Spartans Edged by Chicago, 31-30, in High-Scoring Season Opener

Bryan Erb (Martin Santek Photography)
Bryan Erb (Martin Santek Photography)

Case Western Reserve University and the University of Chicago combined for over 600 yards in the air on Saturday, and scored 34 points in the fourth quarter alone, but the Spartans fell just short in their season-opening game, dropping a 31-30 decision to the reigning University Athletic Association Champions in Chicago, Illinois.

Making his first career start, sophomore quarterback Rob Cuda guided the Spartans with three touchdown passes and a fourth score on the ground.  He finished the game 21-for-35 for 339 yards through the air and added another 59 rushing yards.  Senior Bryan Erb had four receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown, while senior Ethan Albers had a pair of catches for 74 yards and a score.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Spartans broke through for the opening score of the game on the first play of the second.  Cuda sent a pass down the right sideline to Albers, who would take the ball 67 yards for the touchdown, a career long for the tight end.  Sophomore Ben Carniol converted the extra point to give CWRU a 7-0 lead.

The Maroons would get on the board during the next drive on Karol Kurzydlowski's 23-yard field goal, cutting the Spartans advantage to 7-3 with 10:03 left to play in the first half.

Case Western Reserve extended its advantage to 10-7 with 2:56 left in the half with an eight-play, 48-yard drive, resulting in a 35-yard field goal for Carniol.  Cuda started the Spartans down the field with a 34-yard scramble that brought the ball to the Maroons' 32-yard line, and converted a key first down with an eight-yard pass on third-and-eight to sophomore Luke DiFrancesco, putting the squad in field goal position for Carniol.

However, Chicago responded with time running out in the half, going 65 yards on eight plays in two minutes and 25 seconds during their next possession to tie the game heading into halftime.  Quarterback Burke Moser capped off the drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Cole Thoms, with Kurzydlowski evening the score with the resulting extra point.

The Spartans outgained the Maroons 228-161 in the first half, including a 163-144 advantage through the air, while the CWRU defense limited Chicago to just 17 net rushing yards on 16 attempts during the first two quarters.

After forcing a three-and-out on Chicago's first drive of the second half, Cuda and the Spartans struck again with a 26-yard touchdown pass to running back Myles Anthony, the first catch of the sophomore's career, giving CWRU a 17-10 lead with 10:03 left in the third.

The Spartans went on the attack again late in the third, following a strong punt return from freshman Justin Phan at the end of the third quarter, to give CWRU possession on the Chicago 36-yardline  Senior fullback Adam Hochman converted a key fourth-and-short at the Maroons' 27-yard line during the drive, and on the next set of downs, after a penalty on the Spartans' created a third-and-17, Cuda connected with Zech Medved for 24 yards to the Chicago nine-yard line for the first down.  On the first play of the fourth quarter, Cuda found an opening around the outside of the defense, rushing into the end zone for his third score of the game to push the lead to 24-10.

Chicago once again had an answer for the Spartans with an eight-play, 68-yard drive, capped off by an 11-yard pass from Moser to Syd Reynolds to cut the lead to 24-17 with 11:46 to play.  After a three-and-out for the Spartans on offense, the Maroons drove again, tying the game with a 16-yard touchdown catch by Thoms, his second of the game.

The Spartans took the lead again late in the fourth, on an acrobatic third-down conversion by Cuda, who avoided the Maroons' pass rush, eventually finding Erb open down the near sideline for a 70-yard touchdown pass.  Despite a missed extra point, the Spartans took a 30-24 advantage with just over five minutes left in the game.  The lead was short-lived though, as Reynolds added his second score of the game on a 46-yard reception, with the resulting extra point putting the Maroons up 31-30 with 3:18 left to play.

Case Western Reserve would have one last chance, driving to the Chicago 48 yard line, but was unable to convert a fourth-and-nine, turning the ball over on downs.  With 1:52 left to play and the Spartans without a timeout, Chicago was able to run out the clock to secure the win.

Moser finished the game with 268 yards and four touchdowns for the Maroons, while Chandler Carroll ran for 70 yards on the ground.

The Spartans will have next weekend off, returning to action with their home opener on Saturday, September 19th at 7:00 p.m., hosting PAC opponent St. Vincent College at DiSanto Field.  CWRU's home-opening game will also feature a fireworks display following the contest.