MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Quarterback Mark Piccirillo completed 39 passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns, and wide receiver Mike Breuler caught 15 passes for 178 yards and three scores, but the Wesleyan University football team's late rally came up short in its 2017 season opener, as the Cardinals lost to Middlebury on the road Saturday afternoon, 30-27.
Wesleyan (0-1) trailed 30-13 in the fourth quarter but scored back-to-back touchdowns in less than four minutes to make it a three-point game. After stopping Middlebury (1-0) at the Cardinals' six-yard line, the visitors took over for one last scoring chance but with only :56 remaining, they ran out of time.
Piccirillo's 39 completions are a new program record, while his 432 passing yards came up six yards short of setting another. Additionally, Breuler set a new record with 15 catches, surpassing the old mark of 14.
FIRST HALF HIGHLIGHTS:
- The Cardinals received the opening kickoff and drove 40 yards on nine plays in 4:33. Down to the Middlebury-25, the Panthers' defensive line stuffed Dario Highsmith '20 to force a turnover on downs. Just three plays later, quarterback Jared Lebowitz connected with Frank Cosolito for a 70-yard score. Following a missed extra-point, the home team held a 6-0 lead at the 9:28 mark.
- Wesleyan quickly responded as Piccirillo threw a perfectly placed dart that only Breuler could catch as the senior beat two defenders down the right sideline for a 52-yard score. The drive went 75 yards on six plays as Corey Phillips '17E tacked on the extra point to give the visitor's a 7-6 lead with 7:01 remaining in the first quarter.
- However, the momentum quickly shifted back in Middlebury's favor as Jimmy Martinez took the ensuing kickoff 96 yards, untouched, for the score.
- The Panthers scored their third touchdown of the quarter two drives later as Lebowitz connected with Martinez with :09 on the clock to put the home team ahead, 20-7 after the first 15 minutes of action.
- Wesleyan's first drive of the second quarter ended in a punt, while the Panthers' drive ended on downs – giving the Cardinals the ball at their own-49. Nine players later, Piccirillo ran a play-action to the right sideline, dropped back and tossed one to an open Breuler in the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown.
- On Middlebury's next possession, Lebowitz completed a 27-yard pass on 4th-and-15 down to the Wesleyan-4. After a Panthers' timeout, Drew Jacobs took a handoff to the left side and was stuffed by Brandon Morris '19 as the time expired.
- Middlebury led at the half, 20-13.
SECOND HALF HIGHLIGHTS:
- The third quarter was a defensive battle that featured four punts.
- The Panthers' third drive of the quarter started in great field position, at the Wesleyan-15, and ended in a 20-yard field goal by Carter Massengill to lift the home team's lead to 23-13 with 1:14 on the clock.
- Middlebury took over at the 12:51 mark of the fourth after a turnover on downs by the Cardinals. Six players later, as Lebowitz was being chased in the backfield, the quarterback rolled to the right and found Maxim Bochman wide open at the 10-yard line. The receiver shook two defenders and avoided a third as he dove across the goal line. The score gave Middlebury a 30-13 lead with 9:17 remaining in regulation
- Wesleyan didn't back down. Piccirillo completed five of six passes on the ensuing possession. On 1st-and-10 at the Middlebury-31, he ran to his right and then tossed to the opposite side of field to Ryan Earle '19 as the tight end barreled down field for a 22-yard gain. On the next play, Piccirillo found Hallvard in the back of end zone to cut the deficit to 10 with 7:07 left.
- The Cardinals then caught Middlebury off guard and recovered an onside kick. Wesleyan drove down the field at ease as Piccirillo completed seven consecutive passes before capping off the drive with a short, 3-yard touchdown pass to Breuler near the right pylon.
- Wesleyan forced a three-and-out and took over at their own-39 with 2:06 remaining. However, the next play resulted in an interception as Bobby Ritter returned it 31 yards to the Wesleyan-14.
- The Cardinals forced another three-and-out, and took over at their own six-yard line this time with :56 remaining, but with no timeouts left, Wesleyan ran out of time as the Panthers held on for the 30-27 win.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS:
- Wesleyan outgained Middlebury, 451-394, held a 23-20 edge in first downs, and led the time of possession, 35:18-to-24:42. However, they allowed 207 return yards and totaled 12 penalties for 111 yards, while also turning the ball over twice.
- Defensively, Shayne Kaminski '18 and Morris led the team with nine tackles each, while Kaminski added a sack. Jude Lindberg '19 totaled five tackles, two forced fumbles and a sack. As a team, the Cardinals registered five sacks.
- Lebowitz went 22-44 for 352 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. His favorite target on the day, Bochman, finished with 114 yards on seven catches and a touchdown.
- The Panthers' defense had four sacks, and were led by John Jackson who had two and four tackles. Aaron Slodowitz led all players with 10 total tackles, while Ritter registered seven and an interception, and Justin Fahey added five with a pick.
- The Cardinals are back in action next Saturday, Sept. 23 and will host Tufts (1-0) in their second night game in school history. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m.