Playing like Monsters of the Midway, the Maroons won their conference championship for the first time since 2005, defeating Wash U 13–10 on Saturday. A brilliant fourth-quarter goal-line stand ensured the team’s victory, securing the UAA Championship and the Founder’s Cup.
The team did not receive a D-III tournament bid after their victory.
The Maroons, who finished the season 8-2, won their final six games of the season.
Fourth-year quarterback Marshall Oium and second-year receiver Dee Brizzolara hooked up on the team’s sole touchdown pass for the sixth time in three games, but the defense and special-teams stole the headlines in a low-scoring match played in wet and windy conditions. Besides the title-clinching goal-line stops, Wash U halfback Jack O’Brien, the Bears’ all-time leader in rushing yards, was limited to just 2.9 yards per carry.
The Maroons (8-2, 3-0 in UAA) opened the scoring on second-year Jeff Sauer’s successful 22-yard field goal, his second of the year. Wash U responded with an 85-yard touchdown drive, but late in the first half Oium found Brizzolara from 10 yards out to put the Maroons ahead 10–7. The Bears opened the second half with another long drive, ending with kicker Eric Chalifour’s 35-yard field goal.
Sauer kicked his second field goal of the day, this one from 27 yards out, later in the third quarter. But it seemed that the Bears would even up the score with 7:39 left in the game when Chalifour lined up for a 38-yard kick. Until that point, he had converted more than half his field goal attempts, including a 48-yarder, but his attempt sailed wide right.
The Maroons regained possession deep in Wash U territory with a chance to put the game away. But three plays later, Oium was intercepted by. On the ensuing possession, the Bears found themselves with first and goal, just one yard out from a possible game-winning touchdown. Two straight running plays went backwards and on third down, with all his receivers covered and knowing that the subsequent short field goal would tie the game, Wash U quarterback Steve Sherman threw the ball well out of bounds. Chalifour trotted out for the 22-yard field goal, but, perhaps trying too hard to adjust after his previous miss, dragged his kick wide left.
Tied for second of four teams in the UAA Preseason Poll – behind nationally-ranked, three-time defending champion Case Western – the Maroons’ championship victory was hardly probable.
“This year was a dream come true,” said fourth-year receiver Clay Wolff, who ended his record-breaking career Sunday with seven catches for 56 yards. “We started the year 2-2 and after the second loss [fourth-year halfback] Tommy [Parks] and I got together with the team and told them that we need to step up and win some games people didn’t think we could––we did that, and ended up conference champions.”
The Maroons won their final six games of the season. However, they still missed out on their first trip to the 32-team NCAA playoffs.
“There are 25 or 26 automatic bids that go to the champions of conferences with more than seven teams,” explained coach Dick Maloney. “Since we don’t fall into that category, we’re placed in a separate pool which gets three bids. The first bid went to Wesley, a really good football team that also got an overall number one seed. The second went to SUNY-Maritime, which went 10-0. The third bid came down to us and Salisbury. We both played two ranked teams, but though they lost both of those games and we beat Case, I heard their strength of schedule was a bit higher than ours, so the selection committee picked them over us. We had the team over to watch the selection ceremony, and when we found out we didn’t get a bid we just shrugged our shoulders and said, ‘What can you do?’ It’s been a great year and that takes nothing away from it.”