No. 16 CWRU Falls to Second-Ranked Mount Union 45-16 in NCAA Playoffs

No. 16 CWRU Falls to Second-Ranked Mount Union 45-16 in NCAA Playoffs

A career-day for junior wide receiver Justin Phan was not enough for 16th-ranked Case Western Reserve University at the second-ranked University of Mount Union on Saturday, as the 16th-ranked Spartans saw their season come to an end with a 45-16 loss to the Purple Raiders in Alliance, Ohio.

With the loss, the Spartans ended their 2017 campaign with an overall record of 11-1.  Mount Union improved to 12-0 with the win, and will advance to face 15th-ranked Frostburg State University in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Playoffs.

Phan led the Spartans, catching 12 passes for a career-high 169 yards, his third 100+ yard receiving effort of the season.  Senior quarterback Rob Cuda threw for 245 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for another 81 yards and a touchdown.  Defensively, senior linebacker Zach Lyon finished with a career-high 12 tackles (10 solo), including one for a loss, while senior safety Cody Calhoun added nine tackles (five solo), and senior linebacker Justin McMahon finished with eight (four solo).

The Spartans moved the ball well on the first drive behind a pair of first down runs for Cuda, but ultimately stalled on fourth down at the Mount Union 35 yard line.  The Purple Raiders would take advantage on their first drive of the game, going 65 yards and scoring on a 20-yard pass from D'Angelo Fulford to Justin Hill to take a 7-0 lead with 5:42 remaining in the first quarter.  On the next drive, a pass from Cuda was tipped in the air and picked off by Kollyn Crenshaw, who returned it 27 yards for a score to extend the Purple Raiders' lead to 14-0 with 3:51 to play.  A 24-yard pass from Fulford to Jared Ruth gave Mount Union a 21-0 lead with 9:34 remaining in the second quarter.

Later in the second quarter, Cuda converted a third-and-10 with a 12 yard pass to Phan, and found him again on the next play for 60 yards to the three yard line.  After a first down run by senior running back Jacob Burke put the Spartans on the goal line, Cuda scored on a quarterback sneak, the first rushing touchdown allowed by Mount Union this season, to cut the Purple Raiders' advantage to 21-6 with 8:00 left in the half.  The score would remain the same through the remainder of the half.

The team exchanged field goals in the third quarter, with Louthan kicking a 25-yarder with 11:54 left in the period, and CWRU senior Ben Carniol answering with a 27-yard kick with 4:45 remaining.  However, Mount Union would pull away later in the quarter, when Fulford found Ruth in the flat, who would run it 34 yards into the end zone, giving the Purple Raiders a 31-9 lead with 3:28 to play in the third. 

The Spartans pulled closer with 9:14 left in the fourth quarter on a 24-yard pass from Cuda to senior wide receiver Luke DiFrancesco, who made a jumping catch in the back of the end zone for his third touchdown of the season.  However, the Purple Raiders would respond again, striking on a 37 yard pass from Fulford to Hill with 6:27 to play in the game, and would cap off their scoring with a one-yard run by Fulford.

Fulford threw for 233 yards and four touchdowns in the game, while Jawanza Evans-Morris added 110 yards on the ground for the Purple Raiders.

The loss puts an end to one of the most successful seasons in the history of Case Western Reserve football.  The team match a program record with 11 victories, and reached the second round of the NCAA playoffs for just the second time in program history.  The Spartans claimed a share of their first-ever Presidents' Athletic Conference Championship, and earned the outright UAA Title, the seventh in program history.

It also marked the final game for the Spartans' senior class, which will leave the program as one of the most accomplished groups in CWRU football history.  Together, the group went 30-12 over the last four seasons, including a 20-2 record in the last two years.