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Week 8 Football Preview: Wesleyan (6-1) vs. Williams (6-1)

Photo by Steve McLaughlin Photography
Photo by Steve McLaughlin Photography

Little Three archrivals Wesleyan and Williams meet on the gridiron for the 125th time Saturday and both enter the game with 6-1 records. The Ephs hold a 76-43-5 advantage in the all-time series but the Cardinals have won six straight dating back to the 2013 season. During the win streak, Wesleyan has outscored Williams 180-49.

Last year in Williamstown, the Cardinals had a 7-0 advantage entering the fourth quarter before extending the lead to 21-0 with 4:41 to play in regulation. After holding Williams scoreless for most of the game, the Ephs scored with 3:34 on the clock and recovered their onside kick. Five plays later, they scored again to cut the deficit to seven, but the second onside attempt was handled by Wesleyan as the Cardinals held on for the 21-14 win.

Williams had a slight advantage in total offense with a 282-272 edge while throwing for 290 yards. However, Wesleyan's stifling defense recorded nine sacks and held the Ephs to negative eight yards rushing. The Cardinals' offense threw for 151 yards and rushed for 121 while not turning the ball over. They also held a 31:51 to 28:09 advantage in time of possession.

Wesleyan is enjoying its best start to a season since 2013 when the Cardinals finished 7-1 in a three-way tie for the NESCAC Championship while also claiming the Little Three title outright. Last week, Wesleyan spoiled Amherst's Homecoming Weekend by defeating the Mammoths in double-overtime, 31-28. In a thrilling game between Little Three rivals, sophomore QB Ashton Scott threw a 62-yard game-tying touchdown to his classmate and favorite target, WR Matthew Simco. The Cardinals had a chance to win the game in regulation but Amherst pressured the line and blocked a 25-yard attempt as time expired. Neither team scored in the first overtime and on the Mammoths' first play of the second, sophomore DB Danny Banks intercepted a pass on the two-yard line, giving Wesleyan the ball back with a chance to win. The Cardinals capitalized on the turnover with Mason Von Jess hitting a 20-yard field goal for the game-winner. Simco finished with five catches for a career-high 147 yards receiving and two touchdowns and was named the NESCAC Offensive Player of the Week. Banks recorded two interceptions, one pass breakup, and three tackles en route to NESCAC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

The Cardinals are 3-0 at home this season and average 28.3 points and 376.7 yards per game (ypg). They boast a well-balanced attack in which they rank fourth in the conference in both passing yards (219/game) and rushing yards (157.7/game). Scott is averaging 209.9 ypg through the air and ranks second in the NESCAC with 17 passing touchdowns behind Bobby Maimaron of Williams (18). His favorite target has been Simco, who ranks fifth in receiving yards per game (80.7) and is tied for second in receiving touchdowns (6). He has had two 100-yard receiving games in the past three contests and has scored a touchdown in five games this year. Wesleyan's rushing attack is led by Glenn Smith, David Estevez, and Scott. Smith has a team-high 365 yards rushing and three touchdowns, averaging 6.3 yards per carry, while Estevez has 261 yards and three touchdowns, and Scott has 250 and one score.

Defensively, the Cardinals are allowing 18.7 points and 340.7 yards per game, while surrendering 198.6 ypg through the air and 142.1 ypg on the ground. They lead the league in interceptions (14) and are tied for the league-lead in sacks (19). Senior LB Will Kearney has a team-high 53 tackles while junior LB Nick Livingston leads the NESCAC in sacks (5) and Banks leads the conference in interceptions (4). Additionally, freshman DL Nick Helbig has four sacks and junior LB Babila Fomuteh has 3.5, while senior DB Ben Thaw has three interceptions and senior LB Sam Kirk has two.

The Ephs are coming off an impressive road win as well as they outscored Trinity 15-0 in the fourth quarter to win 29-15. The victory was Williams' first in Hartford since 2001 and it ended the Bantams' 20-game home win streak. Despite being held to just 85 yards passing, the Ephs rushed for 235 behind a strong performance from Dan Vaughn who finished with 123 yards on 20 carries. They did not turn the ball over while the defense recorded six sacks and a fourth-quarter interception. Junior WR Frank Stola took a 38-yard punt return to the house to put Williams on top early, 7-0, and was named the NESCAC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance.

Williams lost its season-opener to Middlebury, 17-13, but has won six straight since then. The Ephs are averaging 30.6 points and 406 yards per game to rank third in the conference in both categories. They are throwing for 175.4 ypg and rushing for a league-best 230.6 ypg. Junior QB Bobby Maimaron is 72 of 141 for 1,193 yards, 18 touchdowns, and just two interceptions. He's also rushed for 515 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and two scores. Vaughn leads the rushing attack with 600 yards (6.5 yards per carry) and two scores, while Stola leads the NESCAC with 750 receiving yards (107.1/game) and 12 touchdowns.

Defensively, the Ephs have surrendered a league-low 9.6 points per game while giving up 295.3 yards on 186 passing and 109.3 rushing. They have forced 10 turnovers with seven interceptions and three fumble recoveries, and have sacked the opposing quarterback 14 times. Williams has held opponents to 10 points or less in five of its seven games while also recording a shutout with a 17-0 win at Colby. Junior LB Jarrett Wesner leads the team and ranks sixth in the NESCAC with 56 tackles on the year, including two sacks, while sophomore DL Ian Devine has a team-high 3.5 sacks. Senior DB Ben Anthony and freshman SS Drew Michalek each have three interceptions on the year while Anthony has returned his three picks for 117 yards.