No. 25 Spartans Fall to #13/14 Union 24-21 in NCAA First Round

Colt Morgan reaches for a touchdown against Union in the first round of the NCAA Playoffs.
Photo credit Stephen Nadler

The 25th-ranked Case Western Reserve University football team was unable to maintain the momentum of a strong first half, as the Union College Dutchmen outscored the Spartans 21-0 in the second half to claim a come-from-behind 24-21 win in the first round of the 2019 NCAA Division III Championships in Schenectady, New York on Saturday afternoon.

With the loss, the Spartans ends their 2019 season with a 9-2 overall record.  Union, which improved to 11-0 on the campaign, will face Salisbury in the second round next Saturday.

Junior wide receiver Colt Morgan finished the game with 14 receptions (one short of the program single-game record) for 175 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Sophomore quarterback Drew Saxton completed 64.9% (24-of-37) of his passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.  Junior running back Zach Hall added 63 yards on the ground for the Spartans.

CWRU defense held Union running back Ike Irabor, who entered the game ranked 22nd in Division III in rushing yards, to just 70 yards in the game.  Junior linebacker Skyler Wadas led the team with eight tackles and an interception.

The Spartans opened the game with a time-eating eating 16-play, 60-yard drive, but ultimately came up without any points on the drive after a missed field goal.  The game remained scoreless through the first quarter, but CWRU opened the second period with a 10-play, 80-yard drive, capped off by a 30-yard touchdown pass from Saxton to Morgan to give CWRU a 7-0 lead.  Morgan caught five passes for 57 yards on the scoring drive.

On Union's next drive, Wadas picked off a third down pass attempt, the first of his career, returning it 46 yards to the Dutchmen 15-yard line.  Saxton found Morgan on a slant route on the next play, and the receiver dove into the end zone for his second score of the game, as CWRU extended its lead to 14-0 with 6:23 to play in the half.  After a Union field goal with 2:17 remaining in the half cut the Spartans' lead back to 11 point, Saxton and the Spartans drove 68 yards downfield in just 1:49, and sophomore Donald Day III ran the ball in from three yards out with 22 seconds remaining in the half, putting the Spartans in front 21-3 by the break.

CWRU outgained Union 234-97 in the opening half of the game, led by Morgan's 11 catches for 143 yards during the first two periods of play.

However, the tide turned in the second half of the contest, as Union would pull closer in the third quarter on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Will Bellamy to Griffin Beal with 5:20 left in the period after a Spartans' fumble.  With 10:35 left in the game, Bellamy found Beal in the end zone again, this time with a 16-yard pass, but CWRU stopped the ensuing two-point conversion to maintain a five-point advantage.  However, the Spartans would be unable to add on to their lead further, and Union grabbed their first lead of the game with 2:32 to play on Bellamy's third touchdown pass of the half, this time a 36-yard throw to Andre Ross Jr.

CWRU had two final chances in the game, but could not convert on fourth down on either drive, as Union was able to hold on for the win.

With his performance on Saturday, Morgan finished the 2019 season with 1,186 receiving yards, breaking the single-season record of 1,165, previously held by Zach Homyk.  He also fell just one reception shy of Homyk's single-season record of 90, while his 15 receiving touchdowns this year rank only behind his program-record setting total of 18 last year.

The loss completes one of the most successful seasons in the program's history for Case Western Reserve.  The Spartans claimed their second Presidents' Athletic Conference Championship in the last three years, and the first outright conference title in program history.  The playoff berth was the fifth in the program's history.