SPORTS

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October 23, 2007

Homecoming far from warm for slumping football

Not all homecomings are happy ones. Football learned that lesson the hard way during Saturday’s showdown against Carnegie Mellon.

Coming into the game, the Maroons (3–3, 0–2) knew that the contest was a must-win situation against the Tartans (3–4, 1–1) in order to stay in contention for a share of the UAA title.

They failed to do so—and in bizarre fashion. During the Maroons’ loss at Stagg Field, their opponents failed to complete a single pass en route to posting a 21–0 Chicago blanking. Carnegie did, however, gain a whopping 290 yards on the ground. The Maroons’ performance was uncharacteristic of a team that came into the game as the UAA’s leading rushing defense.

A strong running attack is Carnegie’s modus operandi. Their two fourth-year tailbacks, Robert Gimson and Travis Sivek thrive in the unorthodox Wing T offense, each averaging 94 yards per game. They don’t beat teams with balance, so they do it with their two-headed monster of a running game. This is evidenced by the fact that their quarterback, third-year Doug Facemyer, throws for a very pedestrian 44 yards per contest.

“Coming into the game we knew that Carnegie was going to have a good, disciplined, and physical running game. They gave us what we were expecting, they came out and played physically, and we as a defense failed to make some key plays in key situations,” said first-year linebacker Kurt Johnson, who led the Maroons with 13 tackles Saturday.

Despite Carnegie’s formidable running game, missed opportunities turned out to be the difference for the South Siders.

On the very first drive of the game, the Maroons moved the ball 63 yards over 7:35, only to see the effort end on a 28-yard missed field goal by second-year kicker Ryan Verissimo.

The defensive deadlock continued until the second quarter when Gimson barreled in from four yards out. Chicago’s rebuttal drive entered Carnegie territory but was thwarted when Carnegie blocked a 40-yard field goal off the foot of Verissimo, sending the Maroons into the half down 7–0. Entering the game, Verissimo was a solid two for two on field goals this season.

“When we have opportunities to score on field goals, we need to convert,” said Maloney of failed chances.

After a halftime pep-talk, Chicago came out fired up, needing only seven plays to reach Carnegie’s 19 yard line. As was the theme for the day, the Maroons’ charges were again shot down when third-year cornerback Steve McGovern intercepted a pass by third-year quarterback John Kiernan and ran it back 52 yards into Chicago territory. Five plays later, Sivek spilled in from the one-yard line for a 14–0 lead.

Sivek would add one more touchdown on the last play of the quarter, this time from four yards out, capping off the day and giving him a team-leading 11 touchdowns on the season. That score put the Tartans up 21–0, and when the final whistle blew that score held up.

When it was all said and done, the Maroon offense was never able to break open a long play or finish off a drive in order to crack the egg on the scoreboard.

“Carnegie’s defense was content to sit back and give up the short play, almost as an insurance policy against the long [plays],” Maloney said.

Blank scoreboard aside, members of the offense did put up solid numbers. First-year wide-out Clay Wolff, who caught eight balls for 98 yards, led the effort. Second-year tight-end Mike Emerson helped to create a viable one-two receiving punch, racking up 60 yards on five catches.

Running back Thomas Parks, a rookie sensation, also added to the cause, rushing the ball 15 times for 67 yards, but shy of his 88-yard average. Starting his first game since week two against Elmhurst, Kiernan completed 14 out of his 21 attempts, but was hurt by two costly interceptions.

Midway through the fourth quarter Maloney elected to change play-callers, summoning first-year Marshall Oium. The first-year, coming off of a disastrous five-pick first half against Wash U (6–1), continued to struggle, connecting on only 5 of his 13 passes for 57 yards to go along with two interceptions.

“Marshall has a lot of talent; we just really have to emphasize taking care of the football, making that his mindset. It also helps if we can run the ball effectively to avoid prime interception situations such as third and eight,” Maloney said.

The loss drops the Maroons to .500 and eliminates any chance of winning their second UAA title in 4 years. It also marks their second defeat in a row after a promising 3–1 start.

Carnegie, on the other hand, broke a four-game losing streak and gathered momentum for its conference finale against the Bears.

“This was a tough loss but morale remains strong, and we are excited to [go out and] win our last UAA game for our seniors,” Johnson said.

Entering their final conference game Saturday against a strong Case (7–0) team, Chicago can only hope to play spoiler to the Spartans’ undefeated season. Kickoff is set for noon at Stagg Field.