Spartan football upset Wash. & Jeff 14-10 with Saxton’s and Dahlem’s late-game heroics


Courtesy of CWRU Athletics

Catching a deflected pass from Saxton, second-year wide receiever Noah Cohen’s first career touchdown opened scoring in the first half.

Puneet Bansal, Sports Editor

Though they suffered a beatdown from John Hopkins University in their season opener, the Case Western Reserve University football team has found its groove. After an intense 45-31 win against Waynesburg University on the road, the Spartans escaped with the clutch 14-10 victory against No. 25 Washington and Jefferson College (W&J) on Saturday, Sept. 17.

Coming off the strong win against Waynesburg, Head Coach Greg Debeljak complimented the offense, saying “We ran the ball well and threw it well. We haven’t had a turnover yet this season… We got a lot of guys involved [and] played multiple quarterbacks, so we were happy with the offense.”

Coach Debeljak was quick to address weaknesses on the other side of the field, adding that “defensively in the first half we played extremely well [but] faded as the game went on… I think the defense has the ability to play much better than they’ve shown, and I know they’ll get better each week.”

W&J’s fiery offense certainly demanded defensive fortitude. Coming into Saturday’s game in Cleveland, the Presidents rolled through John Carroll University 35-26 and Saint Vincent College 52-21. In both games, they dominated the passing yards and time of possession while also forcing multiple turnovers.

“They’re a great program, always have been,” said Coach Debeljak. “I think it’ll get down to how it usually does: can we not turn over the ball [and] can we force turnovers? If we can do that, that’ll be the key to win. They’re very good in all aspects of the game… You’re going to have to play very well to beat them.”

In front of a roaring crowd at DiSanto Field, with strong representation for both teams, the Spartans and the Presidents spent most of the first half trading possessions. Stalwart defenses on both sides dominated the game, as CWRU forced nine straight punts through the first three quarters , made 7 sacks and made 9 tackles for loss in the game. 

With 20 seconds remaining in the first half, the Spartans were near the middle of the field facing a second-and-16 hole. Fourth-year quarterback Drew Saxton kept his composure and threw a rainbow to second-year wide receiver Noah Coyne. It was a dangerous pass that bounced off the defender’s shoulder but Coyne miraculously caught it and sprinted into the endzone for the touchdown.

CWRU’s strong defense continued in the second half, limiting W&J to just 24 rushing yards—more than 150 yards less than their season average of 177.0. However, the Presidents were not about to fold to the 7-0 hole and broke through in the fourth quarter. CWRU fumbled the ball following a punt reception. Unfortunately, W&J recovered it at the 17-yard line and capitalized on the mistake with a quick touchdown to even the score at 7-7.

The momentum was on the Presidents’ side now. They immediately forced CWRU to punt it and spent five minutes on the next drive, which culminated in a successful field goal to take the 10-7 lead.

The pressure was squarely on Saxton and the offense. Only 5:20 remained in the game and the Spartans had no choice but to score a touchdown to win or at least a field goal to tie the game. The offense came on the field after a 23-yard return at their own 30-yard line for the most important possession of the evening.

On the first two downs, the Presidents’ defense blasted through the offensive line, swarming Saxton and forcing two incompletions. Fortunately for the Spartans, W&J committed an offside penalty, advancing the Spartans five yards. Saxton threw a quick pass to Coyne for 6 yards to get the first down at the 41-yard line.

Though the Spartans had a fresh set of downs, Saxton wasted no time in capping off the drive. Following the snap, Saxton quickly surveyed the field and saw second-year wide receiver Ethan Dahlem running down the middle of the field. Saxton launched the deep throw and connected with Dahlem, who outran the two defenders for the 59-yard touchdown, making a 14-10 lead.  

The drive lasted just a minute, and now it was up to the CWRU defense to put the clamps on W&J to secure the game. The Presidents quickly reached the Spartan eight-yard line with 2:22 left. However, third-year linemen Kaden Tong and AJ Dudowski sacked W&J’s quarterback on the first down. The rattled offense fumbled the snap and lost two yards. The Spartans continued to press W&J and forced two incomplete passes to bring out the CWRU offense once again.

The teams traded possessions once more before the Spartans ran out the clock to secure the victory.

 Saxton finished with 297 yards on 22-for-32 attempts and was named the Presidents’ Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week. Dahlem’s game-winning touchdown marked the first score of his career to go along with a career-high 108 receiving yards. Coyne finished with 62 yards while third-year wide receiver Riley Knurek notched 74 yards.

On the defensive end, Tong finished with 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble, third-year Marco Toth recorded 2 sacks and a forced fumble, third-year Ryan Cabrera recorded a team high 7 tackles while second-year defensive back Nate Cikalo and third-year linebacker Gabe Troch each added 6 tackles.

The Spartans will now turn their attention to a two-game road trip. On Sept. 24, the team will head to Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania to take on Geneva College. A week later, they will kick off October with a match against Grove City College.