Spartans’ late strike leaves football in cellar

By Chris Boots

Rain, hail, and lightning delays were all omens of bad luck for Chicago on Saturday, after things started out on a bright note for the struggling team.

Playing the Spartans in Cleveland, the Maroons (2–5) fell 10–9 to Case Western Reserve (4–4). Chicago built up a 9–0 lead in the first half before a Spartan field goal late in the third and a touchdown with 24 seconds left on the clock ended the team’s hopes of a conference win.

“I thought the team displayed a great effort,” head coach Dick Maloney said. “We just needed to execute better in certain situations. Also, it was pouring rain, 20–30 mph winds, and we even had some hail. That certainly had an effect. We were fighting the elements as well as the Case offense and defense.

“We had some tremendous plays, including Tony Insalaco’s safety, but unfortunately we didn’t take advantage of our opportunities to score.”

Controlling the ball for much of the first quarter, Chicago saw its first scoring opportunity as third-year linebacker Tony Insalaco gained possession of the ball on the Case 14-yard line, following a fumble by first-year quarterback Dan Whalen.

A 13-yard rush by third-year running back Mike Serio left the Maroons in perfect scoring position. Ending a long back-and-forth battle between the teams, second-year tailback Chuck Little clinched the deal with a one-yard rush for a touchdown with 2:27 left in the first. First-year kicker Ryan Verissimo made the extra point to put Chicago on top, 7–0.

The Maroon’s momentum continued at the start of the second quarter, as a 42-yard punt by Verissimo left Case pinned on their own two-yard line. After two plays the Spartans failed to make progress, and Insalaco sacked Whalen in the end zone for a safety, extending the team’s lead to 9-–0.

For the remainder of the quarter, the Spartans began to fight back, and strong defense on both teams ensured that neither the home team nor the Maroons managed more than 14 yards on a possession.

Coming out strong after lightning delayed the start of the second half, Case began to turn the tide with a 12-play, 61-yard drive to the Chicago seven-yard line, where second-year kicker Brian Calderone made a 24 yard field goal with 10:13 left in the third quarter, narrowing Chicago’s lead to 9–3.

Back and forth play with little gain from either team followed the Spartans’ drive until early in the fourth quarter, when an interception and 13-yard return by fourth-year safety Scott Johnson left Chicago at the Case 17-yard line. The Maroons rushed to the Case nine-yard line, but a five-yard loss at third and goal forced Chicago to put in Verissimo for a missed 32-yard field goal attempt.

Fighting to score or to make a first down that would run out the clock, the Maroons fell short after a 41-yard drive at the end of the fourth, and the Spartans took possession.

Despite keeping the Spartans in check for much of the game by posting two sacks and three interceptions (returning 32 yards), Chicago’s defense could not stop Case’s final offensive effort. With 2:08 left in the fourth, the Spartans mounted an unstoppable 13- play, 72-yard push to the Maroon’s two-yard line, where second-year running back Corey Checkan’s two-yard rush for a touchdown sealed the Maroons’ fate.

“For basically 58 minutes of the game, our defense played one of its best games this year,” third-year linebacker Gaby Fernandez said. “We played extremely tough and gave 110 percent. However, we had a few simple yet costly mental mistakes in the final few minutes of the game.”

“There were three things we needed to do to win that we didn’t do,” Maloney said. “We needed to make that field goal, we needed to get one more first down in the fourth to run down the clock, or we needed to stop that drive.”

Leading the Maroons in rushing, fourth-year quarterback Matt Rinklin had 16 rushes for 45 yards. Rinklin threw 11-for-24 with 74 yards. Fourth-year running back James Rosenbury led the Spartans with 99 yards over 20 rushes. Whalen threw 13-for-31 with 159 yards for Case, throwing 48 yards in the team’s final charge.

Case was Chicago’s final UAA opponent of the year, and the Maroons will end the season 0–3 in the conference after a stunning 3–0 performance that led to a conference championship last year. Saturday’s loss extends the squad’s losing streak to four games and guarantees the South Siders a losing record. They face Northwestern (MN.) (7–2) at home Saturday.

“We need to bounce back on Saturday,” said Maloney. “This is our last home game of the year, our last time on the turf of Stagg Field. It’s going to be a challenge, no question.”