Facing their most imposing opponent of the season, football could at least say they went down fighting.
Traveling to Ohio, the Maroons (2–5, 0–1 UAA) squared off against 13th-ranked Case (8–0, 1–0) in their UAA debut Saturday. In a back-and-forth battle that saw Chicago keep things surprisingly close, the Spartans started off their campaign to defend the conference crown with a 38–24 win, but not before conceding season-high turnovers and first-half points to the Maroons.
“We played probably our best game of the season when you look at the physicalness we played with and the intensity we played with,” said head coach Dick Maloney. “We executed very well at times and very average at times, but I felt it was our best overall effort to date.”
After receiving the opening kickoff, the Maroons couldn’t make it far out of their own territory and were forced to punt on their first two possessions. They watched the Spartans draw first blood on a 58-yard touchdown drive but recovered deep in Case territory after the hosts fumbled a punt return. A 38-yard field goal from third-year kicker Ryan Verissimo put the Maroons on the board, down 7–3.
With fourth-year quarterback John Kiernan injured, Chicago initially struggled with its passing game, instead opting for a formation that had first-year running back Francis Adarkwa taking direct snaps back in the shotgun. Struggling to put together a solid drive, the Maroons managed only 30 yards of offense in the first quarter.
A blocked punt deep in Chicago territory allowed the Spartans another quick touchdown, but the Maroons continued to capitalize on turnovers when Case fumbled another punt return, and second-year receiver Clay Wolff capped off a 51-yard Chicago drive by running 13 yards for a touchdown.
Despite executing only one long drive, solid defense and the key turnovers saw Chicago keeping it close at 14–10 late in the first half. It marked the first time all season that the Spartans have given up more than a touchdown in the first two quarters.
“I really think obviously when we’re doing our direct snap offense our pass game is very limited,” said Maloney. “You’ve got to remember, Case hadn’t let up more than seven points in the first half all year, and we got 10. They’re pretty good at defense, I don’t think anyone’s really driven the ball against them, so getting the ball in their territory was critical.”
The Maroons took another lift when Kiernan came off the bench to return behind center, but a missed field goal from Verissimo followed by a 75-yard touchdown drive from the Spartans swung momentum back to Case at halftime.
“I was not expecting he would be able to play,” Maloney said of Kiernan. “I know he wanted to, I understood that, but I really felt that that probably wasn’t going to be the case. He surprised us all; he healed quickly and did a good job.”
Back from the break, the Maroons couldn’t come up with a successful possession and saw third-year quarterback Dan Whalen rush for a touchdown before the Spartans tacked on another three points with a short field goal. The third quarter ended with Chicago trailing 31–10, unable to get out of their own territory since before the half.
Coming to life again at the midway point of the fourth quarter, the Maroons stopped Whalen short of another score at the goal line when third-year defensive end John Emerson recovered a fumble. The turnover kicked off Chicago’s best drive of the day, as Kiernan and Adarkwa led the South Siders down the field before scoring on a 49-yard bomb to third-year wideout Jay McGovern.
Attempting an onside kick, the Maroons were within inches of recovering but couldn’t, giving Case a short field and allowing third-year running back Greg Meyer to rush for his second touchdown of the afternoon.
With under three minutes to play, the Maroons forced yet another returning fumble from their hosts and responded with an eight-yard Kiernan-to-Wolff touchdown pass. Trailing 38–24 and unable to recover a last ditch onside kick, Chicago could only watch as Case ran down the clock. The South Siders did get the ball back with just a few seconds left, and on their last offensive play of the game, Kiernan threw his only pick of the day when a last-ditch Hail Mary to the end zone came up short. The fourth-year was 13–22 with 154 yards and two TDs in his off-the-bench performance.
Despite the loss, Chicago came away feeling capable of keeping things close with a national-caliber team. They will need that momentum going into their home finale Saturday against Wash U (5–3, 1–0).
“I thought both football teams did a tremendous job in answering,” Maloney said. “You’ve gotta thank both teams for answering the bell and not packing their bags. We’d score and make it close and they’d come down the field and score, and then we’d go down and score on them. It was a real good football game to watch, there was tremendous hitting going on there, both teams played pretty good defense. Believe it or not, it was a heck of a football game.”