It’s safe to say that football will be up for this one.
There will be no shortage of drama and plenty on the line as the Maroons (2–2) play host to archrival Wash U (3–3) at Stagg on Saturday afternoon. After a spotty September showing, Chicago is facing a make-or-break game on multiple fronts. A win would put the home team well on their way to defending their UAA title, mark the South Siders’ first successful defense of the Founder’s Cup since 1993, and be a huge boost for a squad looking to replicate last year’s late-season streak. A loss would put them in a serious hole in the league race and send them reeling into the stretch run.
Not to mention the fact that it’s homecoming.
“It’s the first of three steps to defend the UAA championship, and everybody looks back on this being the game that got us going last year. Adding that it’s Wash U just puts a little more on it, turns the Hershey into Godiva,” head coach Dick Maloney said.
Fourth-year safety Scott Johnson summed it up succinctly: “Biggest game of the year. Hands down.”
Going into the contest at 0–4 last fall, the Maroons finally put it all together in a 27–0 clobbering of the Bears in St. Louis last fall and setting off a five-game winning streak to end the year. While the early going hasn’t been nearly as brutal this year, it’s safe to say that Chicago has yet to find its groove. The Maroons were dominant in a 55–0 pasting of Concordia (2–4) in the opener, then were overrun 20–0 in the second half in a 23–10 loss at Elmhurst (4–1) the next time out.
It’s been more of the same in their last two showings, as the squad ran roughshod over hapless Macalester (1–5) but couldn’t capitalize at the end of drives as DePauw (4–1) gained control early. That inconsistency has been a focus of players and coaches alike over the last two weeks of practice, and with what is at stake there will be no better time to tighten things up.
“Collectively, the team knows its assignments, hits hard, and plays to the whistle,” fourth-year running back Nick Schey said. “It’s those three or four plays on both sides of the ball where we lose focus and from there bad things start to happen.”
“A lot of the DePauw loss can be attributed to missed opportunities. When you fail to take advantage of opportunities in critical points of a game against a good team, you will lose,” Johnson said. “When we are clicking, we are a very good team and the results have shown that. Now is the time to start clicking.”
They’ll need to get things together if they have any hope of taking down a Wash U team that was picked with Chicago as a co-favorite to win the UAA. The Bears feature a tenacious run defense, conceding only 52.5 yards per game on the ground. Their secondary hasn’t been quite up to that standard, giving up 160 yards each contest and 13 touchdowns on the year.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bears have a productive running game. Fourth-year back DaRonne Jenkins (4.1 yards per carry, four touchdowns) has set the pace on offense, leading to showings like an dominant 61–0 performance against Westminster (2–4) September 9. But Wash U has suffered from a slump of its own, dropping a 6–3 overtime heartbreaker to Rhodes (4–1) and being victimized in a 48–7 walloping at 19th-ranked Wheaton (5–0) and a 34–15 loss to North Central (3–2).
“I expect to see two very good defenses going at each other in a very physical game. I think it really comes down to which offense has the ability to score points, and who doesn’t turn the ball over,” Maloney said. “I don’t expect a high-scoring game. I think this will come down to the very end.”
The emotional lift from a win could be a boon going into the back half of the season. The Maroons will take their title defense on the road for the next two weekends, contending with Carnegie (5–0) October 21 and Case (3–2) October 28.
“Our goal is to win the UAA and finish the season 7–2,” Schey said. “The rivalry between us and Wash U and the fact that the Cup is on the line at home are both really motivating factors for all of us older guys who have been around long enough to know how important this game really is in establishing the rest of the season.”