For the third year in a row, Wesleyan and Tufts will meet under the lights as the Jumbos play host to the Cardinals on Saturday, Sept. 22 at 6 p.m. on Ellis Oval / Zimman Field. The previous two meetings featured NESCAC thrillers with the Jumbos taking the first game, 17-14 at home in 2016, and the Cardinals responding with an incredible 24-17 overtime victory a year ago. The series is all tied up at 23-23-2 with Wesleyan winning four of the last five meetings dating back to 2009.
In the first meeting between these two teams under the lights, Wesleyan saw its 14-3 halftime lead slip away as Tufts' senior RB Chance Brady rushed for two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to give the Jumbos a 17-14 win at home on Sept. 24, 2016. The Cardinals, however, avenged the loss a year later with a thrilling overtime victory in their 2017 home-opener. Trailing by 14 with just over 10 minutes to play in regulation, QB Mark Piccirillo '19 threw two touchdown passes to WR Eric Meyreles '18, including a 24-yard score with just six seconds remaining to tie the game. In OT, Piccirillo threw a 14-yard strike to WR Mike Breueler '18 and LB Shayne Kaminiski '18 sealed the win with an interception.
Both teams are riding high entering Saturday's game as the Cardinals routed Middlebury in their 2018 season-opener at Corwin Stadium, 52-21, and Tufts cruised to a 29-2 win on the road over Hamilton.
The 52 points scored by Wesleyan was the most in the NESCAC last week, but it wasn't just the Cardinals offense that put points on the board as the defense accounted for two scores – a 30-yard interception return by DB Ben Thaw '20 and a 3-yard fumble recovery by LB Will Kearney '20. Wesleyan held a 358-to-293 edge in total offense with 155 yards through the air and 203 on the ground. Middlebury finished with 266 yards passing and only 27 rushing. The Cardinals also recorded four sacks, three interceptions, and held a 32:24-to-27:36 edge in time of possession. Piccirillo was 12-19 through the air with 155 passing yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed six times for 45 yards, while RB Sean Penney '21 ran for three touchdowns on just 10 carries. Wesleyan did not turn the ball over.
Tufts had a huge game last Saturday as well, as senior QB Ryan McDonald tied a school record with four rushing touchdowns. He became the sixth Jumbo to rush for four TDs in a game, scoring from 18, 8, 32 and 9 yards out. He finished the day with 98 yards rushing on 15 carries (6.5 average) as Tufts totaled 207 yards on the ground overall, including 68 on nine rushes by sophomore Mike Pedrini. The Jumbos' defense was dominant as well as it held the Continentals to -11 yards rushing. Tufts outgained Hamilton 316-to-163 with 109 yards passing and 207 yards rushing. The Jumbos also got to the quarterback six times for a loss of 48 yards, while picking off QB Kenny Gray three times. Greg Holt led the defensive efforts for Tufts with eight tackles and two sacks.
Wesleyan's 2018 unit features five All-NESCAC returners from a year ago, including three first team honorees – Piccirillo, DL Grant Williams '19 and LB Brandon Morris '19. Tufts has three all-conference returners and two first team selections from 2017 – OL Tim Reitzenstein and LB Greg Holt.