In the past 13 years, football has never lost a home finale. And this weekend, the Maroons certainly kept the streak alive.
Snapping a four-game losing streak, the Maroons (3–5) closed out their home season with a hard-earned 28–20 victory over Northwestern College (7–3) Saturday at Stagg. The back-and-forth affair brought an end to Chicago’s recent red-zone struggles as the South Siders converted on all four of their scoring opportunities inside the 20 and countered every Eagle scoring drive with one of their own.
“We haven’t been in front in the past three or four games really,” head coach Dick Maloney said. “Earlier in the season, we were playing with a lead, and I think you play a little more confident with more enthusiasm. The fans are more enthusiastic and that adds to the confidence and really helps our execution.”
Only five minutes into the opening quarter, Northwestern struck for a quick score and an early 7–0 lead. Getting off to a quick start, the Eagles caught Chicago napping with a 50-yard touchdown strike from fourth-year quarterback Josh Peterson to second-year wideout Kyle Thomforde. Rather than fold, however, the Maroons fought back to tie it up with only two seconds left in the first quarter. Third-year running back Mike Serio punctuated an impressive 16 play, 99-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown dive.
“Mike really carried the load running the ball,” Maloney said. “He had great success and he performed better than we expected. He’s done it before in his career and we were very happy with how he did, given this opportunity.”
Taking charge of the game in the second quarter, Chicago’s defense shut down the Eagle attack for the rest of the half, giving the Maroons’ offense the opportunities it needed to grab the lead just before intermission. Fourth-year quarterback Matt Rinklin, making the most of his final home appearance, executed the two-minute drill nearly flawlessly, capping an impressive drive with a perfectly thrown 13-yard scoring pass to fourth-year wide receiver Austin Way for a 14–7 advantage.
As has become a familiar trend in the past month and a half, though, the Maroons lost their momentum just as quickly as they had gotten it, and Northwestern evened things up again in their first possession after halftime. After the Eagles scored on a Peterson bootleg from four yards out, Chicago showed its character with a touchdown of its own on a one-yard run from second-year Chuck Little to retake the lead.
Northwestern made things interesting in the final stanza, tallying another score with 10:55 left in the game, but first-year linebacker Jonathan Currie got a hand on the extra point to keep Chicago in front, albeit by the narrowest of margins at 21–20. Rinklin provided the final margin several minutes later, securing the lead with a 16-yard touchdown pass to second-year receiver John Kiernan.
Putting the final nail in the Eagles’ coffin, third-year safety John Ryle made a huge interception deep inside Chicago territory with 5:24 left, and the defense closed things out minutes later with a fourth-down stop at the Maroon 24 yard line.
Dominating the stat sheet in a manner not reflected by the final score, Chicago held a 20–11 advantage on first downs and held a 7:56 advantage in time of possession. The Maroons accumulated 376 yards of total offense compared to just 223 for Northwestern. Despite all of that, the game could have turned on any number of plays in the second half.
“Some games, you win and it’s anticlimactic, but this game was actually a fun game,” Maloney said. “When every single play makes a difference, that’s a fun game.
“This was a good game in that all three aspects [of the team] did a good job. Everyone performed well enough and we were balanced. It was a good game and a good win against a great football team.”
A threat all day with his arm as well as his legs, Rinklin completed 14 of 26 attempts for 185 yards and two scores to go with a pair of interceptions. He also rushed for 42 yards. Serio with 120 yards on 20 carries and took full advantage of his start in place of injured running third-year Nick Schey.
The Maroons close out their season Saturday at Eureka, a team they have trounced by a combined score of 103–21 in the last two meetings.
“Our expectation is to win,” said Maloney, “We need to become more efficient and play with more energy. We need to strive for perfection and we need to win November. Our goal is to go 2–0 this month and that’s what we’re shooting for.”