2016 CWRU Football Season Recap

2016 CWRU Football Season Recap

Behind a record-setting running attack and a stalwart defense, the Case Western Reserve University football team put together its winningest season since 2011, and claimed a share of the University Athletic Association Championship in 2016.

The Spartans finished the 2016 season with a 9-1 overall record, marking just the sixth time in the program's history that the team has won nine or more games in a campaign.  Case Western Reserve went 7-1 in Presidents' Athletic Conference games to finish second in the league, the team's best finish since rejoining the conference as an affiliate member in 2014.  In addition, the Spartans finished 2-1 in UAA contests to tie Carnegie Mellon and Washington University (Mo.) for the conference title, the sixth in the history of the Case Western Reserve football program.  The team received votes in both the final D3football.com and AFCA Top-25 polls.

Case Western Reserve's strength on offense was its running game, which emerged as one of the top rushing attacks in Division III during the year, behind junior quarterback Rob Cuda, junior running back Jacob Burke and a veteran offensive line with junior tackle Ryan Merlau, junior guard Ryan DeMarinis, junior center Gage Blair, senior guard Dante Capicchioni and sophomore tackle Steven Bachie.  The Spartans rushed for 2,579 yards as a team, blowing past the previous rushing record of 2,195 yards, set during the 1984 campaign.  The team's 257.9 rushing yards per game ranked as the 14th-best in Division III in 2016, with Burke (1,065 yards) recording the fourth-most yards on the ground in a single season by a Spartan , and Cuda (908 yards) accounting for the eighth-most rushing yards by a Spartan in a campaign, and the most ever in a season by a CWRU quarterback.

Adding to the Spartans' offensive prowess was an air attack that accounting for 240.0 yards per game, with senior receiver Brendan Lynch recording the second-most receiving yards in a single season by a Spartan with 1,049.  The end result was an offense that averaged 39.2 points per game, the 26th-best mark among Division III teams and the second-highest ever by a Spartans' team.

Following the season, Cuda was selected as the UAA Offensive Player of the Year, becoming just fourth player in the program's history to claim the honor, joining Brandon McDowell (2002), Dave Kallevig (2004) and Dan Whalen (2007, 2008 and 2009).  In addition, the Spartans' coaching staff, led by Head Coach Greg Debeljak, was named the UAA Coaching Staff of the Year, marking the sixth time in the program's history the coaching staff has received the award.

Meanwhile, the Spartans battled through a number of injuries on the defensive side of the ball to remain one of the top units in the PAC, allowing just 18.7 points per game, the second-lowest mark in the conference and 37th-best in all of Division III.  Senior cornerback and co-captain Nick Kwon proved to be a rock in the secondary, earning D3football.com All-South Region Second Team honors and All-PAC and All-UAA First Team recognition.  Junior insider linebacker Justin McMahon started all 10 games and led the team with 76 tackles during the year, while junior outside linebacker Chanan Demery led the team with three forced fumbles and four interceptions, as the Spartans ended the year ranked 37th in Division III and third in the PAC with 15 interceptions as a team.  On the defensive line, Case Western Reserve was bolstered by the emergence of sophomore Cameron Brown, who earned All-PAC and All-UAA honors during his first year of playing collegiate football, after leading all Spartan players with 4.5 sacks and 13.5 total tackles for a loss.

Case Western Reserve won its first nine games of the 2016 season, the team's longest winning streak since the 2009 campaign.  After opening the season at home with a 45-17 win over UAA-rival Chicago, the Spartans went on the road to defeat Grove City 55-0, the second-largest margin of victory in a game in program history, as Lynch matched a program record with 222 receiving yards in the game.  Another program single-game record was matched the following week, when Burke rushed for four touchdowns during a 35-7 win at Waynesburg, capping off a 3-0 month of September for the Spartans.

Case Western Reserve carried their September momentum into October, topping Saint Vincent at home 53-28, Bethany on the road 37-14, and Thiel 48-21 for the team's Homecoming game.  After a hard-fought home win over Geneva, 16-14, the Spartans offense broke out for one of the best performances in the program's history in St. Louis against Washington University (Mo.).  En route to a 56-38 win that clinched the UAA title for CWRU, the Spartans collected 707 yards of total offense, including 435 rushing yards, the second-highest total in a game in program history.  Cuda led the team in the game with a career-best 191 rushing yards, while completing 20-of-33 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns.  Burke added 164 yards on the ground and four touchdowns during the game.

The following week proved to be the most exciting game of the season for the Spartans, as the team overcame a 19-point deficit late in the third quarter to defeat Westminster College 26-22 on the road, keeping their hopes for a PAC Championship and a berth to the NCAA playoff field alive.  Touchdown passes from Cuda to sophomore wide receiver Justin Phan and Lynch helped to spur the comeback, pulling the Spartans back within a field goal with 9:44 to play, and Burke scored the go-ahead touchdown on a one-yard run on fourth down to give CWRU the lead with 4:25 left in the game.  Westminster threatened one final time, driving to the Spartans' three yard line, but McMahon recovered a fumble off an exchange on a handoff, clinching the win for Case Western Reserve.  However, the Spartans' winning streak and its season would come to an end the following week with a 26-21 loss to Carnegie Mellon in the 31st-Annual Academic Bowl, dashing the team's hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA playoffs.

The Spartans were ranked as high as 21st in the D3football.com Top-25 poll during the year, and were featured in the organization's top-25 for three-straight weeks.  In addition, Case Western Reserve made its first appearance in the AFCA Top-25 since the 2010 season, and was ranked as high as 20th during the campaign.  

Following the season, both Kwon (second team) and Blair (third team) received D3football.com All-South Region honors, while both were also joined on the All-PAC and All-UAA First Teams by Lynch.  Twelve CWRU players received All-PAC honors in 2016, while 21 Spartans were named to the All-UAA teams.

In addition to the team's success on the field, a number of players were recognized for their academic achievements as well during the 2016 campaign.  Lynch and Kwon were each selected as CoSIDA Academic All-Americans, with the former earning first team honors, and the latter claiming a spot on the second team.  Joining the duo on the Academic All-District team was Capicchioni, while Kwon was also named the PAC SAAC Scholar Athlete of the Month for November.  Earning UAA All-Academic honors during the year were junior linebacker Andrew Banathy, sophomore offensive lineman Jack Blanton, senior linebacker Tim Briercheck, sophomore defensive lineman Tyler Bushman, junior safety Cody Calhoun, Capicchioni, Demery, senior defensive lineman Tyler Doty, sophomore linebacker Matt Gallagher, senior quarterback Stephen Guenther, Kwon, Lynch, senior linebacker Zach Lyon, sophomore defensive lineman Brian McNamara, senior center Robbie Sabatelle, junior kicker Weston Salerno and sophomore linebacker David Traganza, and senior cornerback Owen Williams.

The Spartans earned the following honors during the 2016 football season:

 

D3football.com All-South Region Team

Nick Kwon

Kaneohe, Hawaii / Mid-Pacific Institute

Cornerback

Second Team

Gage Blair

Elyria, Ohio / St. Edward

Center

Third Team

 

All-Presidents' Athletic Conference

Gage Blair

Elyria, Ohio / St. Edward

Offensive Line

First Team

Nick Kwon

Kaneohe, Hawaii / Mid-Pacific Institute

Defensive Back

First Team

Brendan Lynch

Sarver, Pa. / Freeport Area

Wide Receiver

First Team

Cameron Brown

Westlake, Ohio / Westlake

Defensive Lineman

Second Team

Jacob Burke

Johnstown, Ohio / Northridge

Running Back

Second Team

Ryan DeMarinis

Western Springs, Ill. / Westwood (Mass.)

Offensive Line

Second Team

Adrian Cannon

Lake View, N.Y. / Frontier Central

Defensive Back

Honorable Mention

Dante Capicchioni

Birmingham, Mich. / Seaholm

Offensive Line

Honorable Mention

Rob Cuda

Bartlett, Ill. / South Elgin

Quarterback

Honorable Mention

Chanan Demery

Woodbridge, Va. / Potomac

Linebacker

Honorable Mention

Justin McMahon

Mentor, Ohio / Mentor

Linebacker

Honorable Mention

Ryan Merlau

Java Center, N.Y. / Pioneer

Offensive Line

Honorable Mention

 

University Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Year

Rob Cuda

Bartlett, Ill. / South Elgin

 

UAA Coaching Staff of the Year

Head Coach

Greg Debeljak

Assistant Coaches

Dereck Slesh Offensive Coordinator/ Recruiting Coordinator), Warren Miller (Defensive Coordinator/ Inside Linebackers), John Pont (Wide Receivers/ Passing Game Coordinator), Ben Lolli (Defensive Backs/ Special Teams Coordinator), Conor Reilly (Defensive Line), Dave DiCarlo (Quarterbacks), Jim Stephens (Outside Linebackers), Tyler Schovanec (Running Backs) & Mark Murray (Offensive Line)

 

All-UAA

Gage Blair

Elyria, Ohio / St. Edward

Center

First Team

Cameron Brown

Westlake, Ohio / Westlake

Defensive Lineman

First Team

Patrick Crossey

Pittsburgh, Pa. / Plum Senior

Strong Safety

First Team

Rob Cuda

Bartlett, Ill. / South Elgin

Quarterback

First Team

Ryan DeMarinis

Western Springs, Ill. / Westwood (Mass.)

Guard

First Team

Chanan Demery

Woodbridge, Va. / Potomac

Outside Linebacker

First Team

Nick Kwon

Kaneohe, Hawaii / Mid-Pacific Institute

Cornerback

First Team

Brendan Lynch

Sarver, Pa. / Freeport Area

Wide Receiver

First Team

Justin McMahon

Mentor, Ohio / Mentor

Inside Linebacker

First Team

Justin Phan

Atlanta, Ga. / Greater Atlanta Christian

Punt Returner

First Team

Wide Receiver

Second Team

Jacob Burke

Johnstown, Ohio / Northridge

Running Back

Second Team

Adrian Cannon

Lake View, N.Y. / Frontier Central

Cornerback

Second Team

Dante Capicchioni

Birmingham, Mich. / Seaholm

Guard

Second Team

Alex Habeeb

Avon, Ohio / Avon

Outside Linebacker

Second Team

Ian Henderson

Detroit, Mich. / Detroit Country Day

Defensive Lineman

Second Team

Jason Lockamy

Apex, N.C. / Apex

Defensive Lineman

Second Team

Ryan Merlau

Java Center, N.Y. / Pioneer

Tackle

Second Team

Steven Bachie

Berea, Ohio / Berea-Midpark

Tackle

Honorable Mention

Daniel Fabiniak

Marietta, Ga. / Lassiter

Free Safety

Honorable Mention

 

D3football.com Team of the Week

Steven Bachie

Berea, Ohio / Berea-Midpark

Offensive Line

Nov. 1

Gage Blair

Elyria, Ohio / St. Edward

Offensive Line

Nov. 1

Cameron Brown

Westlake, Ohio / Westlake

Defensive End

Oct. 25

Dante Capicchioni

Birmingham, Mich. / Seaholm

Offensive Line

Nov. 1

Ryan DeMarinis

Western Springs, Ill. / Westwood (Mass.)

Offensive Line

Nov. 1

Brendan Lynch

Sarver, Pa. / Freeport Area

Wide Receiver

Sep. 20

Ryan Merlau

Java Center, N.Y. / Pioneer

Offensive Line

Nov. 1

Justin Phan

Atlanta, Ga. / Greater Atlanta Christian

Returner

Sep. 6

 

PAC Player of the Week

Cameron Brown

Westlake, Ohio / Westlake

Defense

Oct. 24

 

PAC Rookie of the Week

Patrick Crossey

Pittsburgh, Pa. / Plum Senior

Sep. 19, Nov. 7

Cameron Brown

Westlake, Ohio / Westlake

Oct. 10

 

UAA Athlete of the Week

Cameron Brown

Westlake, Ohio / Westlake

Defense

Oct. 10, Oct. 24

Rob Cuda

Bartlett, Ill. / South Elgin

Offense

Oct. 17, Oct. 31

Chanan Demery

Woodbridge, Va. / Potomac

Defense

Sept. 27, Oct.3

Justin Phan

Atlanta, Ga. / Greater Atlanta Christian

Special Teams

Sep. 6, Oct. 10 

Jacob Burke

Johnstown, Ohio / Northridge

Offense

Sep. 27

Adrian Cannon

Lake View, N.Y. / Frontier Central

Defense

Oct. 31

Patrick Crossey

Pittsburgh, Pa. / Plum Senior

Defense

Nov. 7

Brendan Lynch

Sarver, Pa. / Freeport Area

Offense

Sep. 19

 

CoSIDA Academic All-America

Brendan Lynch

Sarver, Pa. / Freeport Area

Wide Receiver

First Team

Nick Kwon

Kaneohe, Hawaii / Mid-Pacific Institute

Defensive Back

Second Team

 

CoSIDA Academic All-District

Dante Capicchioni

Birmingham, Mich. / Seaholm

Offensive Line

Nick Kwon

Kaneohe, Hawaii / Mid-Pacific Institute

Defensive Back

Brendan Lynch

Sarver, Pa. / Freeport Area

Wide Receiver

 

PAC SAAC Scholar-Athlete of the Month

Nick Kwon

Kaneohe, Hawaii / Mid-Pacific Institute

November

 

The following were the Spartans leaders during the 2016 season:

 

Passing Yards

Rob Cuda

2,328

Passing TDs

Rob Cuda

19

Rushing Yards

Jacob Burke

1,083

Rushing TDs

Jacob Burke

16

Receptions

Brendan Lynch

67

Receiving Yards

Brendan Lynch

1,049

Receiving TDs

Brendan Lynch

12

Tackles

Justin McMahon

76

Sacks

Cameron Brown

4.5

Tackles for a Loss

Cameron Brown

13.5

Interceptions

Chanan Demery

4

Forced Fumbles

Patrick Crossey, Chanan Demery

3