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Week 9 Preview: Wesleyan (6-2) vs. Trinity (7-1)

Photo by Steve McLaughlin
Photo by Steve McLaughlin

Wesleyan and Trinity will meet in the 'Battle of the Birds' this Saturday, Nov. 11 at Jessee/Miller Field in Hartford, Conn. to wrap up the 2017 season. The Cardinals enter the game with a 6-2 record while the Bantams boast a 7-1 mark. Trinity, however, is coming off its first loss in nearly two years as Amherst defeated the Bantams a week ago, 28-20, snapping a 16-game winning streak. Wesleyan is fresh off its most impressive all-around performance of the year as the Cardinals cruised past Williams on Homecoming/Family Weekend, 35-0.

Yesterday, the head coaches and captains of both programs met at The Hartford Club surrounded by press and alums for the third annual 'Battle of the Birds' Luncheon. Wesleyan was represented by Head Coach Dan DiCenzo and senior captains Shayne Kaminiski, Eric Meyreles, and Nate Taylor, as well as Director of Athletics Mike Whalen '83. Representing Trinity was Head Coach Jeff Devanney, senior captains Liam Kenneally, Sonny Puzzo, and Chris Simmons, and Interim Athletic Director Kristen Noone.

NBC Connecticut sports anchor Joe D'Ambrosio served as this year's host, while Fox61 sports anchor Bob Rumbold and Middletown Press correspondent Jim Bransfield were also in attendance. Click HERE to view the photo gallery.

"We talk about every week being the same, but this is a big game and our kids know it," said DiCenzo. "They're excited to play Trinity, and we get excited to play in big games. When we recruit them we tell them, 'Hey, we want to get you here to get a first-class education and help us win championships.' We're excited for this."

The Cardinals are looking for their first win at Trinity since 1997 while looking to snap a two-game losing skid against their in-state rival. They enter Saturday's game ranked second in the NESCAC in yards (425.5/game) and fourth in scoring (29.6 points/game), while the defense is second in scoring (14.6 points/game) and third in fewest yards allowed (303.6/game).

Offensively, Wesleyan is led by junior quarterback Mark Piccirillo who is putting together a historic 2017 campaign. The Shelton, Conn. native has set 10 program records this year, including passing yards in a season (2,353), and also became Wesleyan's all-time touchdown leader with 42 for his career. He leads the conference in passing (294.1 yards/game), passing touchdowns (20), pass efficiency (158.6), completions (204), and completion percentage (71.3%). He has been a threat with his feet as well and ranks sixth in the league in rushing, averaging 54.1 yards per game while also recording four rushing touchdowns. His favorite target through the air continues to be senior wide receiver Mike Breuler, who has dominated opponents throughout the year. The Hamden, Conn. native leads all Division III receivers in yards per game (134.4) and ranks second in the country in receptions per game (9.8). He also has 10 touchdowns on the year—most in the NESCAC and 31st in the nation—and his 78 catches are a single-season program record.

Defensively, junior linebacker Brandon Morris leads the Cardinals and ranks first in the league in tackles with 84 total (10.5/game). He also has four sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble return, and two breakups. Kaminski ranks second on the team in tackles (7.0/game) while recording 3.5 sacks, three breakups, two interceptions, and one INT returned for a touchdown. In the secondary, Ben Thaw '20 leads the conference with four INT's, and also has six breakups, while Taylor ranks tied for second with eight.

Trinity, the 2016 NESCAC Champions, lead the league in scoring (34.6 points/game) and rank third in total offense (428.8 yards/game), while the Bantams defense leads the NESCAC in scoring (10.6 points/game) and ranks second in total defense (269.4 yards/game). Due to the new tiebreaking rules, the Bantams can regain the title outright with a win and an Amherst loss to Williams.

Trinity's offense is led by junior running back Max Chipouras who leads all players in the conference with 896 yards (112.0/game) and 10 rushing touchdowns. Puzzo is fifth in the NESCAC in passing (203.6 yards/game) and is 121-of-195 (62.1%) for 1,629 yards, 15 touchdowns, and four interceptions. He ranks second behind Piccirillo with a 153.5 pass efficiency. His favorite target has been sophomore WR Koby Schofer who has a team-high 49 catches for 658 yards and six scores. Freshman WR Jonathan Girard—brother of Wesleyan's AJ Girard '18—and junior WR John Spears are tied for second with 16 catches each. Defensively, junior LB Dago Picon-Roura leads the team in tackles, averaging 6.8 per game, while Kenneally ranks second with an average of 5.2 per game including two sacks. Four players have two interceptions each, while senior DB John Medina leads the team with eight breakups.

Trinity holds a slight 62-53-1 edge in the 116-year history of the rivalry and is coming off two-straight wins against the Cardinals including a 45-21 win a year ago. Wesleyan's last victory was a 20-19 home win on Nov. 8, 2014.