinity, who remain undefeated. Tied for second with Tufts and Middlebury at 4-2, behind Trinity and Amherst (both 6-0), Wesleyan will hope to break away from the pack in its final two games. Both matchups are mouthwatering for their own reasons, and shouldn’t be missed.