2017 CWRU Football Season Recap

2017 CWRU Football Season Recap

The Case Western Reserve University football team experienced one of the most successful seasons in program history in 2017, reaching the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs for just the second time in program history, while winning a share of the Presidents' Athletic Association Championship and claiming the University Athletic Association title outright, following a perfect regular season.

The Spartans finished the campaign with an 11-1 overall mark, and recorded the fifth undefeated regular season record in program history with a 10-0 mark.  The Spartans claimed their first-ever PAC Championship, going 8-0 in league play and sharing the conference title with Washington and Jefferson College, while going 3-0 in UAA games to win their second-straight and seventh UAA title overall, including their fifth outright championship.

Case Western Reserve finished the year ranked 13th in the final D3football.com Top-25, their highest ranking since checking in at ninth in the final regular season poll of the 2009 season, and the team's highest ranking ever in the organization's final poll of the year.  CWRU was also ranked 15th in the final America Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Top-25.

The Spartans were led by a large and talented senior class, including quarterback and UAA and PAC Offensive Most Valuable Player Rob Cuda, AFCA All-America Second Team center Gage Blair, and D3football.com All-South Region running back Jacob Burke.  In addition, seven seniors started for a Spartans' defense that finished the year ranked among the best in Division III in numerous categories.

The Spartans' 2017 campaign ultimately hinged on one play late in their final regular season game against Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Tartans held a four-point lead and had possession of the football, and were poised to run out the clock for the win.  However, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Carnegie Mellon forced the Tartans to punt from their own 41-yard line with 28 seconds remaining in the game.  CWRU senior Zach Lyon was able to block the ensuing punt, which was scooped up by junior wide receiver Justin Phan, and returned for a touchdown.  After a late field goal by the Tartans tied the contest and sent the game into overtime, Phan caught a go-ahead five-yard touchdown pass and the defense stopped Carnegie Mellon on fourth down to clinch the victory.

Following the win over Carnegie Mellon, the Spartans earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Playoffs, the fourth bid in program history and first since the 2009 season, and were sent to Bloomington, Illinois to face then-11th ranked Illinois Wesleyan University.  In the game, senior running back Aaron Aguilar battled rain and heavy snow to rush for a career-high 136 yards and three touchdowns against a defense that ranked fourth in Division III in rushing yards allowed per game and had allowed just one rushing touchdown entering the contest.  Meanwhile the Spartans defense would post its first shutout of the season, as Case Western Reserve topped the Titans 28-0 to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Case Western Reserve's playoff run would ultimately come to an end the following week against the University of Mount Union, as the Spartans suffered a 45-16 setback to the eventual National Champions.

The Spartans were dominant throughout the regular season, tallying at least 30 points in all 10 of their contests, and registering at least 40 points seven times.  The offense averaged 39.9 points per game on 438.1 yards per contest, including 187.0 rushing yards and 251.1 passing yards per game.  Cuda paced the offense, completing 55.5% of his passes for 2,835 yards and 29 touchdowns with eight interceptions, while rushing for 506 yards and seven additional scores.  Burke ran for 1,110 yards and 17 touchdowns, becoming just the second player in program history with two 1,000-yard rushing seasons, and the first ever to reach the milestone in back-to-back years.  Phan finished the campaign with 773 receiving yards, seven touchdowns and 62 catches, the seventh-most in a single season in CWRU history.

CWRU topped Thiel 63-28 on October 14th, matching the second-highest single game point total in program history, while matching program records with 28 points in the second quarter and 49 points in the first half.  Cuda matched an individual program record in the game, accounting for six touchdowns during the contest.

Other individual game records matched during the year included Phan's 15-reception effort against Chicago in the team's season-opening 34-14 win and Burke's four rushing touchdowns in a 42-10 win over Grove City in week two.  Senior wide receiver Zak Hurd set a new program record after averaging 24.15 yards per reception in 2017, and senior kicker Ben Carniol's 87 points and 60 extra points were each the best in CWRU history by a kicker.  As a unit, the Spartans' offense set program records for points (479), total offense (5,313 yards), first downs (274), touchdowns scored (65) and largest point differential (265).

Defensively, the Spartans held their opponents to under 20 points seven times during the campaign, and allowed just 17.8 points per game on 289.6 total yards, including 121.8 rushing yards and 167.8 passing yards per game.  Senior linebacker Justin McMahon paced the squad with 88 total tackles (including 39 solo and 8.5 tackles for a loss), with senior safety Cody Calhoun totaling 73 tackles and senior linebacker Andrew Banathy contributing 72 tackles and a team-leading 12.0 tackles for a loss.  Junior defensive end Cameron Brown had a team-best 4.5 sacks, and sophomore safety Patrick Crossey led all Spartan players with four interceptions.

In the Spartans' final home game of the year, a 41-10 win over Westminster on November 4th, CWRU Head Coach Greg Debeljak claimed the 100th victory of his career with the Spartans.  Debeljak, who ended the campaign with a 102-43 record, was named the PAC Co-Coach of the Year for the first time over his career.  In addition, the Spartans' coaching staff repeated as the UAA Coaching Staff of the Year for the seventh time in the program's history.

In addition to their success on the field, 24 Spartans were named to the PAC Fall Honor Roll, while 17 team members were selected to the UAA Fall All-Academic team.  Both Calhoun and sophomore tight end Adam Zybko received CoSIDA Academic All-District Honors, while Calhoun went on to be named the 19th CoSIDA Academic All-America First Team Selection in program history, and the sixth member of the CWRU football team ever to win the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship.

The following Spartans earned awards during the 2017 season:

 

AFCA Coaches' All-America

Gage Blair

Elyria, Ohio / Elyria

Senior

Center

Second Team

 

D3football.com All-South Region

Gage Blair

Elyria, Ohio / Elyria

Senior

Center

Second Team

Jacob Burke

Johnstown, Ohio / Northridge

Senior

Running Back

Third Team

Rob Cuda

Bartlett, Ill. / South Elgin

Senior

Quarterback

Third Team

 

PAC Most Valuable Player (Offense)

Rob Cuda

Bartlett, Ill. / South Elgin

Senior

Quarterback

 

PAC Coach of the Year

Head Coach

Greg Debeljak

 

All-PAC

Gage Blair

Elyria, Ohio / Elyria

Senior

Center

First Team

Cameron Brown

Westlake, Ohio / Westlake

Junior

Defensive End

First Team

Jacob Burke

Johnstown, Ohio / Northridge

Senior

Running Back

First Team

Rob Cuda

Bartlett, Ill. / South Elgin

Senior

Quarterback

First Team

Justin McMahon

Mentor, Ohio / Mentor

Senior

Linebacker

First Team

Andrew Banathy

Tinley Park, Ill. / Providence Catholic

Senior

Linebacker

Second Team

Cody Calhoun

Columbus, Ohio / Bishop Watterson

Senior

Safety

Second Team

Ben Carniol

Great Falls, Va. / Thomas Jefferson Science & Tech.

Senior

Kicker

Second Team

Ryan DeMarinis

Western Springs, Ill. / Westwood (Mass.)

Senior

Guard

Second Team

Ian Henderson

Detroit, Mich. / Detroit Country Day

Junior

Defensive Line

Second Team

Justin Phan

Atlanta, Ga. / Greater Atlanta Christian

Junior

Wide Receiver

Second Team

Aaron Aguilar

Orange, Calif. / Orange

Senior

Running Back

Honorable Mention

Adrian Cannon

Lake View, N.Y. / Frontier Central

Senior

Cornerback

Honorable Mention

Patrick Crossey

Pittsburgh, Pa. / Plum Senior

Sophomore

Safety

Honorable Mention

Zak Hurd

Perry, Ohio / Perry

Senior

Wide Receiver

Honorable Mention

Zach Lyon

Pittsburgh, Pa. / North Allegheny

Gr. Student

Linebacker

Honorable Mention

Dan Techman

Morgantown, Pa. / Twin Valley

Senior

Defensive End

Honorable Mention

 

UAA Player of the Year (Offense)

Rob Cuda

Bartlett, Ill. / South Elgin

Senior

Quarterback

 

UAA Coaching Staff of the Year

Head Coach

Greg Debeljak

Assistant Coaches

Dereck Slesh, Warren Miller, Ben Lolli, Kevin Burke, Anthony Cicione, Micah Johnson, Mark Murray, Conor Reilly, Jake Schaefer, Jim Stephens & Mike Devereaux

 

All-UAA

Aaron Aguilar

Orange, Calif. / Orange

Senior

Running Back

First Team

Steven Bachie

Berea, Ohio / Berea-Midpark

Junior

Offensive Tackle

First Team

Gage Blair

Elyria, Ohio / Elyria

Senior

Center

First Team

Cameron Brown

Westlake, Ohio / Westlake

Junior

Defensive End

First Team

Jacob Burke

Johnstown, Ohio / Northridge

Senior

Running Back

First Team

Cody Calhoun

Columbus, Ohio / Bishop Watterson

Senior

Safety

First Team

Ben Carniol

Great Falls, Va. / Thomas Jefferson Science & Tech.

Senior

Kicker

First Team

Rob Cuda

Bartlett, Ill. / South Elgin

Senior

Quarterback

First Team

Ryan DeMarinis

Western Springs, Ill. / Westwood (Mass.)

Senior

Guard

First Team

Ian Henderson

Detroit, Mich. / Detroit Country Day

Junior

Defensive Line

First Team

Zach Lyon

Pittsburgh, Pa. / North Allegheny

Gr. Student

Linebacker

First Team

Justin McMahon

Mentor, Ohio / Mentor

Senior

Linebacker

First Team

Zech Medved

Imperial, Pa. / West Allegheny

Gr. Student

Tight End

First Team

Justin Phan

Atlanta, Ga. / Greater Atlanta Christian

Junior

Wide Receiver

First Team

Alex Habeeb

Avon, Ohio / Avon

Senior

Linebacker

Honorable Mention

Zak Hurd

Perry, Ohio / Perry

Senior

Wide Receiver

Honorable Mention

 

NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship

Cody Calhoun

Columbus, Ohio / Bishop Watterson

Senior

 

CoSIDA Academic All-America

Cody Calhoun

Columbus, Ohio / Bishop Watterson

Senior

Safety

First Team

 

CoSIDA Academic All-District

Cody Calhoun

Columbus, Ohio / Bishop Watterson

Senior

Safety

Adam Zybko

Glen Ellyn, Ill. / Glenbard West

Sophomore

Tight End

 

PAC Scholar Athlete of the Month

Cody Calhoun

Columbus, Ohio / Bishop Watterson

Senior

Safety

September

 

PAC Sportsmanship Team

Giuseppe Orsini

Upper St. Clair, Pa. / Upper St. Clair

Senior

Wide Receiver

 

D3football.com Team of the Week

Ian Henderson

Detroit, Mich. / Detroit Country Day

Junior

Defensive Tackle

 

PAC Athlete of the Week

Justin McMahon

Mentor, Ohio / Mentor

Senior

Oct. 23 (Def.), Nov. 13 (Def.)

Jacob Burke

Johnstown, Ohio / Northridge

Senior

Nov. 6 (Off.)

Rob Cuda

Bartlett, Ill. / South Elgin

Senior

Oct. 16 (Off.)

Ian Henderson

Detroit, Mich. / Detroit Country Day

Junior

Sept. 18 (Def.)

Zach Lyon

Pittsburgh, Pa. / North Allegheny

Gr. Student

Nov. 13 (ST)

 

UAA Athlete of the Week

Justin Phan

Atlanta, Ga. / Greater Atlanta Christian

Junior

Sept. 5 (Off.), Nov. 13 (Off.), Nov. 20 (ST), Nov. 27 (Off.)

Jacob Burke

Johnstown, Ohio / Northridge

Senior

Sept. 18 (Off.), Oct. 30 (Off.), Nov. 6 (Off.)

Cody Calhoun

Columbus, Ohio / Bishop Watterson

Senior

Sept. 5 (ST), Oct. 30 (Def.), Nov. 20 (Def.)

Rob Cuda

Bartlett, Ill. / South Elgin

Senior

Oct. 2 (Off.), Oct. 16 (Off.)

Justin McMahon

Mentor, Ohio / Mentor

Senior

Oct. 23 (Def.), Nov. 13 (Def.)

Aaron Aguilar

Orange, Calif. / Orange

Senior

Nov. 20 (Off.)

Ian Henderson

Detroit, Mich. / Detroit Country Day

Junior

Sept. 18 (Def.)

Zach Lyon

Pittsburgh, Pa. / North Allegheny

Gr. Student

Nov. 13 (ST)

Dan Techman

Morgantown, Pa. / Twin Valley

Senior

Oct. 2 (Def.)