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Week 2 Football Preview: Wesleyan vs. Tufts

Photo by Steve McLaughlin
Photo by Steve McLaughlin

Saturday's meeting marks the 48th game against Wesleyan and Tufts, dating back to 1892, with the Jumbos holding a slight 23-22-2 edge in the series. The Cardinals won three straight games (2009, 2012, 2013) before a 17-14 defeat on the road a year ago.

Wesleyan looks to avenge last season's loss, while also seeking its first win of 2017 following a difficult 30-27 deficit on the road last Saturday at Middlebury. Trailing 30-13 in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals rallied and scored back-to-back touchdowns in less than four minutes to get within three before they ran out of time on their last drive. Tufts won its season opener at home last weekend, but it wasn't easy as the Jumbos held off a late score by Hamilton to win in overtime, 35-28.

Despite the loss to the Panthers, Wesleyan's offense broke several program records. Junior quarterback Mark Piccirillo, making his ninth start under center, completed 39 passes on 53 attempts for 432 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. The 39 completions are a new Cardinal record – surpassing the old mark of 32 held by Zach Canter '07 – while his 432 passing yards fell six short of another. Additionally, Piccirillo completed 11 consecutive passes to set a new program record, and senior wide receiver Mike Breuler pulled in 15 catches for a new Wesleyan-best.

Breuler had a terrific game for the Cardinals, as he finished with 178 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Piccirillo found eight different receivers on the day, as Eric Meyreles '18 grabbed eight catches for 77 yards, and sophomores Dario Highsmith and Hallvard Lundevall finished with 48 yards each. Lundevall caught a touchdown as well. Defensively, Wesleyan totaled five sacks and forced two fumbles. Shayne Kaminski '18 and Brandon Morris '19 led the team with nine tackles each, while Kaminski added a sack and Morris broke up a pass.

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.

The Jumbos' 2017 opener featured a thriller as well, as they held off a 15-point fourth quarter rally by the Continentals to win in OT. Junior quarterback Ryan Hagfeldt recovered his own fumble for a touchdown, and then the Tufts' defense stopped Hamilton on their overtime attempt as Tufts held on for the victory.

Hagfeldt went 26-of-35 for 267 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also rushed for a touchdown, but finished with -3 yards on two carries. The running game was led by Ryan MacDonald, who finished with 92 yards on 20 carries and a score, while Andrew Sanders gained 38 yards on seven attempts and added a TD as well. Wide receivers Jack Dolan and Winton Blount caught Hagfeldt's two touchdown passes, as Dolan pulled in a team-high nine catches for 63 yards and Blount finished with 41 yards on two receptions.

The Jumbo defense allowed 365 yards through the air, as Hamilton QB Kenny Gray went 22-44 for 365 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. His favorite target was Joe Schmidt, who caught all four scores and pulled in an incredible 214 yards receiving on just eight catches. Christian Donahoe added 102 yards on three receptions.

Tufts held a 481-413 edge in total offense behind a well-balanced attack (318 yards passing; 163 yards rushing). The Jumbos also gained 24 first downs to Hamilton's 15, and slightly edged the Continentals in time of possession, 30:48-to-29:12.

The last time Wesleyan and Tufts met was the 2016 season opener (Sept. 24) in Somerville, Mass. on Ellis Oval/Zimman Field, in which the Jumbos scored two fourth quarter touchdowns and held the Cardinals scoreless in the second half to prevail with a 17-14 win.

Tufts got on the board first on a 44-yard field goal, but Devon Carrillo '17 put Wesleyan on top early in the second quarter with a two-yard touchdown run. On their next drive, the Cardinals found the back of the end zone once again as Piccirillo ran for a 23-yard score to cap off a 4-play, 52-yard drive in just 1:31.

Trailing 14-3 at halftime, and following a scoreless third quarter, the Jumbos eventually scored their first touchdown of the game with 12:10 remaining in regulation. The drive went 80 yards on just six plays before Chance Brady punched in a three-yard score. Minutes later, Brady put the home team on top with a 31-yard touchdown as Tufts led 17-14 with 5:24 to play. The Jumbos defense would then force a Cardinal punt, and the offense was able to run out the clock to seal the win.

Wesleyan outgained Tufts, 310-259, while throwing for 189 yards and rushing for 121. The Jumbos threw for 137 yards and gained 122 on the ground. The Cardinals also held a 16-12 edge in first downs, and totaled 176 yards in returns – 103 more than the Jumbos. The visitors also controlled the clock and held a 34:34-to-25:26 advantage in time of possession.

Tufts was led by Brady last time out, as he gained 151 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns. The Jumbos backfield will look different today, however, as Brady graduated in the spring. In Week 1, junior Ryan MacDonald took the reins and rushed 20 times for 92 yards and one TD, while junior Dominic Borelli rushed 12 times for 36 yards.