College Football: Panthers Win Battle of Unbeatens, Rolling Past Wesleyan 45-21

Courtesy Middlebury Sports Information

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury took over sole possession of first place in the NESCAC standings after a convincing 45-21 win over Wesleyan (5-1) on Youngman Field at Alumni Stadium. The Panthers remain the league’s only unbeaten team, and will return to action at Bowdoin next weekend. The Cardinals will visit Amherst on Saturday. Middlebury moves to 6-0 for the first time since 1977 after outgaining Wesleyan 529-350 on the day.

Middlebury led 3-0 on a 20-yard field goal from Carter Massengill, before Wesleyan went up 7-3 when Matthew Simco made a nice grab over the middle for a 34-yard touchdown reception from Ashton Scott early in the second quarter.

The Panthers answered, marching 75 yards on seven plays to go up 10-3 on a two-yard rush from Alex Maldjian. Quarterback Will Jernigan gained a first down on a 21-yard run, while connecting with Aidan Power for 29 yards on the drive.

The lead grew to 17-7 at the 5:11 mark of the second quarter when Jernigan found Greg Livingston wide open in the right corner of the end zone for a 23-yard scoring play. Livingston finished the drive with four catches for 68 yards of the 79 gained.

After the Middlebury defense forced a three-and-out, Jernigan connected with Maxwell Rye down the left sideline for an 80-yard touchdown strike on the first play of the drive, giving the Panthers a 24-7 advantage at the half.

Middlebury added to its lead on its first drive of the second half when Jernigan found Maxim Bochman for a 25-yard touchdown pass. A 23-yard completion to Frank Cosolito was the big play on the drive.

Maldjian scored his second touchdown of the game with 6:04 remaining in the third quarter on a five-yard run. The short drive was set up by a 30-yard connection from Jernigan to Livingston as the Panthers now led 38-7.

Wesleyan answered when Scott tossed a 28-yard touchdown pass to Glenn Smith, cutting the lead to 38-14 at the 3:17 mark.

Middlebury added to its cushion in the fourth quarter, taking advantage of an interception by Kevin Hartley. Five plays later, Jernigan connected with Rye in the left corner of the end zone for an 18-yard scoring strike.

The Cardinals scored a late touchdown on a 53-yard pass from Scott to Deland Clarke, making it a 45-21 final.

Jernigan completed 18 of 25 passes for 359 yards with four touchdowns on the afternoon. He also gained 36 yards on the ground. Maldjian rushed for 96 yards and a pair of scores on 24 carries. Rye set a career high with 148 yards receiving on six catches with a pair of touchdowns, as did Livingston, who gained 98 yards on five receptions with a touchdown. Jack Pistorius paced the Panther defense with 10 tackles and two sacks, while Nick Leone had three stops for lost yardage.

Scott went 15-31 for 261 yards for the Cardinals, throwing three touchdown passes with one interception. David Estevez was 1-5 for nine yards, but gained 89 yards on the ground on 11 carries. Simco led the receivers with three catches for 63 yards and a touchdown. Will Kearney led all tacklers with 18 in the game, while Taj Gooden made 11 stops.

Wesleyan had not given up more than 13 points in a game this season. The Cardinals were allowing just 292 yards/game through five contests, before the Panthers racked up 529 yards on Saturday, including 170 on the ground. Jernigan’s four touchdown passes were three more than the Cardinal defense had allowed all season.