Hartford, Conn. – Senior tri-captain QB Sonny Puzzo (West Caldwell, N.J.) threw two touchdown passes to first-year WR Jonathan Girard(Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) and ran for a third to lead the Trinity College Bantams to a 28-3 victory over the visiting Wesleyan University Cardinals in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) football season finale this afternoon at Jessee/Miller Field. Trinity finished the season with an 8-1 record, but had to wait for Williams College to finish a 31-24 overtime win over Amherst College to find out that it had won the NESCAC Championship title for the eighth time and the second year in a row. Trinity and Amherst were both 7-1 entering today's games, and the Mammoths owned the head-to-head tiebreaker, so the Bantams needed a win and an Amherst loss to finish alone at the top of the league. Wesleyan closes its year at 6-3 with its ninth consecutive setback at Jessee/Miller Field.
Trinity never trailed in the 116th edition of the historic rivalry, scoring first the game's first touchdown on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Puzzo to Girard two plays after a 43-yard connection from Puzzo to sophomore WR Koby Schofer (Northbridge, Mass.) on 3rd-and-3 from Trinity's own 27-yard line. Trinity came close to scoring twice more in the second frame, advancing to the Cardinal 29-yard line before turning the ball over on downs on one possession and missing a 43-yard field goal on another. Wesleyan senior DB Elias Camacho (Canton, Mass.) picked off Puzzo late in the second stanza and the visitors got to the Bantam 29-yard line, but consecutive tackles for loss by Trinity junior OLB Shane Libby (Scituate, Mass.) and DL's Corey Jean Jacques (Haverhill, Mass.) and Nick Rose (Arlington, Mass.) ended the drive. Wesleyan possessed the ball for 20 of the first 30 minutes, but the Trinity defense kept them out of the end zone and the Bantams led, 7-0, at halftime.
The Cardinals opened the second half with a 14-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 22-yard field goal by senior K Corey Phillips (Franklinton, N.C.). Wesleyan had advanced to the Bantam four-yard line on the drive, but Jean-Jacques and Libby combined on a seven-yard sack on 1st-and-goal to help make the Cardinals settle for a field goal. Wesleyan threatened again on its next drive, but Trinity senior S John Medina (Pinecrest, Fla.) came up with the first of three Bantam interceptions in the second half, picking off Wesleyan junior QB Mark Piccirillo (Shelton, Conn.) at his own 11-yard line and returning the ball to the Trinity 31-yard line. Trinity capitalized quickly when Puzzo found Girard down the left sideline for a 47-yard pass play and then lofted a ball to him in the left corner of the end zone from 15 yards away to give the Bantams a 14-3 lead with 42 seconds left in the third quarter.
The pattern continued twice more, as Trinity sophomore DB Matt Patry (Medfield, Mass.) intercepted Piccirillo at his own one-yard line to thwart the next Wesleyan scoring opportunity and senior CB Dominique Seagears (Silver Spring, Md.) picked off his third pass of the year on the next Cardinal drive. Trinity went ahead, 21-3, after Patry's interception on a four-yard run up the middle by Puzzo, and scored the game's final touchdown after Seagears' interception on a one-yard option pass from Schofer to senior TE Cliff David (Ambler, Pa.) with 5:18 on the clock.
The game ended at 2:30 p.m., but Trinity's celebration after the game was subdued until Williams College finished off its 31-24 victory over Amherst a half-hour later. A large group of players, coaches, alums, and parents watched the Mammoth loss in the locker room, and the place exploded when the Bantams learned the league crown was theirs once again.
"I was very proud of the way we played today, especially how we came back from the disappointment of last week's loss at Amherst. It was just a fun day to be a Bantam," said Trinity Head Coach Jeff Devanney, who has now guided Trinity to four NESCAC titles after serving as an assistant coach for its first four. "The defense was patient and executed perfectly everything we worked on in practice, and the offense came up with a bunch of big plays. I just think it was a gutsy performance all-around. The excitement in the locker room while we watched Amherst get stopped on 4th-and-1 in overtime was something I will never forget."
Trinity ran just 47 plays to 76 for Wesleyan and the Cardinals had the ball for 40:14 of the 60-minute game, but the Bantam defense held Wesleyan to 1.7 yards per attempt on 31 rushes and just 10.4 yards per attempt on 29 pass completions. Puzzo finished 9-for-19 passing for 228 yards and rushed for a game-high 48 yards on six carries, while Piccirillo totaled 299 yards through the air and led the Cardinals with 41 yards on the ground. Chipouras added 41 rushing yards and two receptions for 37 more, while Girard paced all pass catchers with 108 receiving yards on four grabs, and Schofer added three catches for 83 yards. Wesleyan senior WR Mark Breuler (Hamden, Conn.) caught nine passes for 92 yards, while Cardinal wide-outs A.J. Girard (Poughkeepsie, N.Y) and Evan Hull (Westwood, N.J.) had 63 receiving yards apiece.
Libby led the Trinity defense with 10 tackles (nine solo), 3.5 tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks, while senior ILB Carty Campbell (Stamford, Conn.) added nine tackles, and both Jean-Jacques and Patry made eight hits. Jean-Jacques also notched four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Brandon Morris (Davie, Fla.) registered a game-high 11 tackles, while Shayne Kaminski (Hopkinton, Mass.) had six tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss for Wesleyan. Trinity has now won NESCAC football titles in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2017. This is the first year that the conference has featured a nine-game schedule and all 10 teams have played each other.