Wesleyan Set To Host Second Night Game In School History, Draw In Middletown Community

There's nothing quite like playing under the lights.

"The atmosphere, a lot of people are there, they're enjoying themselves, the games just seem bigger," said Wesleyan junior quarterback Mark Piccirillo, of Shelton, who played in night games while in high school on a regular basis. "It's something I've been used to. We don't play many here, so I'm excited."

This one for Wesleyan is Saturday at 6 p.m. against Tufts at Andrus Field and it marks just the second time since Wesleyan began playing football in 1875 that the team will play at night.

Wesleyan's first night game came in September 2013 when they dominated Tufts 52-9.

That was a memorable day for then-coach Mike Whalen, now the Cardinals' athletic director. The full day was meant to draw together the Middletown community, culminating in the nighttime game. It worked and Whalen expects that to happen again Saturday with tailgating starting at 3 p.m., followed by the game.

"The university has done a great job with the outreach to the community and obviously with [Middletown native and running back] Dario Highsmith now being an integral part of our team, the fact he's a Middletown kid there's that natural connection already," Whalen said. "And Devon Carrillo [Connecticut's 2017 Male Athlete of the Year] helped with that the previous four years ahead of Dario and what's great about this is you're not really conflicting with any high schools or anything. We have a ton of alumni coming back. It should be a great day."

New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) schools, with a focus on academics, generally play on Saturday afternoons. Swallowing up time with travel isn't typical for those schools, but it could work for teams like Wesleyan and Medford, Mass.-based Tufts.

Tufts (1-0) hosted Wesleyan in its first-ever night game, the season opener last year. The Jumbos won that one, 17-14.

"They were really excited about doing it and it was a home run on their campus as well," Whalen said. "So this could end up being something where we start this tradition with Tufts now because it works for both schools and the players love it. I mean the players really love it. It's taken us four years to put it back together again."

Wesleyan alum Bill Belichick may like it, too, since Whalen conferred with the Patriots' coach the first time around. He lauded the idea Whalen hatched.

Iowa-based Musco Sports Lighting is bringing in the lights, two towers worth, at a cost of roughly $30,000. Belichick spoke at a school function to help raise the money to pay for the lights the first time around. Because of its success, there was no resistance when reaching out to donors to foot the bill this time.

There's certainly a bit of intrigue to this year's game. After losing to Tufts to open the season last year, Wesleyan ripped off six straight wins to find itself in position to tie rival Trinity College for the conference title. Instead, Trinity took care of business, completing an 8-0 season. Wesleyan finished 6-2.

Wesleyan enters Saturday 0-1. NESCAC added a ninth game for the first time in the conference’s history, which could help the Cardinals overcome the early loss considering that 13 of the last 16 NESCAC champions have also gone undefeated. Still it begs the question of whether this game is a must-win.

"I never really look at anything like that," Wesleyan coach Dan DiCenzo said. "We literally take it one day a time in practice and one game at a time. Obviously if you lose two games in our league it's tough to win the league, but if you can beat some of the top teams you've got a great shot. We're not really looking past this week's game."

Senior receiver Mike Breuler seconded that emotion.

"One game at a time," he said. "We know the atmosphere is going to be great and all that for this game. Even though it's a home game it's a business trip. We're definitely going to be coming with some juice."

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