For the first time in five years, the Maroons are outright UAA champs.
Relying on outstanding defense and a season-best performance on the ground, Chicago (44, 30) pounded past Case Western (36, 03) 147 Saturday to complete an undefeated conference schedule and lock up the league title. Fourth-year cornerback/wide receiver and co-captain Colin Carrier was a veritable Monster on the Midway, pulling down three big-time interceptions, while the defensive unit as a whole held the Spartans to -9 rushing yards to largely shut down their offense in front of the home crowd.
It was an emotional day for coaches and players alike, as the team completed their journey back from their disastrous first half of the season. The Maroons lost four brutal games out of the gate before getting the season back on track with a 270 walloping of Wash U in St. Louis October 8. Head coach Dick Maloney and the squads fourth-years had suffered through three straight losing seasons, including a winless league campaign last year.
I knew after beating Wash U that if we didnt win the UAA it would have been a disappointing career. Im just glad that such a roller coaster ride has ended with such satisfaction, Carrier said.
Its probably the most satisfying part of my entire college career, fourth-year defensive end and co-captain Rob Tamillow said. Everyone wanted to finish the season up right.
The team got the game off on the right foot. After forcing the Maroons to punt on their first drive, Case was looking to get on the board early by throwing the ball deep and testing Chicagos secondary. The strategy wasnt entirely unsuccessful, as Spartans second-year quarterback Angelo Mirando connected with fourth-year wide receiver Matt Skolnicki to bring his team within 40 yards of the end zone. Two plays later, Mirando looked far downfield again. This time, Carrier had his receiver beat, turning a huge Case gain into an opportunity to Chicago with his first pick of the day.
The teams co-captain wasnt done yet. The Maroons found themselves in trouble on the next series, as Case second-year defensive end Brian Calderone broke through for the first of his three sacks to put Chicago at third-and-12 on their own 19. Third-year Matt Rinklin kept things going, finding Carrier for a 34-yard drive-saving reception. The home team then looked to third-year running back Nick Schey, who bashed his way to a seven-yard gain and then took advantage of a great block by second-year wide receiver Chase Pierson to deke a bevy of Spartans on his way to a 40-yard touchdown run for the early lead with 5:03 to go in the first.
Carriers interception broke both the programs modern-era single-season and career records. He has now brought down 10 on the year and 15 over the past four seasons, and he stands as the current Division III leader in that category. He was also the teams leading receiver, with 57 total yards on four catches.
I want to win, Carrier said. The first priority is always to win. Thats why I play, to compete.
After three straight blowout wins, fans were waiting for the floodgates to open on offense. It was not to be, as the second quarter was relatively quiet aside from one long Chicago drive. Case was able to slow things down by playing a three-man front with five linebackers, limiting the Maroons ability to sling the ball downfield to their receivers.
The third quarter held some ominous signs for the Maroons. The game to that point closely resembled some of their early-season bouts, in which they forced a small lead in the first half before blowing it in the second.
The resemblance grew later in the fourth quarter, as Spartans fourth-year defensive back Santo Maimone recovered a fumble by second-year running back/wide receiver Mike Serio at the Chicago 44, and fourth-year quarterback Alex Harvey hit first-year wide receiver Scott Moyer for a 30-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at seven with less than six minutes left in the quarter. The Maroons drove to the Case 16, but Maimone blocked fourth-year kicker Mike Morzentis field goal attempt with three seconds left in the quarter to send the game into the fourth all knotted up.
Despite the sudden turn for the worse, Chicago remained confident, largely thanks to the pressure put on by the defense. Beyond Carriers picks, the Maroons benefited from a wall-like performance by the front line, which completely stifled the Spartans running game. Five players received credit for six sacks on the day, including Tamillow and second-year defensive tackle Laurence Frank, who both had shares of three. Team members also broke up seven different passes, including three by second-year linebacker Tony Insalaco.
Thats just as good as weve played all this year, if not the best, Tamillow said. We made sure we would shut them down no matter where they put the ball on the field.
We have been pretty decent as of late shutting down the run, Carrier said. Having Rob Tamillow and [second-year linebacker] Gaby Fernandez on your squad always helps.
Immediately after the blocked field goal, Chicago forced the Spartans back 11 yards to their own 19, courtesy of a 10-yard sack by first-year linebacker Vinny OLeary. The ensuing punt gave the Maroons the ball at Cases 43, where the visitors got themselves in trouble with a 15-yard pass interference penalty. Schey ripped through the Spartans line for 13- and 11-yard gains to set up first-year backup running back Chuck Little, who recorded back-to-back two yard rushes to put the Maroons up 147 at the 2:47 mark of the fourth.
Schey totaled 211 yards on 40 rushing attempts on the afternoon. It was the first 200-yard effort for a Maroon running back since Sam Owens set the conference single-game rushing record with 232 against Case on November 15, 2003. It was the most touches of the year for Schey, who has been a substantial contributor for the team all year.
Im pretty sore but Im pleased with the way we ran it, Schey said. The biggest thing with so many carries is that I like to average about five yards a carry during the game, and I was able to do that. Im happy with the play I played, and Im really happy about how the offensive line played in front.
Case only had one serious threat through the final 12:13, driving deep into Chicago territory before Carrier had his final interception on the Maroons 19. The Spartans were held to just 37 yards in the fourth, unable to overcome Chicagos stifling defense.
I dont think anyone had any question that we were going to win, Maloney said. We just had to be patient enough to understand we have to grind this thing out. I think the team and the coaching staff had complete confidence that we were going to get it done.
With only four teams, the UAA does not qualify for an automatic playoff bid, and the Maroons four losses will put them out of the running for an at-large bid. However, a win against Eureka (18, 16 IBFC) at home Saturday would give the team a winning season, a remarkable accomplishment after their 04 start. Chicago has not finished above .500 since 2001, before any of the current fourth-year class played for the squad.
My freshman year, we were never in a game where a conference title on the line or a winning record was on the line, Schey said. This is the first time that any of us have been here. Were going to be really excited.
Eureka will provide an interesting challenge for the Maroons. The Red Devils are coached by Dan Sullivan, who served as Chicagos defensive coordinator for the past two seasons.
Dan knows exactly what we do, we havent changed a whole lot. They run our exact defense, and a very similar offense, Maloney said. Its kind of like playing ourselves, at least from an X-and-O standpoint. Were all working from the same 100-page playbook.