In a completely dominating performance, football (7-0) thrashed Little Three rival Wesleyan (5-2) 41-7 in front of the Homecoming crowd on Saturday. Dominating every aspect of the game, the Ephs rushed out to a 34-0 halftime lead, leaving a stunned Cardinals squad to wonder what happened.
“It was a great win,” Head Coach Dick Farley said. “They came in with five wins in a row and a chance at Little Threes, but our kids rose to the occasion.”
“They came into the game very confident, and there were rumors that they were talking trash about us, so we came into this game very fired up,” linebacker Wes Connors ’05 said. “The fact that they were 5-1 meant a loss would put us in second place, so we also were motivated by that.”
A big part of the win was the ferocious performance turned in by the Ephs defense. A team that has traditionally sat back on defense, the Ephs used a radically different game plan for the Cardinals, filled with blitzes from outside linebackers Connors and Will Gilyard ’03.
The results were astounding. Pressuring Cardinal quarterback Brennan Carney all day, the Ephs recorded nine sacks and consistently put Carney into the ground when he stepped back to pass.
Connors himself recorded four sacks, forced two fumbles and had 14 tackles, earning him NESCAC defensive player of the week honors. The front seven also did a stellar job against the Wesleyan rushing attack, holding the duo of Young Douglas and Pat Curran to only 45 yards combined on 17 carries.
“[Defensive coaches] George McCormick and Walt Cueman deserve a lot of credit,” Farley said. “I think we blitzed more in this game than we had in the other six games combined. We didn’t want to sit back and let Carney attack us. Those coaches came up with a great game plan, and it was well executed by the kids.
“It was a complete team effort. The linebackers did a great job, the defensive line got pressure, and the defensive backs had good coverage.”
“All week, we had gone against our offensive line, which is probably the best in the league, and they had struggled to pick up the blitzes, so we were confident going into the game,” Connors said. “Both Will and I were very happy we blitzed more. It’s better for our games. Hopefully we’ll get to do more next week.”
As the defense manhandled Carney and the Cardinal offense, the offense put the game away by running through the Cardinal defense for 34 first-half points. After being stopped on the first series, the offense got the ball right back when Johnny Kelly ’03 recovered Wesleyan punt returner Pat Moffett’s fumble at the Wesleyan 23-yard line. Two plays later, tailback Mike Hackett ’04 cut through the Wesleyan defense for a 17-yard touchdown run, giving the Ephs a 6-0 lead with less than three minutes gone.
Later in the first, the offense marched from its own 23 to the Wesleyan 32 before being momentarily stopped. On a fourth and six play, quarterback Joe Reardon ’04 floated a pass down the left sideline to wide-open tight end Jon Siff ’05, who waltzed in the final 10 yards for a touchdown.
The next Ephs score came off a converted fourth down play as well. On a fourth-and-one from the Wesleyan 15, the Ephs came out in their short yardage set with three running backs and two tight ends.
With the Cardinal defense expecting a run up the middle, the Ephs instead ran running back Tim Crawley ’05 on a sweep around the left side. Finding daylight, Crawley beat the Cardinal defenders to the endzone to give the Ephs a 20-0 lead.
Late in the half, the Ephs tacked on another score when Reardon found Ryan Friend ’03, who fought off the Wesleyan defender clamped all over him, for a 20 yard touchdown catch to extend the lead to 27 with 1:43 left in what most fans thought would be the final score of the half.
On the ensuing kickoff, however, the Ephs jarred the ball loose from Wesleyan’s Tim McGee and recovered the fumble at the 18-yard line. Four plays later at the four yard line, wide receiver Jamaal Mobley ’04 leapt up and reached over defensive back Greg Thomas to pull in Reardon’s pass in the back corner of the endzone, giving the Ephs their fifth touchdown of the half.
The final Eph touchdown came late in the third quarter, after Connors blew past the Wesleyan offensive line untouched and drilled Carney, thereby forcing a fumble that was recovered by Graham Goldwasser ’04. Hackett then ran in from four yards out to put the Ephs over the 40-point mark for the first time in over three years.
The only blemish on an otherwise great day was the injury to Crawley, who twisted his ankle in the second quarter and did not return. With Crawley’s availability for next week in question, the Ephs might have to go without a player who has been a key part of the offense the last few weeks.
The win, though, does leave the Ephs one win away from their second straight undefeated season. The only opponent left is archrival Amherst, who is coming off a surprising 21-14 loss to Trinity and is going through a disappointing season that has included a 14-13 loss to Wesleyan.
The Lord Jeffs would doubtless love nothing more than to pull off the upset in front of their home crowd on Saturday, and redeem their season along with forcing a three-way split for the Little Three title. Kickoff is at Amherst’s Pratt Field at noon.