College football is full of upsets. No team is safe from losing, no matter how strong of a team they claim to be. Even the University of Mount Union, winners of 112 consecutive regular season games, can lose, as they did this past Saturday.
It should come as no surprise then that the Case Western Reserve University football team is undefeated no longer, after losing to rival Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) 26-21. The Spartans end the regular season with a 9-1 record, finishing 7-1 in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC). The Tartans upset the 21st ranked Spartans, winning the Academic Bowl for the second year in a row.
The loss was not from a lack of trying. Down early in the second half, the Spartans fought until third-year quarterback Rob Cuda’s last-second heave was intercepted by the Tartans, and the clock read triple zero.
Though the Spartans fought hard, they missed a few opportunities that would have potentially turned a loss into a win. After capping off their beautifully executed opening drive with a touchdown, CWRU did not score again until the third quarter.
The Spartans almost scored at the end of the second quarter. They expertly ran a two-minute drill to get just seven yards away from the end zone. Two rushes were unsuccessful in getting the ball over the goal line, and Cuda was sacked on third down. With no timeouts, the CWRU kicking unit ran onto the field as time wound down to try and ensure the Spartans got points before the break. Unfortunately a false start penalty prevented third-year kicker Ben Carniol from even attempting a field goal. The scored remained tied at 7.
“That was a communication mistake by me, that’s totally on me…. [It] obviously played a role in the game, so I feel so bad,” said Head Coach Greg Debeljak, taking all the blame for the missed scoring chance.
In the first two quarters, the Spartans’ defense, led by All-PAC Second Team second-year defensive end Cameron Brown and third-year outside linebacker Alex Habeeb, did an excellent job of limiting the Tartans offensively. CMU scored just seven points in the first half.
The Tartans executed much better after the break, however, scoring on the opening drive of the second half.
The Spartans, already dealing with massive injury troubles, lost five offensive players during the game and simply could not keep up with CMU. Cuda left the game after a hard hit to his leg. He was obviously limping after he returned, but managed to stay in the game. Second-team All-PAC running back Jacob Burke injured his ankle and only returned for one play. Second-year wide receiver Justin Phan hurt his shoulder trying to catch a pass and did not return to action. Two linemen, fourth-year guard Dante Capicchioni and third-year guard Ryan DeMarinis, also got bit by the injury bug.
Debeljak said, “My hat’s off to them for the effort that they gave, because they were certainly less than 100 percent.”
On the second play of the fourth quarter, CMU expanded their lead when running back Sam Benger ran one yard for a touchdown.
Cuda, who would not let his team falter without him, returned to the game in a limited capacity. A 42-yard pass to second-year receiver Hunter Tulloch put the Spartans in the red zone. Four plays later, third-year running back Myles Anthony, replacing Burke, scored on a one-yard run. CWRU still trailed 24-21, but with 11 minutes still left in the game, there was hope.
Later in the quarter, the Tartans, still up by three, held the ball for the most pivotal drive of the game. If CWRU could get a stop, their offense would have the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead.
CMU could not be stopped, however. They drove down field and used up a lot of time in the process. Eventually, the CWRU defense forced a fourth down with two minutes remaining, and the game hung in the balance.
The Tartans’ quarterback dropped back and fired the ball to a tightly covered wide receiver. it clattered to the turf.
A late flag flew onto the field, ruining the minor victory for CWRU. The Spartans were called for pass interference, giving the Tartans an automatic first down. The crowd was furious at the referees. Insults that we cannot print were spat at them as the crowd erupted in communal disgust.
On the field the Spartans did not let the blown call defeat them. They prevented CMU from scoring again, keeping the deficit at three. The stop gave Cuda and the offense the ball back with 30 seconds left to play. Sadly, they were pinned at their own one-yard line. Two plays later, Cuda was sacked in the end zone for a safety.
Even two more points didn’t deter the Spartans. After a successful onside kick attempt was nullified by a penalty, CWRU might have been considered down and out. Yet, they recovered another onside kick and had 11 seconds to go 84 yards. The Spartans’ attempted comeback fell short, as Cuda’s pass was intercepted with time expiring.
Debeljak said, “I couldn’t be any prouder of how we competed…. They gave us everything they had, I just think it was a case where we just ran out of gas from a season that took so much away from us injury-wise…. We have so many guys coming back that we have that potential to be really good again.”
The loss prevents the Spartans from reaching the NCAA playoffs, thus ending their season. But keep your heads held high Spartans’ fans, because your team had an excellent run. They lost just one game all year, claimed a share of the University Athletic Association title and finished second in the PAC. And with most of their players returning next season, look for CWRU to finally make it back to the playoffs next year. All they need to do is avoid an upset.