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Week 6 Football Preview: Wesleyan (5-0) vs. Middlebury (5-0)

Photo by Steve McLaughlin Photography
Photo by Steve McLaughlin Photography

Only one NESCAC team will remain unbeaten after week six action as the 5-0 Wesleyan Cardinals will face the 5-0 Middlebury Panthers on Youngman Field at Alumni Stadium on Saturday in Middlebury, Vt.

The 5-0 start for Wesleyan is its best since the 2013 season when the Cardinals won their first seven games before losing the season finale. Wesleyan has wins over Colby (30-10), Hamilton (28-10), Bates (48-12), Bowdoin (20-13), and Tufts (20-13). The Cardinals are coming off an impressive and thrilling comeback victory over Tufts under the lights at Corwin Stadium last Saturday when QB Ashton Scott threw a 29-yard touchdown strike to WR Matthew Simco for the game-winning score with just six seconds remaining.

Middlebury is 3-0 at home this year and 2-0 on the road. The Panthers have defeated Williams (17-13), Bates (28-0), Trinity (32-27), Amherst (34-31, 2OT), and Colby (27-26). Their opponents have a combined record of 11-14, and they've handed Williams and Amherst its only losses of the season, however, Middlebury came very close to seeing its unbeaten streak come to an end last Saturday when the winless Mules missed a game-winning field goal with just 22 seconds left to play.

Wesleyan has been strong on both sides of the ball this season and boasts a well-balanced team entering its week six matchup. Offensively, the Cardinals lead the league in field goals (7), rank second in rushing yards (175.8/game), and rank third in scoring (29.9 points/game), passing touchdowns (11), and red zone touchdown percentage (56%). Sophomore QB Ashton Scott is 73-of-116 for a 62.9 completion percentage, which is second-best in the NESCAC while throwing for 926 yards, 11 touchdowns, and two interceptions. He's also second on the team in rushing yards with 251 on 64 carries (50.2 yards/game) with one touchdown. Junior RB Glenn Smith leads the way with 280 yards on 40 carries and is leading the league in yards per rush, averaging 7.0 per carry. Simco is the team's leading receiver with team-highs of 22 catches for 355 yards and three touchdowns. He ranks seventh in the league in yards and eighth in yards per game (71.0). Freshman kicker Mason Von Jess has been excellent for the Cardinals and has been named the NESCAC Special Teams Player of the Week twice. He is 7-of-8 on field goal attempts, while his seven made field goals lead the league, and he's also 17-of-18 on extra-point tries.

The Cardinals have been a force defensively and lead the league in sacks (16) and interceptions (11). They also rank second in the league in scoring, allowing just 11.6 points per game (ppg), and rank third in total defense, surrendering just 292.8 yards per game (ypg). Wesleyan allows 172.8 ypg passing and 120.0 ypg rushing. Junior LB Nick Nivingston has been excellent and currently has a league-high five sacks, while senior DB Ben Thaw is tied for the league-lead in interceptions with three and sophomore DB Danny Banks has two. Senior LB Chase Pratt leads the team in tackles with 31 followed by Isaiah Miller (25), Julian Ross (25), and Will Kearney (24). The Cardinals' stifling defense has not allowed more than 13 points all season.

Middlebury offensively ranks third in the league in total offense (397.4/game), passing yards (227.4/game), and rushing yards (170/game). The Panthers also rank second in rushing touchdowns with nine and are fifth in scoring, averaging 27.6 ppg. Junior QB Will Jernigan leads the way and is 80-of-158 for 1,137 yards passing, eight touchdowns, and six interceptions. He is second in the league in passing yards per game (227.4) and sixth in rushing yards per game (65.4) with a total of 327 yards on 77 carries. He has rushed for five touchdowns as well but has fumbled seven times and lost five of them. Five pass-catchers have more than 100 yards receiving while senior WR Maxwell Rye highlights the group way with 20 catches for 345 yards and two scores. Jernigan ranks second on the team in rushing behind freshman RB Alex Maldjian who has 434 yards on 98 rushes including two touchdowns. He ranks second in the NESCAC with 86.8 rushing yards per contest.

Defensively, Middlebury allows 19.4 points and 315.4 yards per game. The Panthers allow 207.6 yards through the air and 107.8 yards on the ground. They also rank second in the conference in sacks, behind Wesleyan, with 15 and are third in interceptions with nine. Junior linebackers Jack Pistorius and Pete Huggins have 45 and 42 tackles, respectively, to rank third and fourth in the conference. Huggins also has three sacks, while Pistorius and senior DL Martin Williams have 2.5. However, senior DL Alex Norton leads the team and ranks tied for third in the NESCAC with four. In the secondary, four different players have two interceptions; senior defensive backs Kevin Hartley and Michael Carr, junior LB Zander Bailey, and freshman DB Finn Muldoon.

Saturday's game of the week will kick off at 1 p.m. Last year, Wesleyan cruised to a 52-21 win in the 2018 season-opener at home, which snapped a two-game losing streak against the Panthers. The Cardinal's last win in Middlebury was 2014 when they defeated the Panthers 22-14.