Football Preview: Bates looks to take down first-place Wesleyan on Parents & Family Weekend

Matt Cannone leads the Bates football team against undefeated Wesleyan on Oct. 11, 2014. (Russ Dillingham)

LEWISTON, Maine – On the heels of Saturday's inspired 19-12 win over Williams, the Bates College football team meets possibly the best team in the NESCAC this Saturday, Oct. 12, as Wesleyan University visits Garcelon Field for Parents & Family Weekend.

The Cardinals (3-0) are in the midst of a renaissance led by head coach Mike Whalen, and were one of three league champions in 2013 with a 7-1 record. They enter this Week 4 matchup as the highest-scoring team in the NESCAC, at a robust 31.0 points per game, while allowing 14.0.

Wesleyan's balanced offense likes to pass on early downs and let All-NESCAC running back Kyle Gibson finish the job. With the highly accurate senior Jesse Warren at quarterback, the Cardinals lead the NESCAC in yards per passing attempt (8.1) but are 10th in passing first downs. Gibson is third in the league at 91.0 rushing yards per game. Warren has a league-high six touchdown passes and no interceptions, completing 66.7 percent of his passes. He's also the Cardinals' leading special-teams performer, punting at a 38.6 average.

Bates is looking for its first win against Wesleyan since 2005, with many close losses to the Cardinals suffered in the interim.

The Particulars:

What: Wesleyan University at Bates College

When: Saturday, October 11, 1 p.m.

Where: Garcelon Field | Lewiston, Maine

Live Stats: Bates Portal | Video: Northeast Sports Network (Bates portal) 

Twitter: @BatesSports | Facebook: Bates College Athletics

All-Time Series: Wesleyan leads 28-4

Last Meeting: Wesleyan 35, Bates 7 (Middletown, Conn. | Oct. 12, 2013)

Bates Facts & Figures:

Up until the teams' 2013 meeting, Wesleyan had made an art of winning close games over Bates, prevailing by eight or fewer points in each year between 2008 and 2012. Last year's 35-7 score, perhaps more than anything else, demonstrated the Cardinals' rise to the top of the conference, as they finished 7-1 with a three-way share of the NESCAC title.

In all three games thus far, Bates has been led in all three phases of the game by consistently excellent performances from junior wide receiver Mark Riley (Needham, Mass.) on offense, senior safety Ryan Newson (Stanhope, N.J.) on defense and senior punter David Kurey (West Chester, Pa.) on special teams:

  • Riley has at least seven catches in every game this season and is well on his way to a breakout season. Riley averages 31 more receiving yards than any other player in the conference, at 116.3, while ranking second in receptions (24) and tying for first place in touchdown catches (3).
  • Newson is tied with Wesleyan's Jake Bussani for the league lead in interceptions, with four. Both players are responsible for snaring a respective 16% of all interceptions thrown in the conference so far this season.
  • Kurey has averaged no worse than 42.3 yards per punt in any game this season and tops the NESCAC with a gaudy 43.3-yard average.

With Newson tied for third in the NESCAC in tackles per game (11.0), sophomore inside linebacker Mark Upton (Winthrop, Mass.) is right behind at 10.7 tackles per game.

Sophomore running back James Semmonella (Orange, Conn.) saw the most extensive playing time of his young career against Williams, carrying the ball 16 times for a team-high 56 yards. Semmonella will be making his first collegiate start at running back this week.

Senior QB Matt Cannone (Windham, N.H.) has risen in the ranks of league passers over the past two weeks. He is now fifth in the NESCAC in completion percentage (62.5%), sixth in passing yards per game (152.0) and tied for third in touchdown passes (4). 

Bates Last Saturday:

Matt Cannone threw for 161 yards and a touchdown and ran for another, while Mark Riley caught seven passes for 143 yards and a touchdown to lead Bates to a 19-12 win over Williams Saturday at Garcelon Field in Bates' home opener.

It is the Bobcats' (1-2) fourth straight victory over the Ephs (1-2), after Williams had won 22 of the first 23 meetings between the NESCAC rivals.

Cannone completed 12 of 19 passes, seven of them going to Riley, who was already the conference's leader in receptions and yardage entering the game. 

Semmonella rushed 16 times for 56 yards, leading seven Bates backs who combined for 119 rushing yards. The Bobcats had 15 first downs to Williams' 12, possessed the ball for 33:19 to Williams' 26:41 and outgained the Ephs 281-260.

Wesleyan Last Saturday:

Wesleyan capitalized on two of three forced Colby turnovers to generate 14 points, and added two offensive touchdowns while limiting Colby to one score on its way to a 28-7 road victory on Saturday, making this the third straight year the Cardinals have opened with a 3-0 mark. 

A hit on the opening kickoff delivered by Alex Daversa-Russo jarred the ball loose from a Colby returner and Jon Spivey collected the loose ball at the Mules' 20-yard line 10 seconds into the game. Two plays later, Kyle Gibson darted up the right side line for a 17-yard TD in the opening minute and a 7-0 lead the Cardinals would not relinquish.

The Last Meeting:

An injury-plagued Bates football team struck the first blow against Wesleyan on Oct. 12, 2013, but the Cardinals reeled off 35 unanswered points in response for a 35-7 win Saturday to remain unbeaten at 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 defense the rest of the way, as the Bobcats got into the red zone just one more time for the rest of the game, 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 Kyle Gibson with 132 yards on 16 carries, including a 39-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, which spotted Wesleyan a 21-7 halftime lead.

Bates, which came into the game averaging 280.3 rushing yards a game, was held to 125 yards on the ground on 48 attempts.