Football spoils Wesleyan’s homecoming

Wesleyan (4-3) is probably regretting its decision to hold its homecoming football game against Williams (5-2) this year. The Ephs spoiled the Cardinals’ festivities, storming to their fifth straight victory this season with a decisive 33-13 decision. Williams wracked up 511 total yards, while holding Wesleyan to a measly 196. Saturday’s win marked the eighth consecutive year that the Ephs have topped their Little Three rival.

Although Wesleyan was playing in front of its homecoming crowd, the team never found its offensive firepower. The Ephs’ defense held the Cardinals to just 60 yards in the first half. Wesleyan’s side of the scoreboard remained unlit until midway through the third quarter when an interception return yielded its first points of the game. “Our defense really stepped up this week against Wesleyan,” Head Coach Mike Whalen said. “Our front four were able to put pressure on the QB and our linebackers and defensive back played excellent zone coverage.”

Jon Pritchard ’08 led the squad with 11 tackles (six solo), and both Sean Milano ’09 and Luke Moran ’08 both came away with interceptions.

Williams scored 26 unanswered points over the first three quarters of play. Just over five minutes into the first, the Ephs put up their first points off a 12-yard Kevin Flynn ’08 touchdown. Flynn totaled 117 yards on just six carries, averaging 19.5 yards per rush. With 145-yard performance of Brian Morrissey ’09, the Ephs achieved the rare feat of having two running backs rush for 100-plus yards.

After yielding the early touchdown, Wesleyan’s defense held tough and kept Williams out of the endzone for the greater part of the half. But with seven minutes left before the break, the Ephs’ offense came to life again. First, Williams put together a 57-yard drive, culminating in a Brian Morrissey one-yard touchdown run with 3:49 remaining. Then the Ephs struck again with less than a minute left on the clock, as co-captain Pat Lucey ’08 connected with Ryan Powell ’09 for a 58-yard touchdown pass.

Powell currently leads the conference in receptions per game (7.14) and yards per game (102.7). He finished Saturday’s game with 139 yards, seven receptions and one touchdown.

In the second half, it was again the Ephs who came out stronger. Perhaps to take advantage of a stiff wind, Wesleyan elected to kick to start the half, despite the fact that the Cardinals also kicked off at the start of the game. Williams capitalized on the possession, marching 80 yards down the field for a touchdown. Lucey hit rookie John Carroll ’11 on a fourth down play to put Williams on top, 26-0.

Wesleyan finally got on the board – not on its own drive, but on Williams’ – as a Lucey pass bounced off co-captain Jeff Egizi ’07 and into the Cardinal Drew Dominguez’s hands, who returned the interception 56 yards for the score.

The Cardinals threatened again on their next drive, but a fumble in Williams territory brought the Ephs’ offense back on the field. And again Williams capitalized, as Flynn broke a 65-yard touchdown run on the second play of the drive to give the Ephs a 33-7 lead with 2:17 left in the third quarter.

Although Wesleyan added one more touchdown in the fourth quarter, the offensive push they needed to pick up a homecoming win never materialized. For the last 10 minutes the Cardinals’ homecoming crowd had little to cheer for, as Williams held on for a 33-13 win.

Lucey, the NESCAC’s passing leader, had an impressive game given the stormy conditions. He completed 13 of his 25 attempts for 217 yards and two touchdowns, along with two interceptions.

With only one game left in the season the Ephs still have a shot at the NESCAC crown, despite their 0-2 start. If Middlebury (6-1) loses to Tufts and Williams tops Amherst (4-3) then the Ephs would secure their second conference title.

But talk of titles means little to Whalen if his squad can’t find a way to crack Amherst’s defense this Saturday. The Jeffs currently lead the conference in defense, allowing just 241.9 yards per game. The Ephs, on the other hand, have the NESCAC’s leading offense, with a game average of 441.4 yards.

“Amherst is an outstanding football team and just like us they are a few plays away from having a record of 6-1 instead of 4-3,” Whalen said. “There is a reason that their defense is the best in the conference and ranked nationally in several areas. On offense they have two outstanding running backs and several talented receivers.”

But with five straight wins under their belts, the Ephs are going into Saturday’s matchup playing some of their best football of the season. “We are a much more confident team then we were in week one,” Whalen said. “On the defense side we have matured and now believe that if we have 11 guys working together, each doing their job, then we can play at a high level. On offense our skill players all want the ball in their hands but not in a selfish way. And the offense line knows that if they open holes in the run game or give Pat Lucey time to throw, that our skill guys will make plays.”

Homecoming kickoff is set for 12 p.m.