Football eyes upset in home finale against Wash U

The Maroons try to take back the Founder’s Cup in their home finale Saturday

By Youssef Kalad

[img id=”76980″ align=”alignleft”] On the surface, Saturday afternoon’s home gridiron matchup appears to have little significance. After last week’s loss at Case (8–0, 1–0 UAA) in the opening game of UAA competition, the Maroons (2–5, 0–1) find themselves in a 2–5 hole as the season draws to a close, guaranteeing them a losing season.

By contrast, the visiting Bears (5–3, 1–0) rank second in the conference, riding two straight wins, including a 16–8 victory over Carnegie (4–4, 0–1) last week.

This weekend’s game looks to be a meeting between two teams who have been heading in opposite directions for most of the season.

The Bears enter Saturday’s game after a pair of dominating performances against Ohio Wesleyan (2–6) and Carnegie in the past two weeks. Snapping a two-game losing streak with the wins, Wash U looks to have returned to the form it enjoyed during its 3–0 start to the season.

Chicago, on the other hand, has taken back-to-back losses in recent weeks and is looking to avoid their second three-game losing stretch this fall. Two weeks ago they headed into Denison (4–4) and fell 26–14 as fourth-year quarterback John Kiernan went down injured. The Maroons saw glimmers of hope last week, however, putting together a solid game against 13th-ranked Case after Kiernan came off the bench. Even though last week’s game at the conference leaders ended in defeat, the Maroons put up an improved effort and continued to show resolve in the face of adversity.

“Against Wash U, we want to expand on the physicality, tenacity, and focus we adopted at Case,” Maloney said.

Now, Wash U and Chicago meet for the 27th time, with one team looking to continue its recent hot streak while the other hopes that its current improvements can translate into a much needed win.

“They are our archrivals, and everybody knows how big this game is for both sides,” Maloney said.

Saturday’s contest revolves around the coveted Founder’s Cup trophy, dating back to 1987. The Founder’s Cup game was designed to commemorate the first football game played between two UAA opponents, with Wash U and Chicago dueling annually for the trophy and for UAA bragging rights.

While the game has at times been close and competitive, with 10 of the games decided by 10 points or fewer, it has lacked excitement in recent years. Wash U holds a commanding 16–5 series lead in the Founder’s Cup contest, holding a combined 40–point margin of victory in the last two meetings.

This will also be Chicago’s last home game of the season, which means that it’s Senior Day for some of the team’s veteran leaders, an opportunity to make a final impression on the Maroon faithful.

Entering Saturday’s game, Chicago understands that it will take a cohesive effort on all sides of the ball to upset Wash U. On defense, the Bears have traditionally utilized the outside blitz to negate Chicago’s speed game and to slow down the aerial attack, while consistently rotating linemen and linebackers in and out of the game to keep their players fresh.

Wash U’s offense is simple, relying on multiple formations to run the same 10 or 12 plays throughout the game.

The squad is led by fourth-year quarterback Buck Smith, last week’s UAA Player of the Week, who completed 23 of 31 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown in a win over Carnegie. Smith’s favorite downfield weapon, second-year receiver Tom Gulyas, has emerged as the UAA’s top pass catcher, leading the conference in receptions (47) and receiving yards (608) in 2008.

For the Maroons, who are virtually healthy for the first time this season, the motivation heading into the Founder’s Cup game comes from a desire to improve. Maloney emphasized that Chicago’s special-teams unit, which gave up an opening 77-yard kickoff return and fumbled a punt versus Denison, is still not where it should be. First-year standout running back Francis Adarkwa has been slowed in recent weeks, but he is still averaging 107 yards per game in his last four outings and looks to return to the form that earned him 135 yards and three touchdowns against Macalester.

The Bears may enter Saturday’s contest looking past the Maroons to their season finale against 13th-ranked Case. With the way the season has gone thus far, Chicago would love to capitalize on an overconfident Wash U squad that has left the door open for an upset.