WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – Jackson Bischoping threw two beautiful touchdown passes to Frank Stola in the fourth quarter, but the Ephs' furious comeback fell just short as Williams (5-3) fell to Wesleyan (5-3), 21-14.
Down 21-0 in a game that seemed all but over, freshman quarterback Jackson Bischoping, filling in for the injured Bobby Maimaron, threw a fade to sophomore wide receiver Frank Stola in the back-left corner of the end zone to pull within 21-7 with just under four minutes to go.
After a perfect onside kick by sophomore kicker Min Kyu Park, Bischoping led the offense on another touchdown drive, this one lasting just four plays. On a similar play to the first touchdown, Stola made an even more impressive catch on a fade pass, barely staying inbounds but nonetheless putting Williams back into the game, now down only one score.
Park's second onside kick bounced around with a chance for both teams to recover, but was eventually recovered by Wesleyan. However, the Ephs forced a punt and had a chance to tie with 1:29 to go and one timeout. But the stout Wesleyan defense prevented Williams from picking up a first down, sacking Bischoping on 3rd down and forcing incomplete passes on 1st, 2nd and 4th. The Cardinals then knelt out the clock to preserve the win.
Tough, gritty defensive play by both sides led to just one score – a 7-yard rushing touchdown by Wesleyan running back Glenn Smith – in the first half. The first half was a battle of field position, as the two teams combined for 10 punts. The lone touchdown came on a drive that started at the Williams 33-yard line, thanks to a 9-yard sack of sophomore quarterback Bobby Maimaron by the Cardinals' defense and a 12-yard punt return.
In the first half, Williams only led two drives into Wesleyan territory. The first resulted in a holding penalty that stalled the drive, and the second came at the end of the half. With five seconds to go, Maimaron threw a pinpoint back-shoulder pass to Frank Stola in the front-right corner of the end zone, but a Wesleyan defender broke up the pass at the last second to keep the score at 7-0.
"We were moving the ball, but we couldn't get in the end zone. Obviously, we were in striking distance at [the end of the first half], but we didn't make the plays we needed to," Ephs head coach Mark Raymond said after the game about the team's first-half performance.
In the third quarter, after five more consecutive punts, Maimaron, who did not return to the game, suffered an injury and was replaced by Bischoping, who was not afraid to throw the ball downfield. Bischoping immediately lit a spark under the offense, leading an impressive drive headlined by a jumping, 35-yard catch by freshman wide receiver Michael DeGasperis. But on the very next play, Bischoping's pass was jumped and intercepted by Wesleyan cornerback Will Kearney, stalling the drive.
After a series of punts, Wesleyan quarterback Mark Piccirillo threw a beautiful pass deep downfield to wide receiver Hallvard Lundevall, who made a great adjustment on the ball and outran Williams senior cornerback Amyhr Barber to put Wesleyan up two scores with under ten minutes to go. On the next Williams drive, Bischoping was intercepted again – this time for a touchdown – by Wesleyan defensive back Eli Blair-May, giving Wesleyan a commanding 21-0 lead with five minutes on the clock.
The lead seemed insurmountable at that point, but the Ephs wouldn't let up, staying in the game until the final seconds.
Raymond was impressed by how his team never backed down. "They hung in there, and made some plays, but in the end, we were just a little short," said Raymond after the game.
Bischoping, on the other hand, is feeling confident about starting the Amherst game if Maimaron isn't ready. "I'm feeling good about next week, for sure. We're obviously playing a very tough football team, but I've got a lot of faith in my guys and I think we'll be able to get the job done."
Stola paced the Ephs' offense with 9 receptions for 129 yards and two touchdowns, marking the third time in four games that he's caught at least nine passes. Sophomore linebackers TJ Rothmann and Jarrett Wesner each made nine tackles, with no other Eph recording more than four.
For the Cardinals, Piccirillo completed 9 of 17 passes for 151 yards, nearly half of which came on the big, 75-yard touchdown to Lundevall in the fourth quarter. Smith logged 16 rushing attempts for just 43 yards, but scored the game's only rushing touchdown in the second quarter.
Penalties were a significant issue for both teams, as while Williams recorded 10 penalties for 90 yards, Wesleyan was penalized 14 times for a whopping 118 yards. Both teams struggled with third-down efficiency as well, as Williams went 4-for-20 (20.0%), while Wesleyan went just 1-for-13 (7.7%). But Wesleyan outrushed Williams 121 to -8 (the first negative rushing performance from the Ephs this season), and recorded two turnovers – including a pick-6 – compared to none for the Ephs.
It was the sixth win in a row in the head-to-head series for Wesleyan, who had shut out the Ephs' offense for seven straight quarters before the fourth-quarter comeback this afternoon.
Next Saturday, Williams goes on the road to take on Amherst (7-1), while Wesleyan looks to finish strong against Trinity (7-1), who would finish first in the NESCAC with a win.