CHICAGO, Ill. -- The University of Chicago football team clamped down on defense and utilized a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to upset Elmhurst College 10-0 on Saturday.
The Maroons (3-0) are off to their best start to a season in 12 years. The 2001 UChicago squad started the year 4-0. Saturday marked the team's third victory over the Bluejays (1-2) in their 12 meetings. Elmhurst is coming off its most successful year in school history after reaching the second round of the NCAA playoffs in 2012.
"Our kids were active and they just kept going on to the next play," said Head Coach Chris Wilkerson following his first home victory. "We took it away from them a couple of times. We were able to chip away and finally got an explosive play in the passing game to open it up a little more. I was really proud of the team's effort. We've still got some work to do, but the biggest thing is our kids are playing their tails off from when the ball is snapped until the whistle blows."
The first half was a defensive slugfest as both sides kept the opposing offense off the scoreboard. Elmhurst looked primed to put points up on its first drive of the game. But a 32-yard field goal attempt clanged off the right upright. UChicago relied on its running game once again to lead time of possession. But the Maroons were not able to get deep into Bluejays territory and the two teams jogged into the locker rooms tied 0-0 at halftime.
Elmhurst kept the chains moving with its running attack, rushing for 189 yards and 5.3 yards per carry over the course of the game. However, UChicago's defense tightened up when it counted and limited Elmhurst to 3 of 14 on third-down conversions. The Maroons defensive line put pressure on the quarterbacks and forced costly turnovers. The two Elmhurst signal callers were held to 10 of 32 passing for 61 yards and two interceptions combined.
UChicago's defense came up big throughout the night to notch its second shutout of the season. Elmhurst was driving with a short field near the end of the second quarter when senior middle linebacker Ben Wade poked the ball out of the running back's grasp to force a turnover.
In the third quarter, sophomore defensive back Greg Thome picked off a pass across the middle to set up the Maroons in good field position. UChicago drove to the nine-yard line, but had to settle for a 26-yard field goal from junior kicker Karol Kurzydlowski with 3:02 left in the third quarter.
The home team struck again at the start of the fourth quarter. A 23-yard pass from senior quarterback Vincent Cortina to sophomore wide receiver Cole Thoms jump started the drive. Cortina then finished it two plays later with a precise 27-yard touchdown pass right over the top of the defense to sophomore tight end Colin Macri.
Discipline proved to be a difference maker in the game as well. Elmhurst committed 10 penalties in the game, including multiple holding and false start calls that hamstrung the offense. UChicago was whistled for two penalties total.
The Bluejays employed their hurry-up offense in the fourth quarter. But UChicago shut it down over the final three drives with a pair of fourth-down stops and an interception by sophomore cornerback Christopher Dengler.
Final statistics were pretty even in yardage totals - 246 yards for Elmhurst and 234 yards for UChicago. The Maroons were held to 106 rushing yards on 39 carries (2.7 yards per rush). Cortina finished the game with 128 yards and a touchdown on 12 of 20 passing. Junior running back Zak Ross-Nash led the ground game with 70 yards on 22 carries.
UChicago defenders were led by senior linebacker Brian Duffy and his 10 tackles. Junior linebacker Schuyler Montefalco made nine stops with one sack. Wade tallied seven tackles and senior nose tackle Michael Cifor had three quarterback hurries to go with four tackles. The Maroons have limited their first three opponents to 13 total points (4.3 points per game).