The Maroons head into this Saturday's UAA opener against Washington University looking to snap a three-game losing streak, extended most recently by a 27-22 loss at Pomona-Pitzer last weekend.
In that loss, the Maroons fought back from a 24-6 second-quarter deficit, only to see their final fourth-quarter drive fall short. Third-year running back Sam Owens started the charge with his one-yard touchdown run in the closing minutes of the first half, and the Maroons started to make a game of it after the intermission. Wide receiver Joe Polaneczky hauled in one of his eight catches for a touchdown after Chicago recovered a Pomona fumble midway through the third quarter. Polaneczky finished with 120 receiving yards and two scores in the losing effort.
First-year Michael Morzenti kicked a field goal in the early fourth quarter that brought the Maroons within two points. Ultimately, though, Chicago came up empty-handed on its final drive, which ended when fourth-year quarterback Josh Dunn's pass, intended for Andrew Maloney, fell incomplete on the midfield grass. Chicago's record dropped to 2-3 for the season with the loss.
One of the reasons head coach Dick Maloney highlights for the recent slide is the growing injury bug with which his team has struggled, compounding the problem with the lack of depth the team had to begin with. "Of the 66 kids on our roster, we have 44 healthy and 22 injured," noted Maloney. "The average Division III school has 95 players."
Among the injured are some key players, including offensive tackles David Neils and Jason Jagodzinski. The offensive line gave up six sacks against Pomona-Pitzer, and the Maroons rushed for only 43 yards against DePauw two weeks ago and 94 yards against Pomona-Pitzer last week, not including sacks. Coach Maloney speculates that this might force the Maroons to be more conservative on offense, running the ball less and getting rid of the ball more quickly. His focus on efficiency and close work with his unusually small roster of players should help the team fight against this adversity.
The defense has suffered injuries also, including linebacker Matt Armbruster, who is likely out for the season, but injuries are not the only problem for the young defense. Explained Maloney, "We need to work on fundamentals. We don't tackle well as a team, and we don't get off blocks as well as we should." However, he is still hopeful that the relatively inexperienced defense, which has allowed an average of 376 yards of offense per game, will be able to improve. Maloney hopes that, as the season progresses, the inexperienced defense will acquire the savvy they need to compensate for the problems that have occurred thus far in the season.
Despite the troubles the team has had to overcome, a few bright spots still shine through. Among these are wide receivers Jim Raptis and Joe Polaneczky. Raptis was named Division III co-offensive player of the week for making a school-record 17 receptions for 270 yards and three touchdowns against Elmhurst on September 21, and Polaneczky has averaged 78 yards per game receiving, and has five touchdowns on the year.
Tight-end Mike Healy has also contributed to the cause, adding 64 yards per game in receiving, and Dunn has already thrown for 1383 yards and nine touchdowns this year, adding to his already impressive school-record career totals.
Special teams have been another positive point for the team. Coach Maloney is satisfied with the improvement each game on kickoff and punt coverage, and kicker Mike Morzenti has connected on eight of nine field goal attempts, with a long of 42 yards.
The upcoming UAA schedule offers the Maroons a chance to start with a clean slate. In the words of Coach Maloney, the only goal they have for the UAA season is to, as Maloney puts it, "win 'em all." By winning all four remaining games, Chicago will be able to win their third UAA title in five years, and secure their sixth straight winning season.
The key for accomplishing all of this is the upcoming game against Washington University, played annually for the Founders' Cup. Since 1998, the winner of the Founders' Cup has won the UAA, and the Maroons, winners at home in 1998 and 2000, hope to repeat the accomplishment at home again this year.
In addition to the battle for the Founder's Cup, the game is also the annual Homecoming game. The University reintroduced the tradition in 1999 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the return of varsity athletics to campus. The game will be played this Saturday, October 19 at Stagg Field.