With just one week left in the 2023 season, the Wesleyan football team still has plenty to play for. Winners of three straight, including wins over Amherst at home and Williams to capture a second straight Little Three title, the Cardinals prepare for a showdown with Trinity as a split NESCAC Championship is still in play.
Wesleyan is coming off a thrilling 30-22 win to spoil the Ephs’ Homecoming and Senior Day, as the Cardinals overcame a 22-8 deficit, scoring 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. QB Niko Candido ’25 threw for a career-high 365 yards and scored all four Wesleyan touchdowns (three passing, one running) to earn his first career New England Football Writers Association Gold Helmet Award. That close out the win, CB Wesley Abraham ’25 intercepted Williams QB Owen McHugh with 1:03 remaining and the Ephs having the ball on the Cardinals’ 8-yard line with a 1St-and-goal play.
Williams seemed well on their way to winning last Saturday, as the Ephs defense harassed the Cardinals all afternoon, recording eight sacks, forcing five fumbles, and intercepting Candido once. But the Cardinal defense kept Wesleyan in the game, holding the Ephs to field goals in the first quarter and coming up huge in the fourth quarter, forcing turnovers on each of the final three possessions for Williams. LB Joe Schaefer ’24 started the series with a strip sack that set up the go-ahead Candido TD pass to TE Matt Luttenberger ’24 with just over five minutes left. Then Schaefer recovered a fumble forced by DL Jason Villano ’25 to give the ball back to Wesleyan’s offense who finished off the drive with a Candido rushing TD.
That dramatic win, coupled with the Cardinals’ 34-7 home win over Amherst on October 28, secured Wesleyan a second straight outright Little Three Championship, something that hasn’t happened for the program since 1969-70.
The Cardinals look to finish the season on a major high note as Wesleyan welcomes the reigning undefeated NESCAC Champion Trinity to Corwin Stadium on Saturday for the season finale. The Bantams have won three straight meetings and nine of the past 10 games played against the Cardinals in Middletown in the all-time series including a 14-7 win in 2021. Wesleyan enters this meeting undefeated in their last eight games played in Middletown dating back to the start of the 2022 season, as the last loss the Cardinals suffered at home came in that 14-7 defeat against the Bantams in 2021.
Trinity has dominated several statistical categories in terms of the NESCAC leaderboard, sporting the best scoring offense (40.1) and defense (12.6) in the league while sitting first in the NESCAC in nine major statistical categories. The Bantams have scored 40+ points five times in 2023, including a 52-7 thumping of Bates at home last week. Trinity’s defense, meanwhile, has allowed 14 points or less four times in seven games played this season, while the most points the Bantams have allowed this season came in a 34-21 victory at Hamilton in Week 4.
Even with the dominance across the board, the Bantams saw their 15-game win streak snapped in a 20-15 home defeat to Middlebury on October 14 in a game where Trinity gained 444 yards of total offense, but three turnovers performed costly in a loss to the Panthers.
Wesleyan sports the NESCAC’s fourth-best scoring offense at 26.6 points per game while the Cardinal defense allows 22.3 points and 324 yards per game, both totals that rank in the top half of the league. The Cardinals’ rushing defense will be put to the test against Trinity who has a three-headed monster in the backfield with RB Tyler DiNapoloi second in the NESCAC in rushing with 544 yards (5.6 per carry) while RB Colin McCabe has 271 yards and a NESCAC-leading seven rushing scores, and RB Will Kirby has 238 yards as well as three averages well over four yards per carry.
Trinity QB Spencer Fetter sports the best all-around numbers in the NESCAC with 1878 yards and a 62.2 completion percentage with 19 TDs against just 3 INTs. His 19:3 TD:INT ratio is the best in the league while he is the only QB in the NESCAC with a completion percentage above 60 percent. His top target all season has been WR Sean Clapp who comes in with 50 receptions (1St NESCAC) for 749 yards and 7 TDs. The Trinity offensive line has held up incredibly well all season, allowing a NESCAC-low four sacks in seven games this season.
On defense, the Bantams employ a balanced unit as 11 different players have at least one sack while 18 have at least one tackle for loss this season. CB Ma-Lyke Davis has four interceptions and seven pass breakups while SAF Tyler Jameson has 3 INTs and CB Darren Warren has 2 INTs and five pass breakups.
For the Cardinals, Candido comes into this week with the most passing yards in the NESCAC as he has thrown for 2074 yards in eight games with a 54.9 completion percentage and a NESCAC-leading 20 TD against 6 INT. The Cardinals’ WR duo has been one of the top units in the NESCAC all season as WR Chase Wilson ’25 has 47 catches for 766 yards and 10 TDs while WR Thomas Elkhoury ’24 has 44 catches for 645 yards and 4 TDs.
Defensively, Wesleyan is led by LB Ben Carbeau ’25 who comes in with 64 tackles (29 solo) in eight games and his average of eight tackles per game is fourth-most in the NESCAC. DL Declan Welch ’26 ranks seventh in the NESCAC in sacks with five. Abraham has a league-leading five interceptions while his eight pass breakups are second-most. CB Sean Walker ’25 has nine pass breakups to lead the NESCAC while SAF Jack Nally ’24 ranks sixth with six.
With Wesleyan’s 34-7 home win over Amherst on Homecoming, the Cardinals clinched a winning record for the 11Th straight season dating back to 2012. The Cardinals have at least six wins in seven of those 11 campaigns.