It has been a long season for our football team, whose two-game winning streak came to a halt in Saturday afternoon’s contest against Denison.
Playing in Granville, OH, for the first time in nearly a century, the Maroons (2–4) found themselves in familiar territory at the close of the first quarter. They were playing from behind, down by seven to a formidable Denison (4–3) squad that smelled blood after fourth-year quarterback John Kiernan left the game with an ankle injury early in the first stanza.
Denison struck first without having to flex its offensive muscle, when second-year cornerback Nick Weiss broke a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown, juking several Chicago tacklers on his way to the end zone.
“We had three people in position to make a tackle, and we just didn’t do it,” head coach Dick Maloney said.
Prior to the successful runback, it had been more than two years since the Big Red converted a punt return.
Things did not get much better for the Maroons. Early in the second quarter, Denison tacked on another touchdown on an eight-play, 70-yard drive that used only running offense.
On a latter drive, with Chicago pinned down on its own seven-yard line, looking to energize the team and seize some momentum, the Maroons called for a play-action fake on first down. Designed to capitalize on the intense pursuit of an active Denison defense, the conservative run play was meant to provide some breathing room for Chicago’s reeling offense. Instead, Denison countered with a corner blitz that flustered second-year backup quarterback Marshall Oium, forcing an intentional grounding call that was ruled a safety for the Big Red. The result: two points and the ball for a Denison team that was already up 14–0 on Chicago.
For the Maroons, the day was characterized by a combination of miscues and poor execution. When first-year tailback Francis Adarkwa bobbled a punt return in the middle of the third quarter, Denison recovered to put themselves deep in their opponent’s red zone on the Chicago 13-yard line. After easily punching in another score in just 42 seconds, the Big Red extended their lead to a seemingly insurmountable 23 points, with the Maroons still held scoreless.
Chicago finally scored on a 63-yard touchdown drive late in the third quarter, capped off by Adarkwa’s one-yard plunge. Later, another long drive early in the fourth quarter was also concluded by a short two-yard run from Adarkwa. Both drives featured a calmer, more relaxed Oium and several impressive catches by third-year wide receiver Joe Stoner, who ended the day with a career-best six catches for 66 yards.
Chicago’s uncharacteristically poor outing can be attributed to several mistakes.
The Maroons’ special teams unit was outplayed throughout the game. It not only gave up a long punt return for a touchdown but also forfeited possession of the ball with the mishandled punt return in the middle of the third quarter, which led directly to an easy touchdown drive for Denison.
“We can’t put our defense in a hole like that and expect to win,” Maloney said of the special teams’ performance.
Similarly, the defense seemed to pull a disappearing act when it came to defending the run, with Denison lighting them up for 235 yards of total rushing offense.
“Tackling is a really important part of the game, and we weren’t very good at that today,” first-year outside linebacker Cameron Grimes said.
On the same note, Chicago’s offense, which came to life too late in the game, failed to exploit Denison’s defense early on. The Big Red relied on loading the box with eight-man fronts while having all 11 defensive players within six yards of the line of scrimmage, leaving the Maroons with ample passing opportunity. After rushing for 276 yards the last two weeks, Adarkwa found himself limited by Denison’s stifling defense, with the unexpected insertion of Oium at quarterback slowing Chicago down further.
With their North Coast Athletic Conference crossover games in the books, the Maroons head to Case next Saturday for their UAA debut with undefeated Case (7–0), the preseason favorite for the conference crown.
“It’s quite simple,” Maloney said. “Case is a good team and we have a challenge ahead of us. We need to play our best game of the year.”