Around this time last year, the UChicago football team faced off against Lake Forest College. Heading into the game, the Maroons seemed the underdogs with a 6-4 record to Lake Forest’s 8-2. The Maroons trailed 7-0 in the beginning, but a pivotal blocked punt return by first-year defensive back Daniel Cho changed the course of the game by the end of the first. His impressive score, accompanied by a successful field goal, evened the playing field. The Maroons took this momentum and ran with it, keeping the Black Bears on a tight leash, only allowing them one more touchdown. The final score was an impressive 33-13.
This year, Lake Forest and UChicago are meeting once again; this time, for the third-place title in the Midwestern Conference. Both the Maroons and the Black Bears hold winning 6-3 records. Although the teams are evenly-matched, my faith is securely placed in the gloves of the Maroons. Cho and fellow second-years Vittorio Tricase and Matthew Beninati were excited to discuss their upcoming match against Lake Forest College.
Two of the three Maroon losses this season occurred in their first two games, and three of the team’s six overall wins occurred in the last three games. It’s no surprise that the team’s increasing momentum is a hot topic. Running back Tricase said, “[The team] definitely did not start the season off on the note we would have liked, but with that said, our motto has been to ‘finish.’ Our momentum really comes from that motto, and the bitter taste that our slow start gave us motivates us even more.” After a few games, he said the offense really took off and gave the team a good change of pace. Tricase considers the offense to be an “air raid offense”—an attack centered on passing the ball up the field rather than running.
While the Maroons’ statistics speak for themselves, all three players emphasized that it is due to the united effort of each player that the team succeeds. An interesting concept raised by Tricase is the “effort of the 1/11.” To explain the concept, he said, “Everyone doing their 1/11 on the field completes us as a team. Offense, defense, and special teams—everyone has really bought into it, and when someone’s number has been called up, they have stepped up. This is what will allow us to succeed against Lake Forest as well. As long as everyone does their 1/11, the outcome will be what we hope for.” Defensive back Beninati reaffirmed this notion when he said that the “keys to past successes would be finally clicking as a team.” He echoes Tricase: “When we start to play our best on offense, defense and special teams, there’s not many people that can beat us.”
In the Black Bears’ last game, fourth-year quarterback Jagan Cleary set a school record with six touchdown passes in one game. Moreover, he had no interceptions allowed and totaled 270 yards passed. The Maroons’ “air raid offense” will not be enough to slow down their opponents’ noteworthy offense. Cleary’s record-breaking statistics make Tricase’s “1/11” concept more important than ever.
If the Maroons hope to take third place in the Midwest Conference, the team must work hard together and play with purpose. For Cho, this motivation comes from the soon-to-be graduates. He repeatedly stated how different the team will be without its “heart and soul,” the fourth-years. He gave a special shout out to fourth-year defensive lineman Mac Hendry. According to Cho, “Day in and day out, Mac is the hardest working player. He’s a good friend of everyone and honestly the heart and soul of the team, just because of how much character he has.”
This game is bigger than a conference title. It’s an opportunity to make the fourth-years proud and an opportunity to honor their work ethic. It’s an opportunity to prove that the Maroons know how to “finish.” In all facets of the game, the Maroons have something to fight for.
The football team will play its final game of the conference season against Lake Forest this Saturday at 12 p.m. at Stagg Field.