Turnovers haunt football

By Chris Boots

This fall, Maroon football has pulled off the feat of playing two separate seasons. The first saw Chicago light up the scoreboard with 132 points and a 3–1 record, while the second brought a three-game UAA losing streak with Chicago outscored 87–13.

Stumbling over their latest hurdle, the Maroons (3–4, 0–3) fell to Case (8–0, 2–0) at Stagg, limited to only a field goal as the Spartans clinched a share of the UAA title in a 35–3 win. Case can win the conference outright with a victory over Wash U (6–2, 1–1) next weekend.

Making a last-chance grab at recording their first win in conference action since 2005, the Maroons drew first blood with a 32–yard field goal from second-year Ryan Verissimo on their opening drive. Signs of difficulty were present even during this early success, however, as Chicago quickly made it to the Case 11, but couldn’t convert from first and 10 for a touchdown. The Maroons struggled for completions on the first drive, going 4–8, yet experienced even more trouble in the rest of the contest, passing just 12–35.

“In our first drive we were very efficient,” head coach Dick Maloney said. “Then they came down with pressure on us. You can’t throw for the low percentage we did passing and expect to get touchdowns.”

Watching their short-lived lead disappear on Case’s next possession, the Maroons let the Spartans reach the red zone in just five plays, with second-year quarterback Dan Whalen throwing a 15-yard touchdown to second-year wideout Tim Cowdrick to open the floodgates.

Taking control of the game in the second quarter, the Spartans capitalized on Chicago’s mistakes as the Maroons’ new worst enemy, the interception, reared its ugly head.

After throwing only five picks in their first four contests, the Maroons have tossed the ball into enemy hands 14 times during their three-game losing streak, including five interceptions against Case. Starting a drive deep in Chicago territory, third-year quarterback John Kiernan got into trouble for the first time on Saturday when second-year Jeff Brown picked him off at the Maroon 24-yard line. Making the most of the home team’s windfall, the Spartans made a 23-yard touchdown pass to extend their lead to 14–3.

Stopped in their tracks by an overpowering Case defense on the ensuing drive, the Maroons were forced to punt after only 16 yards of forward progress, and second-year Greg Meyer took the return to the 50-yardline. Cruising down the field in five plays and a little under two minutes, the Spartans made it a commanding 21–3.

Nearly giving up another score off Kiernan’s second interception, Chicago got lucky when Case hit the uprights on a 35-yard field goal attempt just after stealing the ball in Maroon territory.

With the ball in their hands now, and just over a minute to go before halftime, the South Siders looked as if they could close out the quarter on their own terms. Yet a few seconds later, Kiernan’s third interception gave the Spartans possession just outside the red zone and another TD pass from Whalen made it 28–3 and sent the Maroons into the locker room with their tails between their legs.

“Turnovers have been the story of our last few weeks,” Maloney said. “You can’t give the ball away to the other team; you just can’t do that. We have turned the ball over way too much, and we have not taken the ball away from other teams enough. Turnovers have really been our demise, giving them up and not getting them back.”

Looking for the come-from-behind win in the second half, Maloney put first-year Marshall Oium in at quarterback in an effort to kick start Chicago’s offense. Giving the South Siders a sliver of hope, Oium charged downfield to the Case 25, aided by a 34-yard pass to fourth-year wide receiver Mike Albian. Four penalties for 20 yards proved to be costly, however, as the Maroons turned over possession on downs after a string of incomplete passes couldn’t reach the end zone.

The Spartans kept Chicago’s offense on a tight leash heading in to the fourth quarter. A drive to the visitor’s 34 represented the Maroons closest scoring opportunity, but Oium threw into the hands of a Case defender, and the UAA rivals started a 70-yard drive capped off by a running touchdown from Whalen for the game’s last score.

Chicago is now without a touchdown in back-to-back competitions for the first time since 1999, a difficulty Maloney attributes to the UAA’s tough defensive play.

“The UAA is a very defensive-minded league,” Maloney said. “Last year all the UAA teams were ranked in the top third nationally in defense. The style of play is that you can score two or three times, that’s how you win the UAA. That’s it. They’re really on top of what you do, reading routes and combinations well.”

Despite this recent slump, the Maroons can still close out the season with a winning record. They’ll look for the first of two needed wins when they travel to Minnesota to face Northwestern (7–2) on Saturday.