Football took on the visiting Continentals of Hamilton this past Saturday at Corwin Stadium to open its home portion of the schedule. The home team went up early and never looked back on its way to a decisive 34-6 victory. Wesleyan controlled the game throughout, and it was a good way for the team to bounce back from a defeat last week.
The home opener is always a special occasion for a team, and this was no exception for Wesleyan. However, for one player, it was exceptionally poignant. Dario Highsmith ’20, a graduate of Middletown High, got the first two touchdowns for the Cardinals.
“It was a really exciting atmosphere [playing in front of] everyone,” Highsmith said. “I had a lot of family here.”
While his family will always cheer him on, Highsmith will gain more and more fans here at Wesleyan if he can keep these types of performances going. After trading punts, a series which included a Hamilton sack of quarterback Mark Piccirillo ’19, Highsmith took his first carry of the game 80 yards to the house to give the Cardinals an early 7-0 lead.
After the kickoff, the Cardinals’ defense forced Hamilton into their second straight three-and-out. The offense then went on a 41-yard drive that stalled out at the Hamilton 17-yard-line and ended on a failed fourth down conversion attempt.
Hamilton gained one first down before Continental quarterback Cole Freeman threw the ball up down the sideline where Elias Camacho ’18 came down with a truly immaculate interception, giving the ball back to the Cardinals. From there, Wesleyan used four passes and three runs that ended with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Piccirillo to Highsmith to bring the Cardinals lead up to 14-0 with just under three minutes elapsed from the second quarter.
The next Hamilton drive also ended with a punt. However, Wesleyan received a personal foul penalty on the return. Starting at their own 21-yard-line, the Cardinals rushed seven times and dropped back to pass three times, but none were completed. Two fell incomplete and one drop-back ended in Hamilton’s second sack.
On the next Hamilton drive, Freeman threw for 60 yards on three attempts to bring the Continentals down the field and get on the board, bringing the score to 14-6 with just under three minutes remaining in the half. The Wesleyan special teams made a play on the extra point, blocking the attempt to keep the lead at eight.
In contrast with Hamilton using the deep passing game to score in only three plays, Piccirillo methodically completed six passes, the longest only 15 yards, to drive down the field. Devon Carrillo ’17 finished the drive with a three-yard touchdown run. The Cardinals went for two but could not convert, keeping the score at 20-6 entering the break.
Hamilton started the second half with the ball, and immediately used a balanced attack to drive down the field. However, Wesleyan made a red zone stand and forced a 31-yard field goal that was missed. The Cards took over at their own 20, and the next two drives of the game ended in punts for both teams.
Starting with the ball at their own 36 with 6:37 remaining in the third quarter, Coach Dan DiCenzo chose to make an adjustment and put Gernald Hawkins ’18 in at quarterback. Hawkins is more of a dual-threat quarterback than Piccirillo, and toted three carries during the drive while completing two passes. After a 19-yard run by Highsmith and a 3-yard rush by Carrillo, Piccirillo was back in the game and took the ball a short four yards into the end zone to push the lead to 27-6.
On the next drive, Freeman threw his second interception of the game, this one to Nate Taylor ’18. Wesleyan took over and used a balanced attack, highlighted by a 34-yard pass to Carrillo to move down the field where Piccirillo increased the Cardinals’ advantage. The Wes quarterback threw a laser to tight end Ben Kurtz ’17 for his second touchdown of the game.
Though this one was safely in the bag, with only 11 minutes left in the game, DiCenzo audibly motivated his players from the sidelines.
“Finish the game, finish every play,” DiCenzo said to his team.
Two punts by either team finished the game and gave Wesleyan its first win of the season to move to 1-1 while Hamilton dropped their second straight game and fell to 0-2.
The only team stat really needed to show the domination of this game is total yards. The Continentals could only manage 180 yards of total offense while the Cardinals racked up 511.
Individually, the Cardinals were led by Piccirillo, who was 18-23 with 193 yards and two touchdowns. Highsmith rushed 5 times for 101 yards, while Carrillo had 6 rushes for 34 yards and 1 reception for 34 yards. Mark Brueler ’18 added 8 receptions for 84 yards.
On defense, the team accumulated four tackles for losses, and Shayne Kaminski ’18 led the team with seven tackles.
Next week, the team travels to Colby in search of its second win of the year. The team is not going to lose focus.
“We just have to focus on Colby,” Highsmith said. “We can’t get too hung up on this; after tonight it’s over, and mind on Colby.”