Wesleyan getting a kick out of being 3-0

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Sebastian Aguirre nearly gave up the game after struggles in 2011.
Wesleyan athletics photo 

Ah, the ups and downs of a kicker. Last year Sebastian Aguirre missed two field goals and an extra point for Wesleyan in a 7-6 loss to Hamilton. Last week he split the uprights from 20 yards out with 34 seconds left to give the Cardinals a 31-28 victory and a 3-0 record. It is the first time since 1998 that the program has been 3-0.

Mike Whalen had no kicker when he arrived at the Middletown, Conn. campus from Williams so he recruited Aguirre.

"I knew that he had a strong leg and some potential," Whalen said. "We recruited him thinking that another kicker would beat him out."

Whalen said it was a challenge for Aguirre to put in the time necessary to play football at Wesleyan.

A challenge to the point where he said that his kicker "thought about walking away."

But he began bonding with the team and Saturday he kept the Cardinals as one of the three unbeaten teams in the New England Small College Athletic Conference .

"It is a credit to him that he stayed with it," Whalen said.

Last year's 3-5 record did not sit well with the players, said All-NESCAC center Jacob Sheffer.

"We felt that was a letdown (after being 4-4 the previous year)," Sheffer said. "We were confident we would do well this year."

They are doing well so far and are on track for meeting the goal of having a winning season.

Saturday's win was hard to come by and was a gut check, for sure. Wesleyan never led until Aguirre's kick sailed through the goal posts.

"There was a lot of emotion the last five minutes. The defense had to make a big stop. I saw my role as a captain to keep everyone level-headed," Sheffer said.

Wesleyan got a big lift from LaDarius Drew. Injured earlier in the season, Drew had given way to Kyle Gibson who amassed 244 yards on 35 carries the previous week.

Whalen went to Drew midway through the second quarter and asked him how he felt. Drew responded he felt good and was ready to go. Despite not getting reps in practice, he ran through the Colby defense for 112 yards on 23 carries.

Whalen feels he has a stable of good backs.

"We have three or four good backs who just need the opportunity," he said.

Drew and Gibson give defenses a different look with Drew the big-play back.

"LaDarius is a legitimate track kid with legitimate track speed," Whalen said. "LaDarius is our guy. That's not taking anything away from Gibby."

Gibson's first start was necessitated by Drew's injury. And 244 yards rushing made for a memorable first collegiate start.

It was not a total surprise to Whalen.

"I didn't think he would come within 10 yards of Shea Dwyer's school record. But I did say to someone that I thought he could have a 200-yard game," Whalen said.

Gibson's attitude in playing in the shadow of a marquee back has been impressive to Whalen.

"He could have said, 'Woe is me', but that's not the way Gibby approached it. He just said that he was going to control what he could control."

Recent history

The past 14 years haven't been kind to Wesleyan, with just three winning records to speak of, none of them in the past 10 seasons.

2012 (3-0, 3-0 NESCAC)
2011 (3-5, 3-5 NESCAC)
2010 (4-4, 4-4 NESCAC)
2009 (3-5, 3-5 NESCAC)
2008 (1-7, 1-7 NESCAC)
2007 (4-4, 4-4 NESCAC)
2006 (3-5, 3-5 NESCAC)
2005 (0-8, 0-8 NESCAC)
2004 (3-5, 3-5 NESCAC)
2003 (4-4, 4-4 NESCAC)
2002 (5-3, 5-3 NESCAC)
2001 (4-4, 4-4 NESCAC)
2000 (5-3, 5-3 NESCAC)
1999 (5-3, 5-3 NESCAC)

Piling up 244 yards in his first opportunity was a heck of a way to control it.

"It is a good situation to have," Whalen said.

Those emotional five minutes Sheffer spoke of were pretty incredible. The Cardinals, in fact, scored 10 points in the final 2:38.

It is something Whalen believes the team could not have done in his first two years.

"That is a big step for a football program and a really big step for our program," he said.

The alumni were becoming disgruntled with a long stretch of mediocrity and Whalen said he only came back to his alma mater because he saw the support the administration was making to football.

"I would not have left Williams if I didn't think Wesleyan was ready to win," he said.

And maybe no alum appreciates the way the school is embracing football and the 3-0 record than New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. He and Whalen talk frequently.

"He is one of the first calls I got when I accepted the job," Whalen said. "Wesleyan is fortunate to have Bill's support. He believes in the whole Division III model."

The 3-0 start is just that, a start, Whalen said.

"We aren't where we want to be. We won't be where I want to be until we have four recruiting classes in here," he said.

But even he would admit that the signs are there that the program is on the way to that destination.

Late-game magic for Curry, too

Wesleyan was not the only team to win with late-game magic. Curry beat Western New England 35-32 with one second left when Kevin Fruwirth connected with Rob Bambini for a 39-yard scoring pass.

Fruwirth threw for 392 yards and five touchdowns. Bambini was named New England Football Conference Offensive Player of the Week. He became the Curry career leader with 181 receptions, 2,537 receiving yards and 32 touchdown catches.

Bambini was one of four Curry starters to miss the first two games. But since returning from his injury he has 45 catches with eight TD grabs in only four games.

"We think he is one of the best receivers in the league," Curry coach Skip Bandini said.

It is not the first time the Colonels have pulled a game out in the waning moments this year. "You can't keep winning football games like that, but our kids don't have any quit in them," Bandini said.

"We're not a good football team yet."

Bambini got the honors, but Bandini said Fruwirth, a transfer from Division II St. Anselm, has an array of talented targets.

"We have five or six guys who can catch," Bandini said.

One of them is Skubie Mageza who had seven catches for 157 yards against the Golden Bears.

A win as sweet as maple

Castleton State brought home the Maple Sap Bucket for the first time in four tries, beating state rival Norwich 35-27.

The Spartans are one of three teams at 2-0 in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference. The others are Mount Ida and Gallaudet.

Castleton's Shane Brozowski passed for a program-record 499 yards and threw five touchdown passes. It was the third game this season when he eclipsed the 400-yard mark.

Brandon Boyle caught 274 yards worth of balls from Brozowski and had three of the touchdown catches.

Todd Carr made 15 tackles for the Spartans, including 10 solo stops.

NESCAC perfection

Joining Wesleyan as 3-0 teams in the NESCAC are Trinity and Middlebury. Trinity rolled past Hamilton 53-14 with Evan Bunker rushing for 162 yards and two touchdowns. Ben Crick added 128 yards on the ground with two touchdowns and Ryan Burgess threw for two scores. Middlebury ended Amherst's 10-game winning streak, whipping the Lord Jeffs 24-3 with McCallum Foote throwing for 379 yards and two touchdowns and running for another.

... and ECFC perfection

Mount Ida stayed perfect in the ECFC by outgunning Anna Maria 48-35 as Scott Drosendahl threw for 244 yards and four touchdowns. Gallaudet remained in the chase by humbling Husson on the road, 44-14. Gallaudet quarterback Todd Bonheyo threw four scoring strikes and ran for one.

Also in the ECFC, SUNY Maritime staged a stirring Military Appreciation Day and rolled past Becker 33-7 with Gary Bigham rushing for 102 yards and two scores, Linebacker Keith Barnes made 12 tackles for the Privateers.

Owls, Gulls fly high

Westfield State scored on six of its first seven possessions and the Owls routed Maine Maritime 63-13 with Erik Washburn throwing three TD passes. The Endicott Gulls smothered Nichols 56-7. Remember Dylan Rushe, the Irish kicker who set the NEFC record last year with a 55-yard field goal? This time it was another record: an Endicott record 67-yard punt.

MIT beat Plymouth State for the first time with Justin Wallace running for three touchdowns.

12 in a row for Salve

Salve Regina lengthened Division III's longest winning streak to 12 games by beating UMass-Dartmouth 57-21. Steven Wilken passed for 326 yards and two scores and Trey Scales rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown.

"They are one of the best teams that has ever been in the league," Bandini said.

Bandini went to see Salve play Endicott because his son PJ Bandini plays for Endicott.

"They are one of the best teams in the country," Bandini said. "They are starting to get the respect now and they deserve it. They are the best football team in New England."

Bowdoin edged Tufts 17-10 with Zach Donnarumman rushing for 137 yards and two touchdowns.

An emotional Bates had a 305 yards rushing to just 102 for Williams as Bates beat the Ephs 33-6. Doing the damage were Patrick George with 104 yards rushing and Trevor Smith with 98. The Bates campus and football team are mourning the loss of freshman Troy Pappas, who died from a fall in a stairwell on campus.

Worcester State and Bridgewater State kept title hopes alive in the NESCAC's Bogan Division. Worcester topped Mass. Maritime 28-20 with Corey Spencer throwing for a season-best 414 yards and four touchdowns. That pushed the Lancers to 5-1 and 3-0 in the Bogan. Bridgewater went to 5-1 and 2-1 by beating Coast Guard 44-21 as quarterbacks Caleb Gelosmino and Mike McCarthy led the offense.

Framingham State trimmed rival Fitchburg State 39-9 with Matthew Silva leading the air attack with three touchdown passes and Melikke Van Alstyne complementing him with 131 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

The big games

Making back-to-back trips to Maine is always a challenge for NESCAC teams. This time the challenge is intensified for Wesleyan as they try to stay unbeaten while these Bates Bobcats have a mean look to them.

The Bobcats are 2-1 and coming off that one-sided win against Williams.

"We really can't underestimate Bates. They are a very physical team up front," Sheffer said.

"They run that triple option so discipline will be such a key for us."

The big game is the NEFC's Boyd has Curry meeting 6-0 Salve Regina. Curry is 3-3 but 2-1 in the Boyd so the Colonels can throw the race into a wide open affair with an upset.

"Salve Regina is a legit NCAA tournament team," Bandini said. "Richie Edwards is a great back and they have three more just as good."

The Bogan's key game has Worcester State (5-1, 3-0) making the trip to Bridgewater State to face the 5-1 and 2-1 Bears.

The most intriguing ECFC game might be the one in D.C., where Gallaudet puts its perfect league record on the line against an 0-2 Norwich team playing from desperation. Also in the ECFC, Castleton plays its first night home game ever with Becker in town.