MIDDLETOWN, Conn. -- The injury-plagued Bates football team struck the first blow against Wesleyan on Saturday, but the Cardinals reeled off 35 unanswered points in response for a 35-7 win Saturday, staying unbeaten at 4-0.
The Bobcats (2-2) will play host to Middlebury next Saturday at 1pm, while Wesleyan takes a 4-0 mark to Amherst, also 4-0.
Wesleyan, ranked second in Division III for scoring defense, entered the game allowing just 15 total points through its first three contests. Bates got on the board at 3:45 of the first period for a 7-0 lead, but the Cardinals played shutout ball the rest of the way, as the Bobcats got into the red zone just one more time, resulting in a missed 34-yard field goal.
Wesleyan rolled up 440 yards of total offense to 218 by Bates. Leading the Cardinals' ground game was junior Kyle Gibson with 132 yards on 16 carries, including a 39-yard TD scamper up the left side at 2:29 of the second quarter, which spotted Wesleyan a 21-7 halftime lead. Earlier in the period, junior LaDarius Drew (13-54) burst in from two yards out at 10:57, capping an eight-play, 74-yard march to tie the count at 7-7.
Wesleyan went ahead for good at 5:11 as sophomore Rob Manning jumped to catch a nine-yard offering by junior QB Jesse Warren in the end zone. That 40-yard scoring drive followed a Bates fumble at its own 40-yard line.
Warren, who came into the contest ranked fifth nationally for passing efficiency with a 186.0 rating, completed 17 of 20 passes for 190 yards and three TDs. He hit junior Josh Hurwitz on a crossing pattern at 12:23 of the third quarter for a 32-yard TD, and added a four-yard scoring toss to senior Kevin Hughes to compete the day's scoring at 9:18 of the fourth quarter. Hughes ended the day with six catches for 43 yards while Hurwitz had four for 66 yards.
Bates, which came into the game leading the NESCAC and ranked ninth nationally in Division III for rushing offense, averaging 280.3 yards a game, was held to 125 yards on the ground from its 48 attempts. Senior Ryan Curit (South Portland, Maine) led the Bobcats with 59 yards on 16 attempts.
Bates moved the ball 80 yards on 14 plays during its scoring drive, with junior QB Matt Cannone (Windham, N.H.) doing the honors from three yards out as the Bobcats rushed the ball 13 times for 60 yards, nearly half its net rushing yards for the game. The Bobcats completed almost as many passes in this game as it had in the previous three contests (11), going 9-for-13, led by Cannone's 7-for-9 effort, good for 72 yards. First-year Nick LaSpada (Billerica, Mass.) completed 2-of-4 passes for 21 yards, and also rushed for 18 yards on six carries. Sophomore wide receiver Mark Riley (Needham, Mass.) made his first career catch, good for 20 yards.
Time of possession in the game favored Wesleyan by about nine minutes. On defense, Bates was led by the 10-tackle performance of junior cornerback Mike Kelleher (Saugus, Mass.), while junior Gilbert Brown (Gloucester, Mass.) was right behind with nine stops, two of them for a loss along with a forced fumble on a sack that stopped a would-be Wesleyan scoring drive that reached the Bobcat 14-yard line in the third period. Senior safety Andrew Kukesh (Exeter, N.H.) also made nine tackles.
The Cardinals got eight tackles from junior Gregg Kelley. Freshman Justin Sanchez added seven tackles and forced a fumble.
Along with injured casualties as sophomore quarterback Patrick Dugan (Westford, Mass.), junior linebacker John Durkin (Rye Beach, N.H.), junior defensive lineman Joe DiPalma (Salem, N.H.) and junior slotback Mac Jackson (Hood River, Ore.), Bates' defensive line, in particular, struggled to plug in replacements for its regular starters. Late in the game, backup linemen such as first-year Sean Antonuccio (Boxford, Mass.) and junior Matt Welch (South Portland, Maine) were playing alongside junior starting end Sam Hundley (Cheshire, Conn.), instead of such players as senior tackle Matt Comstock (Amherst, N.H.), sophomore end Tucker Oniskey (Reading, Mass.) and first-year tackle Nate Friesth (Munford, Tenn.).
A host of players made their season debuts in the game: first-year Brandon Williams (Gardner, Mass.), sophomore Chris Madden (Lewiston, Maine), first-year Sam Francis (Newburyport, Mass.), first-year Conor Regan (Milton, Mass.), first-year L.J. Lawrence (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.), first-year Andrew Segal (Glencoe, Ill.) and sophomore Justin Haley (Southport, Conn.).