[img id="76995" align="alignleft"] Playing in its final game at Stagg this season, football gave the home crowd one last reason to cheer, as the team downed Wash U 17–14 on Senior Day.
Behind a tight defense and first-year running back Francis Adarkwa’s 142-yard day, the Maroons (3–5, 1–1 UAA) jumped out to an early 10–0 lead but had to play a little catch-up in the second half to top the Bears (5–4, 1–1) on Saturday. The win marks Chicago’s first in UAA play since the squad went undefeated in the conference in 2005 and puts the Maroons in contention to finish in one of the conference’s top spots after next week’s season finale.
“It was a real, real team victory, no question,” head coach Dick Maloney said. “The defense played really well, and the offense was steady enough. They controlled the ball...and we scored enough points to win.”
Even with a balanced effort, the win didn’t come easy for Chicago, and it wasn’t until Adarkwa housed the ball on a 13-yard run at the beginning of the fourth quarter that the Maroons went ahead for good. Prior to that run, the Bears had attempted a punt from their own 38-yard line, but their punter, first-year Austin Morman, dropped the snap. Morman grabbed the ball, fumbled it, and recovered once more, but by the time he secured it, the Maroons’ punt rush was there to tackle him for a 12-yard loss.
After taking over on the Wash U 26-yard line, Chicago needed only four plays to find the end zone. Second-year running back Joe Steelman broke off a 14-yard run to get the Maroons into the red zone, and two plays later, Adarkwa scored with his 13-yarder, putting the score at 17–14, where it would stay.
The day started well for Chicago, which began two of its first four drives deep within Wash U territory and ended up scoring on both of those. The Maroons’ first big break came just over seven minutes in, when third-year safety Cory Swaim picked off fourth-year quarterback Buck Smith’s pass at the Bears’ 24-yard line, giving his squad ideal field position. They capitalized almost immediately, as Adarkwa hit second-year receiver Clay Wolff with a 23-yard pass on the next play, getting the Maroons down to the one-yard line.
From there, Chicago turned to Adarkwa’s feet, rather than to his arm, and he ran it in on third and goal, giving the Maroons an early 7–0 lead over the favored Bears.
Chicago added to that lead early in the second quarter, after third-year Joe Stoner returned one of Morman’s punts 53 yards, taking it all the way back past the line of scrimmage and down to the Wash U 24-yard line. On the ensuing drive, the Bears stymied runs by fourth-year quarterback John Kiernan and Adarkwa, and Kiernan’s pass missed its mark, leading to a fourth and eleven from the Wash U 25-yard line.
Prior to that, the Maroons had twice gone for it on fourth down with shorter yardage to go, and both times had come up short of the first. This time, they opted to send in third-year kicker Ryan Verissimo, who connected on a 42-yard field goal try in blustery conditions, giving Chicago the 10–0 edge they carried into halftime.
“[Verissimo’s] kicking has improved tremendously in the last few weeks,” Maloney said. “He’s really found his groove, and I never gave it a thought that he couldn’t get it there.”
The tide turned after the break, as Wash U, who hadn’t made much progress on offense during the first half, scored on their first two drives of the third quarter. The first of these came when Smith and first-year receiver Brandon Rogalski hooked up for a 60-yard touchdown. Both Rogalski and first-year corner Seve Franceschelli went up for the pass, but Rogalski caught it and Franceschelli fell down, allowing Rogalski to run it in for six.
On the following drive, the Bears bottled up Chicago’s offense at their own 22-yard line, and Verissimo shanked a punt that went out of bounds just 18 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Wash U worked its way down the short field, eventually getting a fourth and four from the Maroon’s eight-yard line. Rather than kicking for the tie, the Bears went for it, and Smith completed a touchdown pass to fourthyear tight end Miles Chan, putting the visitors ahead 14–10 with 6:23 left in the third. It was Wash U’s only lead of the game, and Adarkwa’s final touchdown run erased it less than seven minutes later.
Much of the Maroons’ success can be credited to their strong defense. Other than a few big plays, Wash U’s running and passing games were both limited. The defense had an interception and a fumble recovery, and three times forced turnovers on downs after the Bears had gotten into Chicago territory, including one big stop at the Maroons’ nine-yard line.
“The defense, for the vast majority of the game, played incredibly well, and I really think 10–0 at half was defense playing really well,” Maloney said. “They did score and get ahead, and offensively we came back and got ahead, and the defense continued to stop them, stop them, and stuff them all game.”
Chicago travels to Pittsburgh to play Carnegie (4–5, 0–2) next week. A win over the Tartans would guarantee that the Maroons finish no worse than second place in the UAA.