Football triumphs over Rochester in season opener

CWRUs fourth-year quaterback Drew Saxton scans the field for an opening.

Courtesy of CWRU Athletics

CWRU’s fourth-year quaterback Drew Saxton scans the field for an opening.

Gaurav Hardikar, Reporter

The Case Western Reserve University Spartans got off to a great start to the season this past Saturday, defeating the University of Rochester Yellow Jackets 27-20 on the road.

The Spartans jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. The stubborn defense broke the Yellow Jackets’ offense immediately, forcing a quick three-and-out on the opening drive of the game. On the Spartans’ first possession, fourth-year quarterback Drew Saxton marched the offense down the field with stunning efficiency. The three-play scoring drive was only 1 minutes and 9 seconds long and was highlighted by a 27-yard pass from Saxton to third-year wide receiver Lucas DeCaro, which culminated in a 16-yard touchdown pass to third-year wide receiver Aidan Cain.

Rochester’s retaliatory attempt resulted in failure on a fourth-down conversion attempt after an incomplete pass from second-year quarterback Sean Casey well into CWRU territory. Following the Rochester turnover on downs, Saxton once again found the endzone on a 12-yard touchdown strike to second-year running back Sean-Michael James. Saxton continued his elite play on this drive, completing 5 of 7 pass attempts for 77 yards, including an 18-yard pass to DeCaro and a 28-yard pass to third-year running back Antonio Orsini. Kicker Brett Callow nailed the extra point attempt again to put the Spartans up 14-0, minutes before the first quarter came to a close.

Rochester quickly turned the ball over on downs again to begin the second quarter after a 5-yard loss on fourth-and-2. The Spartans were unable to capitalize, going three-and-out and punting the ball back to the Yellow Jackets. On the ensuing drive, Casey threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to fourth-year wide receiver Noah Shinaman to put Rochester on the board.

CWRU answered immediately with a 78-yard scoring drive. Orsini racked up 34 rushing yards during the drive and running back Sean Goodman, Jr. found the endzone on a 1-yard run.

Down 21-7, Rochester continued to struggle as second-year defensive back Marco Toth intercepted Casey’s pass on the first play of the drive. However, the Yellow Jackets defense was able to stonewall the Spartans, allowing no completed passes and forcing a turnover on downs through a 1-yard tackle for loss on fourth-and-2.

The second half then got underway and CWRU’s offense continued to struggle after cooling off from their red-hot start. The Spartans and Yellow Jackets traded quick three-and-out drives before the Spartans were able to make a little headway on their second possession of the half. Saxton found his rhythm again and connected with Cain for 14 yards and fourth-year wide receiver Colt Morgan for 39 yards. The drive set up a 28-yard field goal try, though unfortunately, Callow missed wide left giving Rochester the ball back at their own 20-yard line.

The Yellow Jackets marched 41 yards downfield before turning the ball over on downs yet again. From their own 39-yard line, the Spartans, led mainly by Saxton and Orsini, took the ball to the house. Orsini amassed 23 yards on 3 carries and Saxton hit second-year wide receiver Riley Knurek on a 23-yard pass for the touchdown. Though Callow’s extra point kick was blocked, CWRU held a commanding 27-7 lead midway into the third quarter.

Casey and second-year running back Daniel Papantonis put Rochester on their backs on the following drive, as Papantonis recorded 15 rushing yards on two carries and Casey put up 68 passing yards on 4 of 6 passing attempts, including an impressive 45-yard touchdown pass to Papantonis.

With a 27-14 lead, the Spartans’ next possession took the game into the fourth quarter. Following a punt, the Yellow Jackets attempted to close the gap and made it 59 yards downfield. The hopeful run was cut short when Papantonis was tackled by second-year linebacker Ryan Santoro on fourth-and-2, resulting in yet another turnover on downs.

CWRU was relatively quiet on the next drive, continuing the game’s puzzling trend of failed fourth-down conversion attempts in situations where a field goal try could have been more successful.

Rochester then had the ball at their own 29-yard line with a 13-point deficit and only 5 minutes, 46 seconds remaining. Papantonis continued to be a driving force for the Yellow Jackets, putting up 30 yards on the ground and another 25 in the air. Second-year running back Will Varney capped off the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run, but a failed extra-point attempt left the Spartans with a 7-point lead late in the fourth quarter.

In a desperate attempt to get the ball back with the hope of tying the game in the last minute and a half, Rochester tried an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. To their dismay, they were unable to recover the ball, giving the Spartans the chance to run out the clock and win the game.

CWRU’s defense was marked by several key performances as well. Second-year linebacker Sean Torres forced a fumble, second-year defensive lineman AJ Dudowski recorded an 11-yard sack, and third-year defensive back DJ Wolf put up a game-high 13 total tackles.

The Spartans look to continue their solid start to the season on the road at Waynesburg University on Saturday, Sept. 11. Last weekend, Waynesburg suffered a devastating 49-6 loss at Muskingum University, so the Spartans will face another team of Yellow Jackets hungry for redemption.