October 4, 2008

Pressure defense lifts Elmhurst over football’s crippled offense

Head coach Dick Maloney and the Maroons are hoping a weekend off will give the football team a chance to rest a quarterback, reorganize some defensive sets, and forget Saturday’s 27–6 loss to undefeated Elmhurst College.

Chicago’s woes began early Saturday afternoon, as the Maroons fumbled the opening kickoff and turned the ball over twice in their first four drives, all of which gave the Bluejays (3–0) 10 points off of turnovers but more importantly took one certain scoring chance and momentum away from the South Siders (0–3).

“Three out of four snaps, we played good. Twenty-five percent, we didn’t execute,” Maloney said. “When you play an undefeated Elmhurst, they’re going to take advantage.”

The Bluejays capitalized early with a field goal that came off of the fumbled kickoff, and Elmhurst’s nine-man front forced a three-and-out on the Maroons’ first drive, which netted a loss of a yard.

Marching down the field, Elmhurst put seven more on the board with a one-minute-40-second drive that ended in fourth-year quarterback Chris Kudyba connecting with fourth-year receiver Matt D’Angelo for a 13-yard touchdown strike.

Despite a nagging hamstring injury he suffered before Chicago’s September 20 game with Wabash, the usually mobile fourth-year quarterback John Kiernan rushed for 16 yards on Chicago’s next play, sparking a long drive for the Maroons.

After four first downs, the Maroons found themselves at second and goal from the Elmhurst five-yard line. However, a fumble by first-year running back Francis Adarkwa sent the Maroon offense to the sideline empty-handed.

“Those are mistakes we have to eliminate. Those are three key plays,” Maloney said. “You can look at it as a 17-point swing.”

Two drives later, the Bluejays picked off a Kiernan pass in Chicago territory, setting up a short field that Elmhurst quickly traversed for another touchdown. Kudyba punched it in with a one-yard rush, making it 17–0 with 6:31 left in the first half.

With the offense going silent over the next quarter and a half, Chicago failed to achieve another first down until the fourth quarter. A stifled running game forced Kiernan to look to the air, but Elmhurst’s pressure defense forced four hurries and five sacks in the game, limiting Chicago’s chances.

“We had a couple of opportunities to beat them deep and couldn’t connect, and that could have turned the game around as well,” Maloney said.

After another field goal and touchdown, Elmhurst held a commanding 27–0 lead with 11:25 to go in the third quarter. Chicago’s defense locked down after that, forcing five Elmhurst punts.

The Maroons finally found some luck near the beginning of the fourth quarter, as Elmhurst fumbled a punt return, giving Chicago possession in Bluejay territory for just the second time. Kiernan completed four of six passes on the ensuing drive, including a 13-yard touchdown strike to second-year Clay Wolff.

With Kiernan slowed by injury and starting running back second-year Tommy Parks out for the season with a knee injury, Chicago’s running game gained just 30 yards all day, not including the 40 yards lost on Elmhurst’s five sacks.

Meanwhile, Kiernan completed 18 of 35 passes for 192 yards on the afternoon.

This week’s bye week is followed by next Saturday’s match-up with Oberlin (0–3), a game that could feature two squads looking to climb into the win column for the first time this year.

As the season moves ahead, Maloney said his team is looking for more consistency out of a squad that starts as many first-years as fourth-years. Chicago will also look for Kiernan, a talented runner, to return to form next week, channeling the 41-yard rushing performance he had in the team’s season opener against Kenyon.

“Everyone puts in a lot of hard work and time and wants to have success,” Maloney said. “You...strive to play better, play in and play out, that’s how you make big plays. If you take care of the small parts, those then will usually lead to victory.”