Wesleyan held off a late charge by Middlebury as the Cardinals earned a 22-14 win over the Panthers in the season-opener for both teams on Youngman Field at Alumni Stadium. Wesleyan took advantage of 83 yards of penalties whistled against Middlebury and held a 34:21 to 25:39 edge in time of possession. The Panthers return to action at Colby next week, while the Cardinals host Hamilton. The home loss for the Panthers is their first since October 29th of 2011, a streak of nine games.
Wesleyan got on the board first with a touchdown on its first play of a drive that started at its own 34. Quarterback Jesse Warren found Jay Fabien on the left side at the 30, before the receiver slipped a tackle and broke another, taking it into the end zone for a 65-yard touchdown reception.
Middlebury answered with an eight-play, 80-yard drive that elapsed just 1:57 off the clock. Quarterback Matt Milano found Grant Luna three times on the drive for 40 yards, including a nine-yard touchdown catch. The play came on a first-and-goal call from the nine, where Luna was just able to get a foot inbounds in the right corner of the end zone for the touchdown.
The Cardinals came right back on their ensuing drive, taking a 13-7 lead. A 38-yard kickoff return by Devon Carillo started the drive just short of midfield. Carillo, who moved to quarterback for several plays on the drive, rushed for 10 yards including a big first down at the Middlebury 43 on a third-and-two play. The touchdown came when Warren found Jon Day on the left side for a 16-yard score. The extra point was blocked by Middlebury's Tim Patricia, giving the Cardinals a 13-7 advantage.
Following a Panther punt, Wesleyan drove to the Middlebury 14-yard line as the drive was extended due to an offside penalty on a fourth-and-one play. The drive eventually ended on another fourth-and-one play at the Panther 14, as Warren's pass went incomplete.
Jake Bussani picked off a pass in the end zone to end Middlebury's opening drive of the second half. The Panther defense held as the Cardinals went three-and-out.
Milano was intercepted again later in the quarter. This time the Cardinals took advantage as Justin Sanchez returned the pick 41 yards for a touchdown.
Leading 19-7, Wesleyan added a 19-yard field goal from Ike Fuchs early in the fourth quarter, increasing its lead to 22-7. The score was set up by a 55-yard punt return that Donnie Cimino caught on the run and raced down the right side to the Middlebury 10.
Middlebury got back in the game with a 10-play, 64-yard drive late in the fourth quarter. Milano found Luna twice for 25 yards before hooking up with Ryan Rizzo for a nine-yard scoring strike with 2:04 remaining.
The Middlebury defense held as the Panthers were expecting to get the ball back trailing 22-14, but a roughing the kicker penalty gave Wesleyan a first down as it ran out the clock.
Milano finished 23-36 for 204 yards with two touchdowns and two picks in his first career start. Rookie running back Drew Jacobs had an impressive debut, rushing 20 times for a game-high 81 yards on the afternoon. Luna led all receivers with eight receptions for 91 yards with a touchdown, while Jacobs caught five passes for 32 yards, giving him 113 yards of total offense.
Matthew Benedict was one of three Panthers in double figures in tackles, earning a dozen on the afternoon. Dan Pierce earned 10 stops with two for lost yardage, while Addison Pierce made 10 tackles, four of them coming for losses. Michael Dola punted 10 times for an average of 31.6 yards, with four of them landing inside the 20.
Warren finished 13-22 for 163 yards with a pair of touchdowns for the Cardinals. Kyle Gibson finished with 25 carries for 60 yards on the ground. Day had four catches for 45 yards with a touchdown, while Fabien also found the end zone, gaining 87 yards on three receptions. Justin Sanchez tied Benedict with a game-high 12 stops, including a tackle for loss, an interception and a sack. Alex Daversa-Russo added eight tackles with three pass break-ups.