A Historic Game And The Lasting Friendship Behind It
By Sam Blum '19
On September 26th, 1998, on Youngman Field in Middlebury, Vermont, Wesleyan football history was made. In a 55-28 victory over the Middlebury Panthers, Matt Perceval '00 caught a remarkable seven touchdown passes thrown by Jake Fay '00. It may have been the apex of their football careers – a game that set records that stand to this day – but it was just one moment in a special relationship that both men still cherish.
Before they formed their lasting bond, Perceval and Fay took very different paths to come to Wesleyan. Growing up in Glastonbury, Connecticut and playing quarterback from the age of eight, Fay became familiar with the Glastonbury High football coach, Frank Hauser '79. By the time Fay started his college search, Coach Hauser had begun his historic stint as Wesleyan football coach. Fay knew the area, he knew the coach, Wesleyan was the kind of school he wanted to go to – but something just wasn't quite right when he set foot on campus. "I kept waiting to walk onto a campus and think, 'Oh, this is a place I have got to be' and it just didn't really happen," Fay recalls. "It was parents' weekend so everybody was with their families… it was just OK." Rather than risk committing to something he was unsure about, Fay chose a different tack. He was, in his own words, "really skinny", so he chose to take a postgraduate year at The Taft School to develop further as a player.
A year later, after another trip to Wesleyan's campus (this time he "fell in love with it"), Fay found himself in the inaugural football meeting – comfortably before it was due to start. "I always pride myself on being early for things – meetings, flights, whatever," Fay said. "I got to the freshman football meeting really early, and I walked into the classroom, and this guy was already there. I was like, 'Ugh, he beat me to it!'" Little did he know that this penchant for punctuality would be just the first of many things he would share with the student he had just met – Matt Perceval.
Unlike Fay, Perceval went to high school quite a distance from Wesleyan – Box Elder, South Dakota. Like Fay, however, local athletics gave him a connection to the school – in this case, the basketball coach's son, Tobin Anderson '95. It took Fay two campus visits to decide on Wesleyan, but Perceval never visited at all. He just knew this opportunity was too good to pass up – the ability to play his position (wide receiver) at a great school. "It was the biggest leap of faith I've taken over the years, and I could not be happier," Perceval recalled. "Of everything, it's made the biggest impact on my whole life."
Two different journeys may have led Fay and Perceval to Wesleyan, but soon they were doing everything together. "It was a friendship that started at the beginning of our careers and we took it all the way through," Fay stated with pride. "We took probably ninety percent of our classes together and worked out together afterward." This camaraderie would prove invaluable to their time together on the field. "I think it really helped our football careers, just being so in tune with each other," Fay explained. "I always knew where Matt was going to be – I knew what he was thinking just by a quick look." This connection also helped Perceval feel comfortable in his new home away from home. "The Fays took me in as my East Coast family," he recalled fondly; he spent most breaks with the family and worked for his father over the summers.
But perhaps there is no better indication of their friendship and chemistry then that aforementioned game against Middlebury. It became apparent early on that this was to be a special game for the pair. Perceval described the game as "kind of surreal. it seemed like every time he threw me the ball, somehow I was open." Fay was similarly incredulous, and he wasn't the only one: "The ref looked at Matt and then at me. He said, 'At what point do they double cover that kid?' and I said 'I was wondering the same thing!'" By the end of the first half, Fay and Perceval had combined for an astonishing six touchdowns. They would only score one more in the second half, perhaps a slight regret on their part, but the victory was still a historic one. Fay claims that his performance looked lackluster when he reviewed the game film with Coach Hauser ("I threw a couple of picks, maybe three, and just some sloppy play"), but the 55-26 victory and the numerous records broken along the way speak for themselves.
Seven touchdown passes in a game is a school record that Fay and Perceval share. Perceval's seven touchdowns and 42 points in a game are both NESCAC records. More specifically, Perceval's seven touchdown receptions is a feat unmatched in all Division III football. His fourteen touchdown receptions that season is a school record and his 36 career touchdown receptions mark another NESCAC record. Fay's seven touchdown passes in a game is also a NESCAC record, as is his career mark of 53. Fay and Perceval led a historic offense that season, reaching 289 points and 3,386 yards over the course of the season, both school records. They were consummate performers throughout their intertwining careers: Fay's 6,657 passing yards and Perceval's 2,879 receiving yards each wouldn't have happened without the other – and are yet two more NESCAC records.
But it's not the records that Fay and Perceval cherish most – it's their friendship and their time within the Wesleyan community. They remain close to this day, staying in touch and meeting up to catch up and maybe play a game of golf. Both of them are still involved, whether that means answering emails from current players or donating their time and money to the program. "It's easy to give back to something you feel really strongly about," Perceval says. As usual, his closest teammate and friend is on the same page: "I think about it all the time, how lucky I was, how lucky I am, for all my Wesleyan experiences."