Game Information: Wesleyan (5-2) at Trinity (6-1) (-7.5): 12:00 PM, Hartford, CT
Wesleyan and Trinity meet this Saturday in the I-91 Rivalry (did we just make that a thing?!) with both teams boasting quality records but battling for second place (we know, we know, Amherst still has to beat Williams and it’s a rivalry game so anything is possible …). If that sounds familiar, it’s because these two were in the exact same situation last year but with the roles switched. This year Trinity is the one-loss team, and Wesleyan is the two-loss team with losses to Middlebury and Amherst.
The game Saturday will be a spirited affair as last year’s win by Wesleyan broke a 13-game winning streak in the rivalry for Trinity. Many of those games were lopsided affairs, including the 2013 game that saw the Bantams blow out Wesleyan 40-10. The game last year was a 20-19 win for Wesleyan in part because Trinity went for a two-point conversion twice (including for the win after the Bantams final touchdown with under two minutes left) and failed both times. Trinity at that point was down to Spencer Aukamp ’18 at quarterback (Aukamp is not on the Trinity roster this year). The loss was the second one-point loss in a row for Trinity and left them a somewhat shocking 5-3.
However, in our eyes, the game tomorrow is just as important for next year. I’m not a believer that winning the last game of the season will lead to a much better off-season (player leadership is the primary factor in that), but the winner of this game will enter the 2016 season as the primary challenger to Amherst. Both of these teams are young and will have most of their talent back next year. Neither the coaches nor players for either team are particularly worried about next year quite yet, though.
Trinity X-Factor: Center Matt Porter ’16
It wouldn’t be fair to say that Amherst shut down the run game for Trinity last week, the Bantams had 140 yards on 37 carries for a relatively healthy 3.8 yards per carry. You just don’t fear Trinity running the ball the same way as before, and Middlebury proved that you can stifle them completely in Week 6. Wesleyan was incredibly stout against the run to begin the year, but they’ve come way down from that lofty position to still be second in the NESCAC. Beyond the running game, Porter and his linemates have to protect Sonny Puzzo ’18 against Jordan Stone ’17 and the rest of the Wesleyan pass rush. The Bantams have allowed 17 sacks this year, even after not allowing any to Amherst.
Wesleyan X-Factor: Outside Linebacker Jon Spivey ’16
Spivey has flown under our radar pretty much the whole year in part because his contributions have been consistent but unremarkable. He is listed at 5’8″, which might be a little generous even, but he also weighs 200 pounds meaning he has enough strength to give offensive lineman trouble either on run or pass plays. From his outside position, Spivey is great at recognizing the defense quickly and adjusting. Seniors have a knack for saving their best for last, so Spivey and the other seniors in this game are all liable to have a big game.
These are such similar teams that it makes you think Mike Whalen was copying the Trinity blueprint when he built up the Wesleyan program (spoiler: he was). The rosters are littered with kids from Connecticut and New Jersey, there is plenty of young talent on both defenses, and their quarterbacks are both threats to run.
About that quarterback position, Mark Piccirillo ’19 and Gernald Hawkins ’18 just about split snaps against Williams. Hawkins started the game and saw all the action in the first quarter. I don’t think one of them has seized the starting role yet, something that a coaching staff hates to have. Hawkins began the year as the undisputed starter but has begun ceding snaps to his understudy. Piccirillo is the more accurate and consistent passer, Hawkins more of a threat to run the ball. Honestly though, these two are similar players. Instead of comparing apples and oranges, it’s like comparing tangerines and clementines: both are good, have varying sweetness, but carry the same essence.
The loss of Devon Carrillo ’17 has been offset by the production of Eric Meyreles ’18 at wide receiver. He backed up his 10-reception game against Bowdoin with a solid five receptions, 64 yards and a touchdown. Wesleyan has the ability to give the Bantams fits in the passing game, though they’ve been inconsistent in that regard.
It was also great to see LaDarius Drew ’15 back on field last week after it was unclear if he would be able to return because of a knee injury against Hamilton in the second game of this year. He might not make a big difference in his final game, but he has had to go through a lot to get to this point.
Even though Trinity lost last week, I came away more impressed with the defense than before. Yes, the Bantams allowed 16 points, but the two touchdown drives for Amherst had to go just 32 and 46 yards because of great field position. The only problem that Trinity had was getting off the field on third down as Amherst was 8-13 in that category. Paul McCarthy ’16 got his fifth interception vs. the Jeffs, his first in a few weeks. Frank Leyva ’16 being back healthy gives a little more experience to the linebacking corps which I like. The Bantams do have to stop Wesleyan’s run game a little bit better, though, than they did against Amherst.
I’ve been pretty snake bitten in my picks recently, so take this pick with a nice lump of salt. I give Trinity the edge because they get the Cardinals at home. This is a classic line of scrimmage game: both teams pride themselves on winning that battle. The Coop’s streak is over, but I think Trinity rallies around the idea of never allowing Wesleyan to win in Hartford, and takes this one by the slimmest of margins, meaning that Wesleyan covers the spread but loses where it counts.
Prediction: Trinity over Wesleyan 17-16