If not for the first quarter, the outcome could have been different in Chicago's 25-20 loss to Rochester on Saturday. The beginning was typical of Chicago's productive offense and capable defense: they stopped Rochester three-and-out and then proceeded to pound the ball, capping off their first drive with an eight-yard touchdown pass from third-year Josh Dunn to senior wide receiver Brian Gutbrod.
However, Rochester's counterstrike was devastating and proved to be all the offense they needed. Three minutes into the second quarter, Rochester had scored all 25 of its points on four quick touchdowns two of them produced by the defense that sealed Chicago's fate.
After Chicago stopped Rochester's second drive near midfield, it appeared that the Maroons were going to dominate this afternoon. On their own second drive, Gutbrod, who ended up with an outstanding nine catches for 114 yards, caught a 24-yard pass to advance the Maroons to their own 44-yard line. On the next play, Rochester middle linebacker Brian Kowalski forced second-year tailback Sam Owens to fumble the ball, which cornerback Kassim Howell scooped up and ran 41 yards for Rochester's first touchdown. Chicago blocked the extra point attempt to maintain the lead, 7-6.
On their next possession, Chicago appeared to have shaken off the turnover and proceeded to drive down the field with ease. A trio of passes to second-year wideout Joe Polaneczky of 9, 29, and 9 yards set up the Maroons deep in Rochester territory. On second and goal from the five-yard line, Rochester cornerback Mike Newcomb intercepted Dunn's pass and returned it for a school-record 94 yards and a touchdown. Rochester failed on their two-point conversion attempt, and the score was 7-12.
Rochester's Howell intercepted Dunn again, this time near mid-field, and set up another touchdown to make the score 7-18. The extra point failed again.
Chicago's next drive took them deep in Rochester territory, but the offense sputtered again, turning the ball over on downs on Rochester's 27-yard line. Rochester scored another touchdown on their next possession, the extra point was true, and they were done scoring with a 25-7 lead with 11:55 left in the second quarter.
The Maroons dominated the rest of the game, but their comeback attempt fell just short. During the second and third quarters, Chicago cornerbacks George Dunn and Nick Hannigan each intercepted Rochester quarterback Jeff Piscitelli twice (including Dunn's amazing touchdown-saving pick in Chicago's end zone), and first-year backup safety T.J. Rajcevich got his first career interception. While these turnovers helped Chicago to shut out Rochester for the rest of the game, the Maroon only managed one Roman Natoli field goal for the five possessions that these interceptions created. Still, Chicago managed to pull within five points, 20-25, on a 15-yard touchdown reception by second-year wide receiver Jim Raptis with 7:26 remaining.
Second-year fullback Buddy Turner created a golden opportunity for the Maroons when he forced Rochester to fumble away the ensuing kick-off and give the Maroons the ball at the Rochester 23-yard line with 7:14 remaining. Like the first drive of the game, Gutboard and Dunn powered the Maroons to the eight-yard line. On first and goal, Rochester went offsides, giving Chicago four downs to score from the four-yard line. On first down, Owens rushed to the one-yard line. On second down, Rochester stuffed him and made him give back the three yards he had just gained. On third down, Rochester's Chad Manley broke up Dunn's pass to Owens in the end zone. After another Rochester offsides penalty halved the distance to the goal, both Chicago and Rochester called timeouts on what would be the game's critical play. A Chicago comeback was not to be. Mike Newcomb, the same player who returned a first-quarter pass 94 yards for a touchdown, broke up Dunn's fourth-down pass to senior tight end Adam Cushing. After the ball was turned over on downs, Rochester ran out the remaining time by keeping the ball on the ground.
The loss makes Chicago's road to the UAA championship and a possible division III tournament berth a difficult one. With Washington University a perfect 2-0 so far in UAA play, Chicago must win out the rest of their UAA games. But head coach Dick Maloney has said many times before that the competition in the UAA is tight, so one loss does not disqualify anyone. But since the winner of the UAA isn't even guaranteed a playoff spot, each win is crucial to obtaining an at-large bid in the crowded division III. Sometimes, a close loss against a worthy opponent can be the best thing that can happen to a team. It can motivate them to try even harder and defeat stronger opponents, like Wash U. Whatever the case, this game was tough, and ultimately, the close plays didn't favor Chicago on Saturday.