November 25, 2003

Football breaks seven-game losing streak in season finale

The football team turned in its most complete effort of the year in the November 15 season finale against Case Western Reserve. It was far too late to salvage a season of underachieving that included seven straight losses going into last Saturday's action, but the win left the team somewhat satisfied that they'd taken advantage their last opportunity to prove the quality of their team.

The Maroons' offense and defense both contributed to the 27-13 victory. Fourth-year tailback Sam Owens rushed for a touchdown as well as a UAA-record 232 yards on 35 carries.

"Every year our offensive line completely dominates Case's defensive line. During the week prior to the game, we focused on possibilities of cutbacks against their defense because they take hard slants. So, as far as running, there were big play capabilities if we were patient," said Owens, whose performance led to his being named UAA's offensive player of the week.

Perhaps an even bigger contributor to the victory was the defense, which had struggled in past weeks to replicate the success that it enjoyed early in the season.

The Maroons effectively pressured the Case quarterback, causing him to throw two interceptions and lose a fumble in the end zone. With 6:25 remaining in the first quarter, second-year cornerback Colin Carrier gave Chicago a 10-3 lead with a 36-yard interception return of fourth-year quarterback Eli Grant's pass.

Third-year linebacker Matt Armbruster added the second defensive touchdown of the day when he recovered a fumble in the end zone, giving the Maroons a two-touchdown cushion with 10 minutes left in the game. The team also limited Case to just 59 rushing yards on 32 carries.

"Case was very predictable: their recent success stemmed from a new offense that no one in the league had seen before. But after a few years their tendencies became evident, and our coaches put us in the right situations the whole game," said fourth-year safety Nate Harrell.

Coming into the season, Chicago seemed to be poised for success. Although there was a lot of turnover on the defensive side, the offense had eight fourth-years planned to start, including tight end Mike Healy, a pre-season Division III All-American, and receiving record holder Jim Raptis. After the 42-7 opening victory against North Park, the Chicago offense soon went downhill.

The Maroons ended up using three other quarterbacks after Pulice got injured against Pomona-Pitzer. First-year Phil Marino became the team's starter for the last four games and did well, despite being thrust into the team's most important role mid-season. He only threw for one touchdown, but he seemed to improve in each game at making quick reads.

"Since the majority of our offensive line and skill position players were returning starters, naturally we felt confident that this season would be a success, record-wise," Owens said. "Although our record did not live up to our initial expectations, I think our success in the final game was a significant contribution to the program."

Ultimately, the offense, which scored over one touchdown less per game compared to last year, will see the biggest turnover next year. A year after losing Josh Dunn, the best quarterback in Chicago's Division-III history, the offense will have to deal with the further loss of seven more players. The receiving trio of Raptis, Healey, and Joe Polaneczky will be especially difficult to replace.

The defense will only lose one starter and will have a full year of experience with a new defensive scheme under its belt. In the season finale, it shut down the Case offense in the second-half, allowing no points and negative two net yards.

"The seniors will take away the fact that no one on the team ever gave up and fought it out until the end, which shows loyalty to us and the team as a whole. The game ended the seniors' careers on a high note and left the rest of the team with something to build on going into next year," said Harrell.

"We gave an accurate display of our collective talent without having any regrets about our last opportunity to perform. I hope that the underclassmen learned a lesson about perseverance from the seniors," Owens said.