SPORTS

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September 20, 2010

Early success has football thinking big

Restoring the football glory of yesteryear, especially when it comes in the form of the original Heisman trophy resting at the entrance to Ratner and a bevy of antiquated pictures of old-time Maroons, has always been a problem for the University of Chicago’s football team. But this may be the year to move past those leather helmets.

Although no Heismans will be given out, a second-place preseason ranking in the UAA and a thrilling come-from-behind victory in the team’s initial game portend an exhilarating season for the Maroons.

“Expectations for the season are sky-high,” fourth-year receiver Clay Wolff said. “We have the talent and the drive, so it will all come down to us taking care of business.”

After finishing 5–4 last year, a distant second in the UAA to perennial favorites Case Western, Chicago seems poised to contend for the conference championship.

The Maroons took care of business in dramatic fashion during the team’s opener against Beloit (1–1) on September 4, driving sixty-four yards down the field in the game’s final two minutes and scoring the go-ahead touchdown with just 43 seconds on the clock to defeat the Buccaneers 28–25.

After falling behind Beloit 13–0 in the first quarter, Chicago soon drew even. A domineering offensive line and standout third-year running back Francis Adarkwa, who ran for 148 yards on 31 carries, led a punishing ground game and allowed the passing game, led by fourth-year quarterback Marshal Oium, to thrive.

A high-scoring first half left the Maroons trailing 19-13; the second half belonged to third-year defensive end Matt Sargent. Collapsing the pocket and penetrating an offensive line that proved no match, Sargent racked up three sacks and forced a fumble on his way to UAA Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Throughout the second half, the Maroon defense surrendered only six points, but as is likely to happen again this season, the game came down to the chemistry and talent of Wolff and quarterback Marshall Oium.

Receiving the ball on their own 36-yard with time running out, the duo executed to perfection on the team’s winning drive.

After connecting on a spectacular 50-yard pass play that brought the Maroons within 11 yards of the end zone, Wolff caught a six-yard pass to score the winning touchdown.

“The coaches called a great play, I saw [Wolff] was single covered on the outside, and I knew before the ball was even snapped that we were going to score the game-winning touchdown,” Oium said.

The dual success of Oium and Wolff, who visited the University together as prospies and were later roommates, may determine the Maroons’ fortune.

“The chemistry that we have developed on and off the field for the past four years shows in times like [the Beloit game] with a minute left and the game on the line,” said Oium.

The Maroons’ home opener against Concordia (1–1) the following Saturday, September 11, didn’t give the team half the trouble that the Beloit match did. Chicago put up 42 points in the first half alone, and coasted to a 56–24 win over Concordia.

That blowout victory won’t be remembered as Chicago’s most impressive outing this year, but avoiding potential stumbling blocks like Concordia will be crucial if the Maroons are to meet their own high expectations, which include going down in the history books as the best Chicago squad in a long, long time.

“I expect this team to be winningest team in the modern era,” Oium said. “I feel like we deserved to be picked to win the UAA instead of being picked to finish second.”

Becoming the winningest team in the modern era will require besting head coach Dick Maloney’s 1995 Maroons, who went 8–2 on the year, though only 2–2 in the UAA en route to a third-place finish in the conference. Were the Maroons to post a 9–1 record this year, it would give them an outside chance at making the NCAA tournament, something no Chicago football team has ever done.

How likely is 9–1? We’ll have a much better idea next weekend, after the Maroons play 22nd-ranked Wabash (1–0), their only opponent this season currently in D-III’s top 25. Wabash swamped Chicago 48–10 last season, and the Maroons will be long shots to win this time around, but if they can keep the game close, it could be a sign of very good things to come.

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