SPORTS

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October 16, 2007

Football can't bring back Cup

Football is playing with the big boys now, and it found out on Saturday that the UAA is far less forgiving than regional competition.

After spending the first half of their season scoring big against little teams, the Maroons (3–2) found conference action harder to handle as the Bears (6–1) held them to a season-low 10 points and kept the Founder’s Cup in St. Louis for another year with a 31–10 victory.

Chicago led the Bears in offensive yardage (322–224) and time of possession (33:09–26:51), but allowed eight turnovers, two of which were returned for touchdowns. Allowing only five interceptions in all four of their previous games combined, the Maroons doubled the number in a single afternoon with a quintet of picks into the hands of the Bears. Wash U entered the game with 21 turnovers gained, good for second in DIII, and took the afternoon as an opportunity to bolster its record and begin gunning for a UAA title.

“I think we were pretty well matched up against Wash U,” fourth-year running back Mike Serio said. “We just made too many mistakes and lost the game for ourselves. It’s very hard to win when you turn the ball over eight times, but we also had some penalties, didn’t execute certain plays as we’d have liked to, and had some trouble finishing drives.”

Receiving the Bears’ kickoff, the Maroons gained only three yards on a frustrating opening drive before they were forced to punt. Drawing first blood off of the ensuing possession, Wash U quickly scored on a 12-yard pass from third-year quarterback Buck Smith to fourth-year receiver Mike Casper.

In a devastating mistake for the Maroons, first-year quarterback Marshall Oium fumbled after being sacked later in the first quarter, only to have third-year defensive lineman Brent Sensenich return the ball 62 yards to double the Bears’ lead, 14–0. Still unable to find a groove on his next possession, Oium threw a pick on the opening play of the drive. While these early back-to-back turnovers exemplified Chicago’s struggles on the day, the end was nowhere in sight.

Adding to Chicago’s insurmountable turnover deficit, Oium threw his third of five interceptions and fourth-year linebacker Tyler McSparin returned the catch 37 yards to give the Bears yet another score. Once again throwing the ball into the hands of a Wash U defender, Oium gave the Bears possession in Maroon territory as Wash U started a drive that led to a 30-yard field goal from fourth-year kicker Mike Elliott.

After Oium threw his final pick of the day on the Maroons’ last possession of the half, head coach Dick Maloney opted to shake things up at the play-caller position in an attempt to give Chicago’s stagnant offense some momentum. Changing out Oium for third-year John Kiernan, Chicago reaped the benefits of the switch as first-year running back Thomas Parks added to his title as the Maroons leading point-scorer when he reached the end zone on a one-yard rush that finally put the South Siders on the board after their second drive of the quarter.

Building on this momentum, Kiernan led the Maroons into Bear territory with two long passes, but had to settle for a 27-yard field goal from second-year kicker Ryan Verissimo after the Maroons made no forward progress from a first and goal situation. With Verissimo’s kick making it through the posts and Chicago’s defense able to cage the Bears after their initial explosion, things were starting to look up for the South Sider at the end of the third quarter with the score 24–10.

“We came out after the half and played hard, and got some of the points back, but unfortunately we didn’t get them all back,” said Mike Serio. “We moved the ball well and our defense played phenomenally. They probably came as close to shutting down Wash U’s offense as you can come. They kept the game close.”

Heading into the game’s final 15 minutes, the Maroons were hoping to make one last push for the Cup, but their hosts had no intention of letting it leave the Bear’s lair. Chicago couldn’t make it more than two yards into Wash U territory during the last stanza before the Bears, determined to preserve their lead, shut the lid on the South Siders’ offense. Giving themselves some final insurance, the home team tacked on one more TD late in the fourth to make it 31–10.

“When all was said and done, we didn’t make enough big plays to keep drives going, we didn’t really do all of the things that were necessary to complete a drive,” Serio said. “We did a limited number of things right when we needed to do everything right.”

With Chicago’s loss, both Wash U and Case (6–0) are unbeaten within the conference, ensuring that Chicago can only share the UAA crown. To tie the conference, Chicago must topple both Case and Carnegie (2–4) and pray that Case bests the Bears. This last-chance bet for a title share continues as Case comes to the Windy City for homecoming weekend this Saturday.