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Week 3 Preview - Wesleyan vs. Hamilton

Photo Courtesy of Steve McLaughlin
Photo Courtesy of Steve McLaughlin

Saturday marks the 48th all-time meeting between Wesleyan (1-1) and Hamilton (0-2), with the Cardinals leading the series, 29-17-1. The two NESCAC rivals have faced each other every year since 1984, and Wesleyan has won six straight including a 31-9 victory on the road last season and a 34-6 home win in 2016.

Last year, the Cardinals used a well-balanced attack to cruise past Hamilton. They outgained the Continentals 449-to-244, gaining 253 yards through the air and 196 on the ground. Wesleyan held Hamilton to 196 yards passing and just 48 yards rushing. The Cardinals also held a 34:19-to-25:41 edge in time of possession and sacked the quarterback five times. The game was sloppy, however, and featured 26 total penalties for 262 yards and five turnovers.

Wesleyan QB Mark Piccirillo '19 went 25-of-33 for 253 yards, 2 TD and 2 INT. He also rushed 12 times for 48 yards, while Dario Highsmith '20 led all rushers with 95 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns. The recently converted WR also caught five passes for 34 yards, and Evan Hull '19 led the group with five receptions for 75 yards and 2 TD. Hamilton QB Kenny Gray went 17-of-36 for 196 yards and one interception and connected with Christian Donahoe eight times as the WR pulled in a game-high 125 receiving yards. RB Mitch Bierman rushed nine times for a team-high 34 yards to lead the Continentals' running game.

Both teams are coming off losses as Wesleyan dropped a heart-breaker at Tufts on Saturday, 16-13, and Hamilton lost 37-14 at Amherst. The Cardinals held Tufts scoreless in the second half and despite dominating the time of possession (36:28-to-23:32) and outgaining the Jumbos (334-to-217), they were unable to capitalize on their opportunities. Hamilton only trailed by a touchdown at halftime against the Mammoths, 14-7, but Amherst scored 16 points in the third quarter en route to the 23-point victory. The Continentals were outgained 453-to-221 and rushed for only 18 yards while giving up 308.

Through two games, Wesleyan ranks third in the NESCAC in scoring (32.5 points/game) and sixth in total offense (346.0 yards/game). The Cardinals boast a well-balanced offensive attack, averaging 172 yards passing and 174 yards rushing per game. Piccirillo—a First Team All-NESCAC selection a year ago—is currently 30-of-52 (57.7-completion %) for 344 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 INT. His favorite target has been Highsmith who has a team-high 13 receptions for 144 yards. Piccirillo is also second on the team in rushing with 123 yards on 20 carries (61.5 yards/game), while RB Glenn Smith '21 leads the team with 33 rushes for 127 yards and one touchdown.

Defensively, the Cardinals are surrendering 18.5 points per game while giving up 255.0 yards. They have allowed 216.5 yards through the air but only 38.5 yards rushing, which is a league-low. Wesleyan's defense also leads the league in touchdowns with two, and it's four interceptions are tied for the most in the NESCAC, while its five sacks are tied for second most. The unit is led by 2017 First Team All-NESCAC selections Brandon Morris '19 and Grant Williams '19. Morris, the league's leader in tackles a year ago, currently has 12 and four pass break-ups. Williams, a force on the defensive line, has six tackles thus far while senior LB Cole Harris leads the team with 14. Junior DB Ben Thaw, who led the conference in interceptions last year, currently has two including a pick-six.

Hamilton's offense has struggled through its first two games and ranks second-to-last in scoring (8.0 points/game) and total offense (192.0 yards/game). However, the Continentals rank third in the NESCAC in passing, averaging 188.5 yards per game, and are led by Gray who has 355 yards on 40 completions. The junior QB has only found the end zone once though while tossing four interceptions. His favorite targets have been sophomore WR Will Budington and junior WR Joe Schmidt. Budington leads the team with 134 yards receiving on 10 catches, and Schmidt has a team-high 16 catches for 122 yards and a score. Hamilton's rushing game will have a difficult time getting things going against Wesleyan's stifling front-seven as the league's worst rushing attack faces the NESCAC's top rushing defense. The Continentals have managed to gain just seven yards on the ground in two games and finished with -11 in the loss against the Jumbos.

On the defensive side, Hamilton ranks sixth in both scoring defense (33.0 points/game) and total defense (384.5 yards/game). The Continentals have allowed just 127 yards per game through the air, which ranks second best in the conference, but have given up 257.5 yards on the ground. They have one sack and one turnover on the season, while still looking for their first interception. Eight players have double-digit tackles on the year thus far with LB Carmine Bruno leading the way. The junior has a team-high 15 while senior LB Cole Burchill has 14 and freshman DB Jared Schwartz has 13. Senior DE Alex Ganter has the team's lone sack.

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