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Football Looks Solid in Opener vs. Middlebury with 296 Rushing Yards but Comes up Just Short on Scoreboard, 28-25

Photo by Jonas Powell '18
Photo by Jonas Powell '18

Rallying from a 19-7 third-quarter deficit, Middlebury got four TDs from senior quarterback Matt Milano, three via passes and one on the ground, to come away with a 28-25 football victory Sat., Sept. 26 on opening day in NESCAC play. Wesleyan will be on the road Sat., Oct. 3 against Hamilton in its next outing while Middlebury hosts Colby next Saturday.  The game at Hamilton will have both a webcast and LiveStats.

The deciding TD for Middlebury came on a 43-yard swing pass to the right from Milano to freshman running back Diego Meritus with 5:10 left in the game. The pass was caught just about at the line of scrimmage and Meritus outraced the Cardinal defense on the right sideline for the go-ahead score as Wesleyan led, 25-21, at the time.  The fourth extra-point from freshman Charlie Gordon put the finishing touches on the scoring.

Wesleyan got no deeper than its own 31 yard line on its final two possession despite outgaining Middlebury, 459-347, on the day behind a 296-yard rushing attack.  Middlebury had just 10 yards on the ground from 22 attempts but Milano complete 23 of 34 attempts for 337 yards.  He spread his targets well as five Panther receivers had four or five catches, led by junior Ryan Rizzo with five for 126 yards.  Two of senior Trevor Miletich's catches went for scores, one of 20 yards and another of nine, both in the third period, helping Middlebury regain the lead, 21-19.

Wesleyan got the opening points of the fourth quarter when QB Mark Piccirillo '19 scampered 12 yards to the left side of the endzone at the 5:49 mark, completing a short 32-yard, six-play series set up by a 24-yard Devon Carrillo '17 punt return.  It took Middlebury just 39 seconds to respond with the game-winner.  Getting the kickoff at the 25, the Panthers got a 15-yard completion from Milano and a two-yard run with a 15-yard personal foul penalty against Wesleyan tacked on.  That put the ball at the Wesleyan 43.

Both teams scored four TDs but the Panthers blocked an extra point, courtesy of senior Gil Araujo, on the Cardinals' first score at 9:10 of the second period, leaving Middlebury ahead, 7-6.  The kick still made it to the cross bar, but fell just short off the contact.  The Panthers, using a no-huddle offense, had run off six plays and covered 78 yards on their opening possession with a six-yard Milano run to the right finishing off the scoring drive just 1:42 into the game.  In total, Middlebury's four TD marches consumed just six minutes as Wesleyan generated a 2-to-1 margin in time of possession (39:55-20:05).

Wesleyan also had an extra point go wide and then tried a two-point conversion on its last TD but came up short on a pass attempt.

Leading the Wesleyan running game was Jaylen Berry '18 with 21 rushes for 117 yards, 103 of those coming in the first half as Wesleyan led, 13-7.  He scored Wesleyan's initial TD on a one-yard run.  The Cardinals took the lead just 2:12 before intermission on a five-yard Carrillo run as he had eight carries for 53 yards.  QB Gernald Hawkins '18 added 55 yards on 13 carries.

Hawkins went 8-for-20 passing, good for 154 yards, including a 79-yard TD connection with Eric Meyreles '18, who he caught in stride in the middle of the field about 25 yards downfield and Meyreles legged the final 54 yards on his own.

On defense, Middlebury got 12 tackles from senior Tim Patricia, 11 from senior Dan Pierce, including one of three sacks for the Panthers, and 10 from junior Addison Pierce.  Patricia also had one of two Panther interceptions, coming in the first quarter after Wesleyan reached the Middlebury 20.

Wesleyan was led by sophomore Shayne Kaminski with nine tackles while Jordan Stone '17 had 2.5 sacks for the Cardinals, who had four in the contest.