SPORTS

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October 12, 2007

Football to wrestle Bears in UAA debut

Maroon football (3­­­­–1) will play the Bears this weekend. No, not the team you may be thinking of, but a team with a better record—the Bears of Washington University (5–1).

Coming off of a 57–27 beat-down of Lewis & Clark, the Maroons will open their UAA schedule Saturday in St. Louis at noon. This annual meeting of the two schools marks the battle for the UAA Founder’s Cup, which currently resides in the Bears’ den. These encounters have had perennial championship implications, as the winner of the Founder’s Cup has gone on to win the UAA Football title 9 out of the last 10 years.

The Maroons come into the game riding a two-game winning streak; they have outscored their opponents a total of 78–40 in the same period. Additionally, the South Siders benefited from a bye week, giving the squad two full weeks to prepare for their archrival. In doing so, they had the luxury of practicing on the turf that the Cup will be contested on, courtesy of the newly refurbished Stagg Field. Preparing in a somewhat unorthodox manner this week, Chicago elected to hit with full pads at practice in order to prepare for a physically imposing Wash U team.

Incidentally, much like the pro football team north on Lakeshore Drive, the Maroons have some uncertainty at the quarterback position.

A knee injury to third-year play-caller John Kiernan during a September 15 loss to Elmhurst (13–36) left the door open for a replacement to get a shot on the big stage. In through that door walked first-year Marshall Oium. Through little more than a game and a half of action, Oium has thrown for 434 yards and four scores. Along the way he compiled a gaudy 150.94 quarterback rating and garnered UAA athlete of the week status.

With the junior’s knee given time to heal, head coach Dick Maloney feels Kiernan may be ready to go again for Saturday’s big game. While a final personnel decision may not be reached until as late as Friday, Maloney feels confident with either option.

“Marshall and John are both tremendous players,” Maloney said, “and have gained invaluable experience over the course of this season. Whichever one starts will certainly go into the game both mentally and physically ready.”

In addition to a possible freshman starter at the quarterback slot, the Maroons boast two more impact rookies on offense. First-years Clay Wolff and Thomas Parks lead the team in receiving and rushing yards, respectively. Wolff leads the Maroons in catches and touchdown catches, amassing five scores in four games. Parks, who has averaged 99 yards a game this season to go along with six touchdowns, will face a challenge this week from a Bears team that sports the nation’s 10th-ranked rushing defense.

Despite all of Chicago’s new weapons, they will no doubt have their hands full on Saturday with a tough Wash U team. The Bears are fresh off a 33–10 shellacking of LaGrange College (0–6), and they are riding a three-game winning streak, started by a 16–13 upset of nationally ranked North Central College (3–2) that established them as a top contender for this year’s conference title.

In order to prepare for their challenge, the Maroons met Tuesday morning to go over game films, discussing Wash U’s unique offense, one which incorporates numerous formations but a limited amount of plays.

“Our defense will need to stay alert and focused and not become confused by their constant changing of formations,” Maloney said.

On the other side of the ball, the Bears possess a suffocating pressure defense that will no doubt use multiple tactics to rush the quarterback and squeeze the Chicago running game.

“In order to win against Wash U,” Maloney said, “we must be able to run the ball and pass protect against their blitz packages.”

If the Maroons can do just that, look for Wolff and senior wide receiver Mike Albian to have big games resulting from single coverage on the outside.

Should the Maroons be able to pull off the upset, it would put them in the driver’s seat in the UAA standings entering their final two conference games against Carnegie Mellon (2–3) and Case (5–0). The game is certainly within reach for the young Maroon squad, but it will be a huge step up in competition from last week’s victory.

“This is going to be the best team we’ve played,” Maloney said. “We won’t be able to overpower them, so we must come out and play smart, physical, and fast.”