Determined to close its up-and-down season with a win, football pulled one off on Saturday and made it look easy.
Battling Eureka with its unstoppable offense and a stonewall defense, the Maroons (4–5) faced early adversity but led dominantly from the end of the first quarter to topple the Red Devils (0–10) 44–12 on their turf.
As the game opened, it seemed as if Chicago’s season was doomed to end with yet another defeat, as first-year cornerback Cody Troutman returned Chicago’s kickoff 84 yards to put Eureka ahead 6–0 with only 17 seconds on the clock. Third-year nose guard Jon Carr blocked the extra point attempt, but the Red Devils gained possession again only seconds later off a fumble by third-year running back Mike Serio.
“When Eureka scored on the opening kickoff, it totally shocked the team,” said fourth-year quarterback Matt Rinklin, who led the Maroon offense by rushing for two touchdowns and throwing for two more. “It took a while for us to find our rhythm.”
Rinklin, who was 14–27 with 187 yards, found his groove at the end of the first, capping an 84-yard Maroon drive with an 11-yard rush for a touchdown. First-year kicker Ryan Verissimo gave Chicago the lead for good with his extra point to put them up 7–6.
The quarter closed with Chicago on the Eureka two-yard line, and the Maroons opened the second with a two-yard rush from second-year running back Chuck Little that extended their lead 14–6.
An aggressive Chicago defense, spearheaded by third-year left back Gaby Fernandez with 11 tackles and first-year tight end John Emerson with 3.5 sacks, stunted the Red Devils for the remainder of the half, as Eureka managed only two first downs. Recovering a fumble on the Eureka 38, the Maroons drove to the seven-yard line, where a successful 24-yard field goal from Verissimo sent the team into halftime with a comfortable 17–6 lead.
Charging out after the break, the South Siders continued to assert their dominance and secured their win. They immediately put up a 66-yard drive to the Eureka three, where Rinklin rushed three yards for his second touchdown of the game.
Chicago’s brick-wall defense left little hope for the Red Devils to break back into the game, allowing the hosts only nine yards on their next possession. Taking back the ball, Rinklin quickly lead his steam-rolling offense to yet another touchdown, throwing six yards to third-year wide receiver Mike Albian to put the Maroons up 31–6.
Closing the third with its strongest drive of the game, Eureka showed some semblance of life as first-year quarterback Nick Lindsey drove the Red Devils 57 yards before rushing two yards for a touchdown. However, 20 yards of penalties on the drive showcased the home team’s sloppy offense, and a failed two-point conversion only narrowed Chicago’s hefty margin to 31–12.
Intent on making up their wide margin at the start of the fourth, the Maroons recovered on a side kick from the Red Devils on the Eureka 44. Slowly plowing their way forward and aided by a 15-yard Eureka penalty, they clinched yet another touchdown on a three-yard rush by Little. Verissimo put up the extra point to lead it 38–12. Following a forced fumble by Gaby Fernandez, Rinklin threw Albian a 30-yard touchdown pass to seal the Red Devils’ fate, 44–12.
Saturday marked the end of Chicago’s 2006 season, and saw the final appearance of 11 fourth-years, including Rinklin. The veteran quarterback passed for 1,444 yards this season and holds modern-era school records for most touchdowns in a game (4) and highest completion percentage in a season (.580 in 2005). He’s among the seniors who have been at the forefront of a team that went from two losing seasons to last year’s UAA Championship only to face a series of obstacles this year. The much-needed victory brought positive closure to a season that has been wracked with injuries and tough losses.
“We set the bar of excellence very high after the great success of last year,” Rinklin said. “The high expectations intensified our struggles this year, especially during league play. But ending the season with back-to-back wins saved our season.”