CHICAGO – A pair of quick strikes got the University of Chicago football team rolling in the first quarter of the 2017 season opener. But the offensive momentum petered out as the game progressed and No. 22-ranked Case Western Reserve University seized control in the second half to defeat the Maroons 34-14 on Saturday afternoon.
It was a clear and sunny afternoon at Stagg Field, and UChicago came out sharp from the onset. The defense forced CWRU into three-and-out possessions on the visitors' first three drives. The Maroon offense nearly hit pay dirt on its first drive, but a fourth-down pass into the end zone was dropped.
After CWRU turned the ball over on downs in its own territory, the home side took exactly two plays to score. An impressive 26-yard diving catch by senior wide receiver Jamie Rieger set up a five-yard touchdown run from senior running back Chandler Carroll.
On Case's next punt attempt, freshman running back Michael Martinson came barreling into the backfield unchecked and blocked the kick to put his offense on the opposing nine-yard line. Freshman quarterback Campbell Garrett immediately found sophomore wideout Dante Nepa for the touchdown pass and the Maroons led 14-0.
The visitors drove to the red zone twice in a-row and came away with one touchdown early in the second quarter. The 14-7 score line persisted the rest of the way until halftime.
UChicago's defensive line was disruptive all day and were consistently putting pressure on quarterback Rob Cuda. The Maroons racked up four sacks, collapsed the pocket and bottled up Cuda's running ability. After rushing for 125 yards against UChicago last year, the signal caller was held to eight yards on nine run attempts.
Sophomore Ben Christensen put up a career-best performance off the edge. He racked up three tackles for loss, half a sack and also blocked an extra point attempt in the fourth quarter. On the other side of the line, senior Peter Casey hurried the quarterback three times, picking up eight tackles and one sack.
The defensive interior proved up to the challenge as well. CWRU was held to 55 rushing yards for the game (1.3 yards per carry) with freshman Jackson Ross and junior Michael McGinley clogging the middle. Ross made a big first impression with 12 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and half a sack in his collegiate debut. McGinley posted 1.5 sacks, three quarterback hurries and five total tackles.
However, the tide turned definitively in the second half. Cuda continually looked for Justin Phan on short screen passes and they kept the chains moving. Phan finished with 15 catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns as UChicago's secondary could not find an answer for him.
After tying the game with a 74-yard drive in the third quarter, CWRU took the lead for good three plays later. A bobbled catch flew right into the hands of the Spartans, who raced the ball into the end zone for a 29-yard pick-six. The visitors scored twice more in the fourth quarter to account for the final score.
UChicago's offense ground to a halt in the second half with only two first downs. Carroll totaled 52 rushing yards on 17 attempts and one touchdown. Garrett completed 12 of 25 passes for 117 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Rieger (4 catches for 38 yards), Dante Nepa (3 catches for 22 yards) and junior Andrew Falk (2 catches for 51 yards) posted the top receiving numbers on the squad.
Case outgained UChicago 321 to 194 overall in the game. Third down proved crucial as the visitors converted 10-for-21, while the Maroons went 0-for-12. The Spartans won the time of possession battle with 36 minutes versus 24 minutes for the hosts.
- Saturday, Sept. 9 – UChicago at Washington University-St. Louis, Noon