Career-high 16 stops for Burchill '19 in football loss to Wesleyan

#49 Ian Esliker '21 blocks a Wesleyan punt in the second quarter on Saturday (Michael P. Doherty photo).
#49 Ian Esliker '21 blocks a Wesleyan punt in the second quarter on Saturday (Michael P. Doherty photo).

Wesleyan University's Dario Highsmith ran for two touchdowns and Evan Hull caught two more as the Cardinals pulled away in the second half for a 31-9 NESCAC football win against the Hamilton College Continentals at Hamilton's Steuben Field on Saturday afternoon.

Wesleyan (2-1 NESCAC) was able to overcome four turnovers and a blocked punt to post its second straight win. The Cardinals did it with a balanced offense as they finished with 196 yards on the ground and 253 more through the air for a total of 449 yards. Wesleyan, which recorded 28 first downs, was 6 of 10 on third-down conversions and was successful both times it went for it on fourth down. The Cardinals held the Continentals to 244 yards on offense. Both teams racked up 131 yards in penalties.

Hamilton's Christian Donahoe '20 tied a career high with eight catches for a career-best 125 yards. Kenny Gray '20 was 17 of 36 passing for 196 yards and one interception. Mitch Bierman '21 was the Continentals' leading rusher with 34 yards on nine carries.

Cole Burchill '19 led the Hamilton defense with a career-high 16 tackles and Tyler Hudson '19 added nine. Justin Leigh '20 and Bryce Phillips '20 recorded the first interceptions of their collegiate careers, and Michael Friedman '19 and Will Rothschild '19 shared a sack. Sean Tolton '19 forced two fumbles that were recovered by Preston DeLaurentis '18 and Jeff Martinez '20, and Ian Esliker '21 blocked a punt.

On special teams, Joe Suski '21 made his first field goal for the Continentals and Sam Robinson '20 averaged 23.4 yards on five kickoff returns.

Mark Piccirillo was 25 of 33 passing for 253 yards with two touchdowns and two picks for Wesleyan. Piccirillo also ran for 48 yards. Highsmith led all rushers with 95 yards on 15 attempts, which was good for 6.3 yards per carry. Hull ended up with five receptions for 75 yards and NESCAC leading receiver Mike Breuler had eight catches for 60 yards. Kicker Corey Phillips was perfect on the day with four extra points and a field goal. Elias Camacho was the Cardinals' leading tackler with eight and Shayne Kaminski and Taj Gooden were credited with two sacks apiece. Gooden forced a fumble and Ben Thaw intercepted a pass late in the fourth quarter.

Hamilton (0-3) grabbed a 3-0 lead 5:03 into the first quarter when Suski booted a 24-yard field goal. The 12-play drive was kept alive by a 15-yard roughing the punter penalty on Wesleyan. Four plays later on third-and-2, Joe Schmidt '20 made a nice grab of a Gray pass for a 32-yard gain down to the Cardinal 10 that put the Continentals in field goal range.

Wesleyan immediately responded on a 33-yard field goal by Corey Phillips with 5:34 left in the quarter. The key play of the 49-yard drive was an 18-yard run by Highsmith on third-and-3.

After a Hamilton punt the Cardinals pulled ahead for good on a quick, five-play touchdown drive. Piccirillo was 3-for-3 for 61 yards on the drive, which was a capped by a 34-yard scoring toss to Hull down the right sideline with about 1:30 remaining in the first (time was being kept on the field late in the quarter). Corey Phillips' PAT made it 10-3.

Wesleyan's next drive stalled at its own 40 and Esliker blocked the punt that was recovered by Drew Granski '21 at the Cardinal 30. The Continentals turned the ball back over on downs but got it right back three plays later. Piccirillo completed a pass to AJ Girard, Tolton stripped the ball from him after a 15-yard gain and Martinez returned the fumble to the Hamilton 36.

The Continentals reached the Wesleyan 15 on another drive that was kept alive by a roughing the punter penalty. After Hamilton called a timeout, Gray dropped back to pass and Gooden knocked the ball away from him. Continentals' offensive lineman A.J. Cantarella '20 recovered at the 30 and Gray quick-kicked a punt that was downed at the Cardinal 9.

Two plays later, Piccirillo was intercepted by Leigh, who ran out-of-bounds at the Wesleyan 12. The Cardinals thought they had dodged another bullet when Camacho knocked away a pass intended for Schmidt on third-and-11, but Wesleyan was flagged for pass interference and Hamilton had first-and-goal at the 2. Bierman ran 2 yards around left end for his first collegiate touchdown on the next play. The extra point missed wide left and the Continentals still trailed 10-9 with 1:49 to go in the second quarter.

The Cardinals, led by Piccirillo, sprinted back down the field for another touchdown. Piccirillo was 4-for-4 for 48 yards on the 50-second drive. On first-and-10 from the Hamilton 16 he found Hull in stride over the middle at around the 10, Hull avoided a tackle and raced untouched into the end zone with 52.7 seconds left. Corey Phillips added the PAT for a 17-9 cushion.

The excitement in the second quarter wasn't over just yet. A 14-yard punt by the Continentals went off the side of the punter's foot and was downed at the Hamilton 41. Two plays later, Bryce Phillips picked off Piccirillo and returned it 23 yards to the 50. A personal foul on Wesleyan gave the Continentals the ball at the Cardinal 35 with less than 10 seconds remaining in the quarter. Gray's Hail Mary was batted around and finally caught by Donahoe at the Wesleyan 3 but he was driven backwards and the siren went off to signal the end of the half.

The Cardinals scored on the opening drive of the third quarter. On third-and-9 at the Wesleyan 46, the Cardinals lost 4 yards on a bad snap, but an offsides call on Hamilton wiped out the fumble. On the next play Piccirillo completed a 10-yard pass to Highsmith and the Continentals were hit with a personal foul that moved the ball all the way to their 24. Piccirillo later ran 2 yards for a first down on fourth-and-2 to the 14, and Highsmith ran 1 yard off left tackle for a touchdown with 8:10 left in the third. Corey Phillips' extra point made it 24-9.

The score was still 24-9 after three quarters but Wesleyan scored on its first drive of the fourth. The Cardinals were pinned back at their own 6 after a 40-yard punt by Billy Wagner '20 and a 10-yard holding call on Wesleyan on the return. The Cardinals then embarked on a 13-play drive that took more than six minutes off the clock. Highsmith accounted for 56 yards on the drive, including a 29-yard scamper into the end zone with 5:26 remaining. Corey Phillips added the PAT for a 31-9 advantage.

Hamilton travels to 3-0 Trinity College for more NESCAC action on Saturday, Oct. 7 at 1 p.m. Wesleyan returns home to face Colby College on Saturday at 1 p.m.