Maroons bend, then break against Carnegie

By Chris Perricone

The Maroons lost their second straight UAA matchup 23-17, in overtime, to Carnegie Mellon University. Chicago (4-2 overall, 1-2 in UAA), fumbled away an almost certain victory in overtime when second-year tailback Sam Owens coughed up the ball near the Carnegie three-yard line. Canergie’s Ryan McMillen picked it up and ran 92 yards for the touchdown and the sudden death win.

Chicago’s defense and special teams collapsed late in the fourth quarter, which prevented the team from closing out the game with a 17-10 lead with seconds to go. It was if destiny favored Carnegie Mellon on Saturday. After Chicago scored a touchdown with 19 seconds left, to go up by a touchdown, Carnegie fired right back by returning the kickoff 37 yards to Chicago’s 47-yard line. On second and ten, Carnegie quarterback Eric Zimpfer completed a 42-yard pass to Joshua Becker, to bring them to the five-yard line with five seconds remaining in the game. Andrew Garrond, the same man who tore off the 37-yard kickoff return three plays prior, caught a five-yard touchdown pass to bring Carnegie to within a point as time ran out. The extra point was good and the two teams were headed to the fateful overtime. After Carnegie pulled similar comeback heroics in overtime, Chicago could only wonder why. Why did everything seem to fall apart just as they seemed to have everything in hand? Unfortunately, Carnegie won in a battle of two teams clawing and fighting for the narrow victory.

Mixed in with the glaring mistakes were many positive signs for Chicago. Chicago moved the ball well on passing attempts with third-year quarterback Josh Dunn completing 25 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. On the ground, Owens carried 21 times for 51 net yards against a run-stuffing Carnegie defense. Overall Chicago racked up 21 first downs, compared to only 12 for Carnegie. Senior receiver Brian Gutbrod and second-year Jim Raptis came through yet again, combining for 18 receptions, 183 yards, and two touchdowns. On third down, Chicago only converted on a quarter of their attempts (4 for 16), while Carnegie converted on a third of their attempts (6 for 18).

Defensively, the Maroons slowed Carnegie’s fierce rushing attack just well enough to keep Chicago in the game. On an unrelenting 48 attempts, they accumulated 137 yards, which averages out to an unimpressive 2.8 yards per carry. Against the pass, the Maroons did an even better job, until their late-game slip ups, intercepting Zimpfer once and limiting him to only 125 yards on the day. However, his two touchdown passes, the first on the opening drive, and the second to close out the fourth quarter, put Carnegie in a position to avenge last year’s loss. Chicago’s turnovers led directly to 10 points for Carnegie, which contributed strongly to the frustrating loss.

For the second straight week, Chicago made mistakes in the red zone that cost them a chance at victory. Turnovers — not inherent flaws or deficiencies on either side of the ball — have hurt a team struggling to establish a new identity after losing key players since last year’s two-loss campaign. But like last year they only have two losses. They are a team with the talent to rattle off four straight victories to equal last year’s win total of eight. The Maroons need to protect the ball better, and play comfortably in the closing minutes since both Carnegie and Rochester have exploited them in tense late-game situations. A team that moves the ball as well as they do, with weapons enough to adjust to just about any division III defense, will win in the long run. For right now, Chicago just needs to maintain confidence, minimize mistakes, and the rest will take care of itself.