*During the current hiatus of collegiate sport action, UChicago Athletics is running a new story series throughout the spring and summer called "Maroon Moments", which will highlight some of the top performances and most pivotal contests from all Maroon athletic teams in the last two years.
CHICAGO – When week four of the 2019 football season rolled around, the University of Chicago had a familiar opponent on the docket – Lake Forest College. Now in their third season as affiliate members of the Midwest Conference, the Maroons had played the Foresters in the season finales of 2017 and 2018. Each time, UChicago emerged as the victors.
On September 28, 2019, the Maroons were looking for a win to jump start their season. The team was coming off a bye week sporting an 0-2 record. Head Coach Chris Wilkerson was feeling optimistic, however. After nearly rallying past Simpson College on the road in week two, he felt his squad was headed in the right direction.
"During the first two weeks of the season, we use those games to try and evaluate as many players as we possibly can in game situations," Wilkerson said. "We knew we had improved from week one to week two. The entire focus and message to the team during the bye week was just on improving ourselves and knowing if we did that, it would lead to a successful result."
At that point, Wilkerson decided to hand the keys of the offense to senior quarterback Marco Cobian. The 6-foot-3 signal caller previously stepped into the starting role in the second half of 2018, producing 795 yards and 10 touchdowns.
"We knew Marco had great leadership skills and we had extreme confidence in him," said Wilkerson. "During his entire career, he had consistently shown the ability to overcome adversity, maintain composure and provide a spark whenever his number was called."
Through one quarter, it was Lake Forest who looked sharper on the Stagg Field turf. The visitors held a 10-0 advantage thanks to a 20-yard quarterback keeper and a 39-yard field goal.
But late in the first quarter, a pair of key moments occurred that gave Wilkerson confidence that the team would find its momentum. Facing 2nd-and-6 from UChicago's own 25-yard line, the ensuing snap sailed over Cobian's head and headed to the goal line. A potential disaster was averted when the senior quarterback maintained his poise, picked the ball up and fired it towards sophomore wide receiver Mark Eaton, who broke his route off and came back to the ball. While the pass attempt was incomplete, it still left the Maroons a manageable 3rd-and-6 scenario, which Cobian immediately converted with a 10-yard gain to Eaton. The 15-play drive ended with a missed field goal, but Wilkerson later identified the key sequence for allowing the Maroons to flip field position and get the offense in a rhythm.
Sure enough, the defense forced a punt and a nice 16-yard return put the offense at its own 40-yard line. UChicago delivered on the advantage, as Cobian hooked up a 15-yard touchdown to senior wide receiver Dante Nepa on third down.
The very next drive, junior Ross Martin sacked the quarterback on third and long to give the ball back to the Maroons. Seven plays later with just over two minutes left in the half, Wilkerson was faced with a big decision that would help determine the outcome of the game.
Facing a fourth down and one yard to go on his own 34-yard line, the veteran coach rolled the dice. UChicago called for a run play with Mike Martinson toting the ball behind senior offensive linemen Mike Hiestand and Matt Zimmerman. Martinson got the yard and then some. The junior running back split the last two defenders and scampered 66 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
The second half was all UChicago. The first possession for the hosts featured a 64-yard run by sophomore running back Nick D'Ambrose and a three-yard touchdown catch by Nepa to make it 20-10. LFC's next drive ended with a leaping interception inside the five-yard line, courtesy of senior safety Bill Rotnicki. The momentum kept snowballing from there, as Cobian aired out a 45-yard flea-flicker touchdown throw to junior wideout Will Seelman to account for the final score of 27-10.
The Maroon defense limited the Foresters to a mere 71 yards in the second half and squashed any threats to score. The effort was led by junior Jackson Ross (14 tackles, half sack), senior Henry Winebrake (10 tackles, half sack) and senior Ben Christensen, who submitted seven tackles, a sack, four tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
Offensively, D'Ambrose (151 yards on 22 rushes) and Martinson (121 yards on 13 carries) consistently broke off big gains on the ground. Cobian's final stats featured 15-of-22 passing for 180 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Nepa added five catches for 62 yards and two touchdowns.
UChicago outgained the Foresters by a 480-277 margin, including 300-165 on the ground (6.3 yards per carry average). The Maroons totaled 23 first downs and punted just twice.
That first win keyed a 6-1 finish to the season, during which UChicago outscored its opponents by a total of 243-79.
"The focus for the week was to improve and we achieved that goal," Wilkerson said. "The win was important for the confidence of the team as we continued the journey the remainder of the season."