CHICAGO – A deflected extra point attempt foiled a thrilling comeback bid as the University of Chicago football team came up just short in a 21-20 loss to St. Norbert College at Stagg Field on Saturday afternoon.
UChicago's prolific passing attack strained under immense pressure from the St. Norbert defense. But after falling behind 21-7, the Maroons rallied for two late touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Just when the hosts looked sure to even the score, however, the Green Knights disrupted the tying kick and held on for a narrow victory.
Moving the ball through the air was the focus for UChicago throughout the day. First-year quarterback Jeffrey Jackson attempted 57 passes, completing 31 throws for 270 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Fellow first-year wide receiver Jacob Jackson was a favorite target, with 10 catches for 96 yards and a score. Junior Dante Nepa and first-year Matt Quaglia also hauled in touchdowns. Nepa recorded seven catches for 71 yards, while Quaglia tallied six catches for 72 yards. The Maroons only attempted 19 rushes for 32 net yards.
Junior linebacker Zach Atiyeh turned in tremendous effort defensively. In addition to leading his team with 12 tackles, Atiyeh forced a fumble and snagged an interception to halt two dangerous St. Norbert drives. Sophomore defensive tackle Jackson Ross contributed 12 tackles of his own, while junior linebacker Henry Winebrake added 11 more.
After an early exchange of punts, the visitors struck first on a 13-play, 77-yard drive. The Maroon defense nearly halted St. Norbert's progress, but a missed tackle led to a long third-down conversion and the Green Knights took advantage, rushing in to score from 14 yards out on the next play.
UChicago responded immediately, advancing downfield as Jackson picked the St. Norbert defense apart. On the first play of the second quarter, he found Quaglia for a 19-yard touchdown pass to tie the game.
The Maroon defense made a quick stop and once again UChicago moved forward, but the Maroon drive stalled as a fourth-down conversion at the St. Norbert 27-yard-line fell incomplete. The Green Knights took over with 7:53 remaining and mounted a sustained drive of their own, but it ended with a 38-yard field goal attempt that missed wide left. The Maroons wound down the rest of the clock and the teams entered the half deadlocked at seven points apiece.
Already boasting one of the top rushing defenses in the nation, St. Norbert's linebackers flew all over the field to put constant pressure on Jackson in the pocket, leading to three sacks and six tackles for loss. But the Maroon defense was also up to the task against SNC's veer offense, clogging the lanes between the tackles as the hosts held sway in the total offense category 302-292.
UChicago began the third quarter with the ball but after converting an early third down, Jackson threw an interception that gave the Green Knights possession at the home 38-yard-line. After a defensive penalty moved the ball further ahead, St. Norbert dumped the ball over the middle for a touchdown to take a 14-7 lead.
A Maroon three-and-out followed, with St. Norbert receiving the punt at the UChicago 47. The home team held firm despite the threatening field position and forced a punt. The Green Knights brought even more defensive pressure on the next series, however, knocking the Maroons back to their own one-yard-line. A UChicago punt out of the end zone set up St. Norbert in prime attacking position, and not long after, the visitors raced in for a 25-yard score.
UChicago responded with a promising drive, but it jolted to a halt just beyond midfield with another interception. St. Norbert seemed ready to punish the Maroons for the mishap, but Atiyeh forced a fumble that first-year linebacker Jack Surgeoner gathered and the home team reclaimed possession.
It seemed like UChicago might get some momentum going when a great throw from Jackson converted a 3rd-and-11 to start the fourth quarter, but the Green Knights' defensive front seven overwhelmed the Maroons to turn a 1st-and-10 into 4th-and-23.
On the move once more, St. Norbert advanced past midfield, converting a third down with a play-action look the Maroons had struggled to contain. When it looked like the visitors might finish the game with another score, however, Atiyeh came up with an interception at his own 15-yard line to give the Maroons a sliver of hope.
The turnover sparked the UChicago offense, which racked up three first downs before facing a 4th-and-3 at the St. Norbert 34-yard-line. Jackson zipped a ball over the middle to Quaglia, who sidestepped his defender for the crucial conversion and a 24-yard gain. On the next play, Jackson lobbed one to Nepa in the end zone to bring the Maroons back within one touchdown.
Flying upfield on the ensuing kickoff, the Maroons pinned St. Norbert at its own 9-yard-line thanks to a holding penalty. After stuffing the Green Knights twice, UChicago corralled the scrambling quarterback on third down to force a punt with just over three minutes to play.
With a shifty return, senior safety Jeremy Vincent carried the ball to the visiting 43-yard-line. Two incompletions brought third down, but Jackson connected with Nepa to move the chains. Three incompletions and a penalty then left the hosts facing 4th-and-18 with the game on the line. Rolling to his left to extend the play, Jackson somehow found Nepa open for a 22-yard gain that kept the drive alive. Facing yet another third down not long after, Jeffrey Jackson hit Jacob Jackson in stride over the middle for a 19-yard touchdown with 1:02 on the clock.
All that remained was to convert the extra point. But the Green Knights broke through once more at the pivotal moment as a defensive tackle got a hand on the kick to send it wobbling just shy of the posts.
UChicago attempted a last-ditch onside kick, but St. Norbert recovered and ran out the clock to hand the Maroons their first defeat in conference play.
With the loss, the Maroons fell to 3-3 (1-1 MWC North) and St. Norbert improved to 5-1 (2-0 MWC North).
Third downs were converted with regularity on both sides. The Maroons succeeded on 8 of 17 (47 percent) on third down and 2 of 3 on fourth down. The Green Knights were successful on 7 of 13 conversions (54 percent).
- Saturday, Oct. 20 @ 1:00 PM - UChicago at Beloit College