Tartan football wins All-Academic Bowl for second year

Junior wide receiver Tommy Mansfield makes a catch and powers through a defender to make a play for his team.
 (credit: Courtesy of CMU Athletics) Junior wide receiver Tommy Mansfield makes a catch and powers through a defender to make a play for his team. (credit: Courtesy of CMU Athletics)

This Saturday, the Carnegie Mellon football team traveled to Cleveland, Ohio to face off against Case Western Reserve University in the 31st Annual Academic Bowl. The game counted toward standings in both the University Athletic Association (UAA) and the President’s Athletic Conference (PAC), and the Tartans were victorious for the second year in a row and the tenth time in the history of the matchup, taking the game 26–21. The thriller of a game saw junior running back Sam Benger become Carnegie Mellon’s all-time leading rusher, with 4,243 yards so far in his career. The win puts the Tartans’ final regular season record at 7–3, with a 6–2 record in the PAC and 2–1 in the UAA.

Even though the Tartans were victorious by the game's end, it started off with Case Western Reserve setting the tone. After what would end up being the longest drive of the game for either team, the Spartans completed an 11-yard touchdown pass and the extra point to take the first lead of the game. They continued to hold that lead until a few minutes into second quarter, when the Tartans finally found the rhythm in their offense with a relatively fast drive. They charged down the field in just under two minutes, and eventually found the endzone with the help of a four-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Alex Cline to senior running back Zach Cree. This score and the ensuing extra point tied the game at 7–7 and the Tartans saw their chance to take over the game and take down the then-undefeated Spartans.

On the Tartans’ first drive of the second half, they used up almost four full minutes of game time while driving 59 yards down the field, capped off by a 21-yard field goal from senior placekicker Gabe Renna. This score gave the Tartans their first lead of the game at 10–7, but they weren’t even close to done scoring. It took the Tartans almost five minutes to regain possession, but once they did they scored almost immediately. Benger found a hole in the Spartans’ defense on a run play with six minutes left in the third quarter, and he was off to the races to put the Tartans up 17–7. At this point it seemed like Carnegie Mellon would continue to steamroll the opposition, but Case Western Reserve had other ideas. With just under four minutes to play in the third quarter, the Spartans put together an explosive drive of their own and found themselves in the endzone after a 37-yard run. This score brought the Tartans’ lead to only three points, and it was anyone’s game at this point.

The fourth quarter was quite similar to the previous quarter, with both teams trading scores while the Tartans maintained their small lead from Renna’s earlier field goal. Carnegie Mellon was the first to strike in the fourth quarter with a quick drive that lasted only one and a half minutes but ended with a one yard run from Benger for his second score of the game and the final touchdown of the game for the Tartans. The Spartans then had to fight against a formidable Tartan defense to move the ball down the field on their next drive. They did, but it took twice the plays and twice the time of the Tartans’ previous score. The Spartan running back punched it in from the one-yard line, but it still wasn’t enough to put his team in the lead or even tie the game. The Tartans held on for a little bit more with the score at 24–21. That would be the final score of the game for the Spartans, but the final nail in the coffin came with 17 seconds left in the game as the Tartans corralled their opponent into their own endzone and eventually came up with a safety by senior defensive lineman Jack Fagan for an extra two points. When the clock finally ticked down to zero, the Tartan sideline erupted in celebration, and with good reason. After a hard-fought game against a previously undefeated opponent, the Tartans finished their season on a high note.

Benger ended the game with 158 rushing yards on 31 carries, and junior wide receiver John Prather led the receiving core with 178 yards — his fifth 100-yard performance of the season. He also broke the school record for single-season receiving yards with 1,011 on the season. Cline recorded 266 yards and a touchdown of his own while completing 19 of 29 passing attempts. Cree also finished with a career-best five catches for 49 yards along with his touchdown.

Stanley Bikulege led the defense with 13 tackles and one sack, while senior Brian Khoury and junior Kyle Brittain each had nine tackles. Khoury also recorded a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery, and his counterpart in the secondary, senior Samer Abdelmoty, had an interception at the end of the game to put it away for good.

The Tartans may be able to continue their season if the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) selects them to be a part of the 2016 ECAC Division III Football Fest. That announcement is set to take place on Monday, Nov. 14 at 12 p.m.