Despite leading Trinity in time of possession two to one, and outthrowing them by over 60 yards, Wesleyan football was handed a tough loss this past Saturday, Nov. 11 in Hartford. In fairness, the game did conclude another winning season for the Cardinals, who finished at 6-3.
Offensively, the Red and Black failed to sustain drives into scoring position and threw three interceptions. On defense, team members struggled to stop the Bantams’ dynamic, up-tempo offensive attack that only punted three times the entire game. Yet among their struggles, there were individual successes: Elias Camacho ’18 forced a turnover in the second quarter, while Mike Breuler ’18 remained a strong offensive weapon, accounting for 92 receiving yards. Breuler is third in the country in receiving yards per game with 129.7, and Saturday’s matchup proved his mettle.
The first quarter of the game started well for the Cards, as the defense forced a three-and-out while the offense gained some ground before having to punt the ball away. But disaster quickly struck: Trinity completed a 43-yard pass before scoring two plays later on a 29-yard pass. After stalling on their next possession, the Cardinals had to punt but gave up a 50-yard return. Thankfully, the Red Birds were able to hold strong and force a Bantam turnover on fourth down.
Mark Piccirillo ’19 got the ball back once again, but the offense continued to struggle as the second quarter began. Despite some flashy plays, a poor penalty barred the Red and Black from scoring. Trinity seemed to be rolling down the field to score, but the Cards’ defensive unit held them back and forced a field goal attempt from the 26-yard line, which the Bantams missed. Things began to seem favorable for the Red Birds as Camacho snatched an interception two drives later, after a quick three-and-out from the Wesleyan offense. The Birds started moving down the field quickly, reaching the 29-yard line before being forced to punt once again. Trinity ran out the clock to end a tough first half for both teams, with the Bantams leading 7-0.
At the beginning of the third quarter, it appeared as though the Cardinals had learned from their mistakes on offense. They put a solid drive together, finally scoring a field goal after they were held short five yards from the end zone. The Dirty Birds’ defense also started the half on a high-note, forcing another three-and-out and allowing the offense to gain speed until Piccirillo was picked off at the Trinity 11-yard line. Suddenly the momentum of the game had swung completely in Trinity’s favor. They completed a 47-yard pass on the way to scoring another touchdown, increasing their lead to 14-3.
The Cards appeared determined to win and again started making solid progress up the field, reaching the red zone before being intercepted again, this time right on the goal line. With the ball in their hands, Trinity marched down the field behind their senior quarterback’s impressive rushing and passing ability and grabbed yet another touchdown, upping their lead to 21-3. The offense had barely gotten the ball back before Piccirillo threw his third and final interception of the game, giving possession back to the Bantams on the Cardinal 18-yard line. This led to yet another touchdown and marked Trinity’s win in stone. On the next drive, Piccirillo almost coughed up the ball again with a fumble, but Wesleyan thankfully recovered the loose ball. As the clock ran down, the Bantams found themselves ahead 28-3.
This game versus Trinity demonstrated cracks in the Cards’ offense that have manifested themselves over the course of the entire season. While the winning record may not show it, Wes’ inability to defeat Trinity and claim the NESCAC Championship is not due to general weaknesses. Instead, it can be attributed to a few sore spots in the team’s skill set: avoidable interceptions, unnecessary penalties, and failed offensive drives. On Saturday, the occasional penalty gave the Bantams extra, if unnecessary, boosts and Piccirillo’s three interceptions handed them critical second chances. For as well as Trinity played, the Cards were just as much at fault for their loss.
This was certainly a tough way to conclude the season, but the Red Birds did have a relatively successful campaign, finishing fourth in the NESCAC. The team says goodbye to 18 seniors but will be returning some key components next fall, namely Piccirillo and defensive stalwart Brandon Morris, and with another year of experience under their belts, there’s no telling what the underclassmen might accomplish come next fall. Certainly, their sights will be set on claiming the NESCAC title.
Jacques Slaughter at email@example.com.