Editor’s Note: Reporters from the student newspapers of Case Western Reserve University (The Observer) and Carnegie Mellon University (The Tartan) previewed the 32nd annual Academic Bowl, the rivalry game between the two schools’ football teams. Both previews are printed in both newspapers and online.
“We treat every game like it’s the biggest game of the season,” said fourth-year Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) veteran inside linebacker and co-captain Stanley Bikulege.
As the CMU football team prepares for its last game of the season against Case Western Reserve University, it made no change in routine. Although it would be expected that the decade-long rivalry between the two schools for both football and academics would strike a bit of intimidation into the hearts of the Tartans, the team believed the game was on par with any other.
“We really do the same thing week in and week out,” said fourth-year veteran running back and co-captain Sam Benger. “There’s an old expression about having faceless opponents, and despite the fact that this is a team that we’re rivals with, and although it would seem externally that this would carry extra weight, we’re going to go about our preparation the same way,”
Despite the team’s attempt to treat it like just another game, the game does hold more weight than usual. It will not only be the team’s last game of the regular season, but also could be their eighth win, a mark the Tartans have not accomplished since 2006.
“The fact that we haven’t won eight games during the regular season since 2006 [is significant]. You know, you’re always looking for motivation and reasons to win and that’s certainly a good reason to win this game. To have a winning percentage of 80 percent [is] something to strive for and just another reason to put forth our best effort,” said Head Coach Rich Lackner.
Furthermore, the game will have effects in both the Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) and the University Athletic Association (UAA). In the PAC, CWRU currently sits atop the standings along with Washington & Jefferson, while in the UAA, the winner of the rivalry game will take the title.
Among the many talented athletes who might make the difference for the Tartans, Benger stands as the most imposing figure for opposing defenses to face. He is the program’s all time leading rusher, running for 5,197 yards in 41 career games. Benger currently leads the team in rushing, ranks sixth in the PAC and second in the UAA with 864 yards on 140 carries for an average of 6.2 yards per carry. He has rushed for 58 touchdowns and has six receiving scores for 64 touchdowns in his career. Benger needs one more rushing score to break the school career record. His yardage, along with his 58 rushing touchdowns and 865 carries rank third on the PAC all time list.
The game on Saturday, Nov. 11, will not only take place during CMU’s homecoming week; it is also the 32nd annual Academic Bowl. The rowdy home atmosphere, along with having an extra week to prepare, gives the team an advantage.
“I don’t know if I’d call it pressure but [instead] a better atmosphere: It gets more people here, it makes the game more exciting for us to play in,” said Bikulege. “And having this week off really gets guys ready to get on the field again.”
A win against CWRU would likely qualify the Tartans for a bowl game: A post-season, out of conference game at a neutral site. This would allow the team to play another game and get yet another win under its belt. Regardless of the long-term benefits, beating CWRU is the focus.
“The preparation will be there,” said Lackner. “The enthusiasm will be there. The excitement will be there. It’s just a question of discipline and turnovers and efficiency. The team that outplays the other will win the game.”