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Week 4 Preview: Wesleyan (2-1) vs. Colby (0-3)

Photo by Lianne Yun '18
Photo by Lianne Yun '18

Saturday's game marks the 40th meeting between Wesleyan and Colby, which dates back to 1927. The Cardinals (2-1) are riding a seven-game win streak against the Mules (0-3), and hold a 22-17 advantage in the series. Colby's last win against Wesleyan was a 16-13 overtime victory in 2009.

Wesleyan has rattled off two consecutive victories after a season-opening loss at Middlebury (3-0), as it defeated Tufts (2-1) in an OT thriller on Sept. 23rd and Hamilton (0-3) this past weekend in a 31-9 rout.

The Cardinals' rushing attack came alive against the Continentals, as sophomore Middletown native Dario Highsmith rushed for 95 yards on 15 carries, including two touchdowns. He also caught five passes for 34 yards to amass 129 all-purpose yards on the day. Wesleyan used a well-balanced offense, much like it did throughout the 2016 season, as it totaled 449 yards on 253 through the air and 196 on the ground. Defensively, the Cardinals held Hamilton to a mere 244 yards of offense, with 196 passing and just 48 rushing.

Additionally, Wesleyan held a 34:19-to-25:41 edge in time of possession, in a game that featured a total of 26 penalties for 262 yards and five turnovers. The Cardinals defense also racked up five sacks for a loss of 33 yards, as Shayne Kaminski '18 totaled two of his own and Brandon Morris '19 added 1.5, including a forced fumble.

Through Week 3, Wesleyan ranks second in the NESCAC in total offense (425.0 yards/game) and fifth in total defense (331.3 yards/game). The Cardinals also rank fifth in the league in both scoring offense (27.3 points/game) and scoring defense (18.6 points/game).

Offensively, the team is led by junior quarterback Mark Piccirillo and senior wide receiver Mike Breuler. Piccirillo ranks first in the NESCAC in completion percentage (70.7%), and ranks second in yards (954) and yards per game (318.0). His nine touchdowns are also second-best in the league. Breuler is off to an incredible start to the 2017 season, and currently leads all of Division III in receptions per game (12.0) and ranks second in the country in receiving yards per game (146.3). He also has four receiving touchdowns thus far.

On the defensive side of the ball, junior linebacker Brandon Morris leads the team with 32 tackles. He also has two sacks, one forced fumble, and two break-ups. He is joined in the front-seven by senior linebacker Shayne Kaminski who ranks second on the team with 27 tackles and is tied for third in the NESCAC with three sacks. He also has two break-ups and one interception, while first-year starting defensive back Ben Thaw currently leads the league in interceptions with two.

Colby has been dealt an incredibly difficult schedule to open the 2017 campaign, with its first three opponents a combined 8-1. The Mules kicked off the season with a road game at defending NESCAC Champion Trinity (3-0), and fell 35-0. They hosted Williams (2-1) the following week and lost 24-7, and are coming off a 37-6 defeat at Middlebury (3-0) this past weekend.

With just 13 points on the season, Colby currently ranks last in the NESCAC in scoring offense, and sits seventh in scoring defense having allowed 32.0 points per game. The Mules are also last in the conference in total offense (206.7 yards/game) and rank eighth in total defense (428.3 yards/game).

Offensively, sophomore quarterback Jack O'Brien has seen the majority of time under center, while senior Christian Sparacio and Harry Kraft have seen action as well. O'Brien is 45-84 for 278 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He also ranks second on the team in rushing, with 46 yards on 41 carries, while junior running back Jake Schwern leads the team with 189 yards on 44 attempts. The Mules do not have a rushing touchdown on the season. Schwern is also the team's leading receiver with 77 yards on 12 catches and one touchdown.

Defensively, junior defensive back Don Vivian leads the team with 25 tackles. He also has an interception, two break-ups, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. The Mules have had a difficult time getting to the quarterback, with only three sacks through three games.

The last time these two teams met (10/8/16), Wesleyan cruised to a commanding 37-6 win in Waterville, Maine. The Cardinals gained over 500 yards of total offense, and outgained Colby 520-to-201. They finished with 285 yards rushing and 235 yards passing, and finished 8-of-11 on third-down conversions. 

Piccirillo finished 13-of-20 for 127 yards, while also rushing for 109 and a score on just six carries. Lou Stevens '17 gained 93 yards rushing on 11 carries, and Devon Carrillo '17 recorded two rushing touchdowns on four attempts. Additionally, Andrew Mehr '17 gained 85 yards receiving and Breuler totaled 81 yards and a touchdown.

Sparacio started at quarterback for Colby and went 16-of-26 for 150 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He also rushed 10 times for negative 12 yards, as he was sacked three times on the day. Jabari Hurdle-Price rushed for 202 yards against Wesleyan in 2015, but was held to just 45 yards on 15 carries in last year's matchup.

During Wesleyan's current seven-game winning streak against Colby, the Cardinals have outscored the Mules 216-103.