Football: Panthers Win Thriller at Wesleyan to Open Season

Courtesy Middlebury Sports Information

Middletown, CT — The Middlebury football team opened its season with an exciting 28-25 road win over Wesleyan on Andrus Field. Quarterback Matt Milano went 22-34 in the game, throwing for 337 yards with three touchdown passes, while Ryan Rizzo caught five passes for 126 yards to pace the Panthers. Middlebury returns to action next Saturday when it hosts Colby in its home-opening match at 1:00 p.m.

Middlebury scored on its opening drive of the season, going 78 yards on six plays in just 1:39. A 50-yard connection from Milano to Rizzo set up a six-yard keeper for Milano for the 7-0 lead. Tim Patricia picked off Gernald Hawkins on the Cardinals’ first drive, but the Panthers were unable to capitalize.

Wesleyan got on the board in the second quarter on a one-yard rush from Jaylen Berry after a 54-yard drive. The extra point was blocked, giving the Panthers a 7-6 advantage with 9:05 remaining in the second quarter.

Following a three and out, the Cardinals took the lead when Devon Carrillo scored on a five-yard rush to make it a 13-7 game at the half.

Hawkins and Eric Meyreles connected for a 79-yard scoring strike on the opening series of the second half, giving Wesleyan a 19-7 lead after a missed extra point.

Middlebury answered in just 1:12, covering 65 yards on five plays to cut the advantage to 19-14. Milano found tight end Trevor Miletich for 24 yards before the duo connected from 20 yards out for a touchdown.

Following a Wesleyan punt, the Panthers took a 21-19 lead at 4:21 of the third when Milano and Miletech struck again, this time from nine yards out. Milano hit Rizzo for 16 yards, Matthew Minno for 19 and then connected with Rizzo again for 20 yards on the drive.

The lead held up until the 5:40 mark of the fourth quarter when Wesleyan regained the advantage on a touchdown with a failed two-point conversion to make it 25-21. Mark Piccirillo scored on a four-yard rush to put his team ahead.

Middlebury wasted little time getting back on top, scoring 33 seconds later on a three-play, 75-yard drive. Milano connected with Conrado Banky for 15 yards before a short rushing gain. He then found Diego Meritus on a swing pass out of the backfield for a 43-yard score, giving the Panthers the lead for good.

The teams exchanged punts before Wesleyan had the ball on its own 19 with 2:06 remaining, trailing 28-25. A 53-yard punt by Charlie Gordon left the home team with a lengthy field. The Cardinals were only able to gain seven yards before Wesley Becton sealed the win when he picked off a pass on a 4th-and-13 play at the Wesleyan 40.

Wesleyan outgained Middlebury 459-347 on the day, including a 296-10 advantage on the ground. The Panther passing game bettered its opponent by a 337-163 margin. The Cardinals were whistled for 143 yards in penalties, but held a 39:55 to 20:05 edge in time of possession.

Miletich (60 yards, 2 TD), Minno (50 yards), Ian Riley (46 yards) and Meritus (43 yards, TD) each caught four passes for Middlebury. Patricia led the Middlebury defense with 12 tackles and an interception, Dan Pierce made 11 stops, including a sack, while Addison Pierce finished with 10 tackles. Kyle Ashley ended with six tackles, including 1.5 sacks. Gordon averaged 40.2 yards/punt on nine boots, including two inside the 20 in his collegiate debut.

Hawkins connected on 8-20 passes for 154 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Cardinals. Berry led all rushers with 117 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, Hawkins gained 55 yards on 13 attempts, while Carrillo rushed for 53 yards on eight carries with a touchdown. Meyreles led the receivers with a pair of catches for 86 yards, including a touchdown. Shayne Kaminski led the Wesleyan defense with nine tackles and one sack.

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