With less than three minutes remaining and their opponents about to punt, the Maroons knew they would only have one more chance to complete a hard-fought comeback against DePauw. What they didn't know is that that one chance was about to appear and disappear before their eyes.
A high snap over Tigers fourth-year punter Bill Riley's head sent the ball rolling and a pack scrambling inside DePauw's own 30-yard line. After Riley failed to secure the ball and a few Maroons converged on it, DePauw second-year linebacker Eric Lewis miraculously got a handle on the ball and ran it 60 yards for a first down. While Chicago stopped Lewis' teammates on the next series, the loss of time and field position prevented them from making it past midfield on their final, 45-second drive.
"There were two or three other plays that were critical in losing that game, but looking at time issues, this was a big one," head coach Dick Maloney said. "We just haven't gotten many bounces this year."
That nearly golden opportunity could have made it possible for Chicagoexecuting noticeably betterto upset a traditionally more talented team that won last year's game 51-10. According to Maloney, DePauw head coach Bill Lynch told him after the game that "Your team outplayed ours, and they deserved to win the ball game."
The offensive line in particular stepped up against the Tigers, playing "100 percent better" in the eyes of Maloney a week after Illinois Wesleyan racked up 12 sacks.
Other bright spots in the game included the well executed punt return coverage and quarterback Marc Zera's performance in his first career start. Zera had been splitting time with fellow second-year Phil Marino for the first three games of the season, but Maloney sent him out for every snap Saturday. He threw 223 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and earned the praise of the coaching staff.
"After the touchdown pass, he threw to Jack Stockert in the first, someone turned to me on the sidelines and said, That's an NFL play,'" Maloney said. "Marc kept cool under pressure, ran the team well, and got stronger as the game went on."
While Maloney would not rule out Marino finding his way in the rotation again, he did name Zera the starter for Saturday's game against Washington University.
The decision to give the ball to Zera was based on evaluation of the Illinois Wesleyan game, in which the offense coaches concluded that both the tapes and the final statistical lines gave him a slight edge over Marino.
However, that slight edge was not enough to overcome the play of DePauw quarterback Ross Wiethoff. Known for being a skilled rusher and passer, Wiethoff burned Chicago on touchdown passes of 50 and 57 yards to Jamar Shephard, as well as a 91-yard run to the end zone at the beginning of the game.
"The defense was strong. We played the full sixty minutes, controlled the perimeter well, executed the game plan well. But Wiethoff got them out of trouble a number of times. He's just a great athlete," Maloney said.
The breakdown of the Maroons' kicking game was another major factor in the defeat. Fourth-year All-UAA kicker Mike Morzenti missed three extra point attempts, with the last marking his fourth miss in his last five attempts.
Coaches are pointing to coordination problems between a snapper-holder-kicker combination that has little playing time together, rather than any major issues with Morzenti.
"Everyone wants to blame the kicker, but it's not always his fault," Maloney said.
The team now turns its attention to its UAA opener and homecoming game against Wash U. The Bears are favored to win their fourth-consecutive UAA title this season, and will also be looking to capture their fourth-straight Founders' Cup, which commemorates the first game between the two schools.
"They're a great kicking team, and a sound ball-control team. They're on a schedule, first and ten, second and six, third and two. We need to disrupt that schedule to win," Maloney said.
The Maroons' tendency to give up the big play will be a major concern against a historically strong team.
"They've beaten us going down the field for a winning drive on an interception return by a defensive end. They're a team who would have converted that fumble [against DePauw]," Maloney said.
Chicago will also have to try to contain Bears wide receiver Brad Duesing, who last week became the school's career leader in pass receptions and receiving yardage as a third-year.
"He's a go-to guy, and he needs to be accounted for on every play," Maloney said.