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Week 9 Preview: Wesleyan (5-3) vs. Trinity (7-1)

Photo by Steve McLaughlin
Photo by Steve McLaughlin

Wesleyan vs. Trinity Series 

Saturday's game marks the 118th meeting between in-state NESCAC rivals Wesleyan and Trinity. The Bantams hold a slight 63-53-1 advantage in the series, which began in 1885, and have won three straight against the Cardinals. Prior to the game, Wesleyan will honor its 17-member senior class as well as local veterans for its annual "Salute to Service" game. 

Last year, Trinity defeated Wesleyan 28-3 on Jessee/Miller Field in Hartford, Conn. Wesleyan outgained the Bantams, 351-to-317, held a 20-13 edge in first downs and a commanding 40:14-to-19:46 advantage in time of possession, but the Cardinals turned the ball over three times and were unable to find the end zone. Wesleyan threw for 299 yards and rushed for 52, while the Bantams gained 229 yards through the air and 88 on the ground.

Trinity held a slight 7-0 lead at halftime but scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pull away. Wesleyan quarterback Mark Piccirillo was 29-of-45 for 299 yards and three interceptions. He was also the team's leading rusher with 41 yards on 24 carries. Eight different receivers caught a pass for the Cardinals, as Mike Breuler recorded team-highs of nine catches for 92 yards. Evan Hull and AJ Girard each finished with 63 yards on five and four receptions, respectively. Defensively, Brandon Morris led the way for Wesleyan with a game-high 11 tackles.

The Bantams were paced offensively by Sonny Puzzo who went 9-of-19 through the air with 228 yards, two TDs, and one INT. He also led all players in rushing with 48 yards on six carries, including a score. Max Chipouras was held to just 41 yards on 19 carries. Jonathan Girard, the brother of Wesleyan's AJ Girard, finished with four catches for a game-high 108 yards and two touchdowns. Trinity's defense sacked Piccirillo five times and was led by Shane Libby who finished with a team-high 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

After falling to 1-2 following back-to-back heartbreaking losses, Wesleyan has rallied and is 4-1 in its last five games. The Cardinals' defense has been excellent during their two-game win streak and is coming off an impressive 21-14 win on the road against Little Three archrival Williams. Wesleyan held a 7-0 advantage at halftime and extended its lead to 21-0 in the fourth following a 75-yard touchdown pass from Piccirillo to Hallvard Lundevall and a 30-yard interception return by Eli Blair-May. The Cardinals held the three-touchdown lead with just 4:41 to play in regulation, but the Ephs didn't back down easily. Williams found the end zone a minute later and recovered the ensuing onside kick. The Ephs scored again to cut the deficit to seven with 2:02 remaining, and after forcing a Wesleyan three-and-out, they took over with 1:29 to play. However, the Cardinals' defense stepped up and a sack by Jackson Eighmy created a 4th-and-17 for the Ephs, as their final pass attempt fell incomplete. Eighmy finished the game with three sacks and was named the NESCAC Defensive Player of the Week.

Trinity had a difficult matchup last Saturday as well, as the Bantams hosted previously-undefeated Amherst and came away victorious, 27-16. With the win, Trinity (7-1) tied the Mammoths (7-1) for first place in the NESCAC standings. The game was even at halftime, 13-13, but the Bantams' defense came up big in the second half and allowed just three points in the final 30 minutes of action, and a 70-yard touchdown run by Chipouras with just 2:53 remaining in regulation put the game away. The Bantams outgained Amherst 387-to-345 with 160 yards passing and 227 rushing. The Mammoths finished with 217 yards through the air and 128 on the ground. Chipouras led Trinity with an impressive performance en route to NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week honors as he finished with 203 yards rushing on 24 carries and two touchdowns. Quarterback Seamus Lambert was 11-of-20 for 160 yards, two TDs, and one INT. Ian McDonald had a team-high eight tackles and James Christiano finished with two sacks. 

Wesleyan enters Saturday's game as one of the top scoring offenses in the NESCAC. The Cardinals rank third in points, averaging 26.8 per game, and are sixth in total offense (329.5 yards/game). They boast a well-balanced attack, averaging 171.4 passing yards and 158.1 rushing yards per game, and are second in the conference in time of possession (32:13). Piccirillo leads the offense and ranks fifth in the league in passing (171.4 yards/game) and is tied for first in passing touchdowns (13). Additionally, he ranks eighth in the conference in rushing (61.0 yards/game) and has three rushing touchdowns.

Defensively, Wesleyan allows 18.8 points and 272.6 yards per contest. The Cardinals have one of the NESCAC's top rushing defenses, surrendering just 77.8 yards per game on the ground, and are tied for first with 24 sacks. The unit is led by senior linebackers Cole Harris and Brandon Morris. Harris ranks 11th in the NESCAC in tackles with 52 (6.5/game) and Morris has 44 with an average of 6.3 per game. Morris is also tied with two others for the league lead in pass break-ups with seven. Taj Gooden and Eighmy rank second and third in the league with eight and 5.5 sacks, respectively, and Will Kearney and Ben Thaw sit tied for fourth with two interceptions each.

Trinity, the two-time defending NESCAC Champions, is the most well-rounded team in the league. The Bantams' offense ranks first in several categories; scoring (39.4 points/game), total yards (494.1/game), passing yards (249.4/game), rushing yards (244.8/game) and first downs (182). Quarterback Jordan Vazzano leads the conference in passing yards (221.0/game) and ranks second in passing touchdowns (12), but the junior has missed the last three games. Wide receiver Koby Schofer ranks second in the NESCAC in yards (95.4/game) and third in receptions (44), and is the league leader in receiving touchdowns (11), while Chipouras has been the NESCAC's top running back and paces the conference in rushing yards (133.0/game) and rushing touchdowns (11).

Defensively, Trinity surrenders just 222.4 yards and 11.3 points per game to rank first and second in the NESCAC, respectively. The Bantams are holding opponents to just 149.4 yards through the air and 73.0 yards on the ground, both a league-best. They also have eight interceptions, five fumble recoveries and 14 sacks on the year. The unit is paced by junior linebacker Dan Negron with 47 tackles, while Christiano ranks fourth in the NESCAC in sacks (5). In the secondary, Ian McDonald has a team-high two interceptions and Matt Patry leads the squad with seven pass break-ups.

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