In the final game of the 2008 season, playing on the road in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 Carnegie faithful, football fell in odd fashion.
The abnormality of Saturday’s loss arose because while the Chicago’s performance was lackluster for the most of the game, the South-Siders (3–6, 1–2) also exhibited brief spurts of random brilliance–short-lived moments of solid play that could have allowed the Maroons to escape Carnegie (5–5, 2–1) with a victory instead of their 28–21 loss.
Chicago put up the afternoon’s first scoring, capitalizing on a short field following Carnegie’s punt return fumble less than four minutes into the game. Timely gains had the Maroons convert two third downs, and fourth-year quarterback John Kiernan’s four-yard toss to receiver Clay Wolff gave Chicago a 7–0 advantage at the 8:09 mark.
Striking back with a 40-yard kickoff return, the Tartans started their next drive at Chicago’s 44-yard line. Carnegie turned to the running game on 10 of the drive’s 11 plays, tying the game 7–7 with a one-yard rush by second-year running back Anthony Ruzga.
After the teams traded short drives resulting in punts, Carnegie mounted a strong drive midway through the second quarter.
With 7:45 left in the first half, the Tartans engineered a 10-play 57-yard drive that gave them a 14–7 lead over Chicago. On the drive, Carnegie once again relied heavily on the ground game, rushing the ball nine times for 54 yards.
Early in the third quarter, already nursing a one-touchdown lead, Carnegie capitalized once more on its advantageous field position when it got the ball at the Chicago 39-yard line. The Maroon defense pushed the Tartans back to the 43-yard line only to see third-year quarterback Phil Pantalone launch a touchdown bomb to second-year wideout Jonathan Staso on a 3rd-and-14. With Carnegie pushing the run game, the play accounted for almost all of Pantalone’s 46 yards, as he completed just two passes in six attempts on the day.
While the Tartans looked to add to their lead, the Maroons did very little on offense to match their hosts. On a drive that began on Chicago’s eight, with 5:29 left in the third quarter, the South Siders coughed up the ball to the opposition when an errant Kiernan pass was intercepted at the Chicago 25-yard line.
Carnegie once again rode Ruzga to another touchdown, ballooning the lead to a seemingly insurmountable 21 points. Ruzga closed the day toting 114 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries. His partner in the backfield, fourth-year Ryan Phillips, contributed with 21 rushes and 91 yards of his own, as Carnegie dominated Chicago on the ground with a 229–74 advantage in the rushing yards.
With time running out in the game, and in their 2008 campaign, the Maroons woke up just in time to stage a frantic fourth-quarter comeback. The onslaught began with nearly 13 minutes remaining, when Kiernan notched his second touchdown on a 24-yard strike to Wolff.
The Maroons further complicated things for the Tartans when Kiernan tossed another touchdown to Wolff with 2:46 left in the fourth, this time from eight yards out. On the day, Wolff hauled in nine receptions for 136 yards and three touchdowns, while also contributing 18 yards on the ground.
With only 1:30 to go, the Chicago defense made a stand on a third-and-eight and forced the Tartans to give up the ball, leaving the game in the hands of the Maroon offense. Chicago came out firing, marching all the way to midfield during a drive that originated on their own 15-yard line.
Ultimately, however, the Maroons could not close out. Chicago’s comeback came to an end on a fourth-and-eight at midfield after a Kiernan pass fell to the ground incomplete. With 47 seconds left, after having endured Chicago’s furious rally, the Tartans ran out the clock.
While Kiernan only managed to complete 13 of his 31 passes, he did rack up 188 yards and three touchdowns through the air in his collegiate finale. Chicago’s upstart first-year tailback, Francis Adarkwa, was limited to only 47 yards on 17 carries. On defense, fourth-year safety Frank Chor led all defenders with 17 tackles in his final game in maroon and white.
Carnegie left the game continuing a 34-season streak in which the Tartans have finished the year with at least a .500 record.
The Maroons, meanwhile, will enter next season with questions at the quarterback position after Kiernan’s departure. Chicago will also look to reincorporate second-year tailback Tommy Parks with Adarkwa, who took Parks’ place when he went down with a season-ending injury in the first week.
However, with more than half of the team’s roster consisting of first-years, the squad will enter 2009 looking to build on the potential it showed in three wins this season.