Season Opener Goes Down to the Wire as Maroon Football Falls at WashU 24-17

Dante Nepa
Dante Nepa

ST. LOUIS — The University of Chicago football team suffered a hard-fought 24-17 road loss under the lights in their season opener against rivals Washington University – St. Louis on Saturday night. Two big plays on special teams and a pair of touchdown passes from sophomore quarterback George Krantz gave the visitors hope, while a series of key stops from the defense kept the score tight. In the end, a last-ditch drive to tie the game failed to overcome the cushion the hosts built with a consistent ground game.

Krantz finished with 25 completions on 42 attempts for 203 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. He spread the ball around well: first-year Jacob Jackson and sophomore Mike Martinson had seven receptions apiece, while junior Dante Nepa caught five balls and senior Trevor Anderson nabbed four.

Junior linebacker Zach Atiyeh sparked the defensive side of the effort with 14 tackles, while first-year defensive back Makai Robinson contributed 10.

The first quarter proved difficult as an interception and a fourth-down stop kept UChicago's offense at bay. The Bears responded quickly, springing a 60-yard touchdown run to take the lead on the following possession. WashU tried to extend the lead in the second quarter, but a 55-yard field goal attempt fell short.

An exchange of punts pushed UChicago back to its own ten-yard-line, but after a three-and-out, the Maroon special teams came up with its first impact play of the night. After sophomore Brian Uhler boomed a 52-yard punt, senior Henry Imburgia fell on a WashU fumble to give his team possession at the opposition 25.

On the ensuing drive, Krantz completed four of five passes, the last a six-yard touchdown to Jackson that tied the game 7-7.

With just over three minutes left in the half, WashU looked to pull back into the lead. A sack from junior Ben Christensen pinned the Bears back, but a penalty on second-and-long supplied a fresh set of downs. WashU went on to convert a fourth down, and as the final seconds of the half ticked away, a 24-yard pass gave the home team a 14-7 advantage to carry into the break.

UChicago found itself under duress as the third quarter got underway. A Maroon fumble on the opening drive left WashU only 32 yards from extending its lead, but once again the visitors' staunch defense kept the game close. After one completion, UChicago held firm at its own 17-yard-line before its special teams stepped up for the second time. Senior defensive back Jeremey Vincent blocked the Bears' field goal attempt and Atiyeh returned it 69 yards to position offense just 15 yards from the tying score.

The Maroons, however, could not seize the opportunity and missed a field goal after two incompletions and a short rush. A successful field goal then stretched the hosts' lead to 10 points.

UChicago's passing game sparked a rebuttal as Krantz found Jackson twice in a row for a total of 45 yards, bringing the ball to the WashU 14. Soon after, senior kicker Mike Kurzydlowski hit a 40-yard field goal to bring the Maroons back within a touchdown.

That one touchdown still separated the teams as UChicago entered the fourth quarter trailing 17-10. WashU, seeking to put the game away, racked up a 13-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that ate over five minutes of game clock.

Though now down 14 with just over seven minutes left, the Maroons fought back into the game with a long drive of their own. Throwing the ball 10 times in a row, Krantz connected seven times with four different receivers, who also drew two penalties. The last pass found Nepa in the end zone for a two-yard touchdown and left the score 24-17 with just under four minutes to play.

Needing a stop, the Maroon defense produced exactly that, forcing the Bears to punt. UChicago took over near midfield with 1:58 remaining. Two completions brought the Maroons into WashU territory, but that was as close as they would get. Facing fourth-and-10 from the 45-yard-line, the final pass fell to the ground and WashU ran out the clock.

The Bears were staunch in run defense, allowing only one net yard on 26 attempts while running for 175 of their own. WashU ended up holding a 371-233 advantage in total yards.

On the defensive line, senior Mike McGinley and Christensen combined for four tackles for loss and three sacks. Vincent also broke up three passes in the secondary.