Tartans defeat Case Spartans to win annual Academic Bowl

The annual Academic Bowl between Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve University is supposed to be a reminder that two scholarly universities are also capable of excellence on the football field.

But the Tartans have been proving their football erudition ever since the season opened in early September. And with Saturday’s 20–10 victory at Case Field, the Tartans grabbed their first University Athletic Association (UAA) victory of the season, moving to 6–0, and began to make their claim as the conference’s elite team.

“It’s a big win on the road for us at their Homecoming,” Tartan head coach Rich Lackner said. “So I thought our kids performed very admirably.”

The Tartans — who defeated Case 23–20 last year on a field goal as time ran out — opened up the game with a familiar lengthy drive that ate up time and put points on the scoreboard. A nine-play drive that took 9:13 to cover 89 yards ended when junior running back Travis Sivek reached the end zone from one yard out for his sixth rushing touchdown of the season.

Case immediately responded and narrowed the gap to 7–3 with a long drive that netted three points via Brian Calderone’s 27-yard field goal.

While short, consistently productive runs have been the offense’s signature for years, when the Tartans retook possession, they looked to a different source for yardage but achieved the same result.

On second-and-three from their own 24, senior quarterback Kevin Mulkern dropped back and found senior wide receiver Mark Davis down the middle of the field. The explosive scoring strike, Davis’ first score of the season, marked Carnegie Mellon’s fourth touchdown in three games that covered at least 50 yards.

The 13–3 advantage held up through halftime thanks in part to — another Tartan trademark this season — a turnover. After allowing a first-quarter field goal, the defense forced punts on Case’s next three drives, limiting the Spartans to just 18 yards on nine plays.

And when Case took possession near midfield late in the second quarter, senior linebacker James Rogers sacked Spartan quarterback Angelo Mirando, stripped the ball, and recovered the fumble, ending any chance of Case cutting the 10-point deficit.

The Spartans opened up the second half by threatening Carnegie Mellon’s lead, but Rogers and the defense again took the air out of the Spartans’ efficient, pass-heavy offense. After Case drove to the Tartan 36-yard line, junior linebacker Trent Sisson stripped running back James Rosenbury, and Rogers fell on the fumble for his second recovery on the day.

“A lot of [Saturday’s] game was change of possession,” Rogers said, who recorded eight tackles and one sack. “There were a lot of key times in the game where things could have gone one way, but our defense stepped up and took the momentum away from them.”

The ability to force turnovers and convert mistakes into points was critical to the undefeated first half of the season.

Heading into week six, the Tartans had forced nine turnovers and scored off seven of the ensuing drives (six touchdowns, one field goal).

Following Rogers’ recovery, the Tartans ran the ball seven consecutive times to march 64 yards for their third score. Sivek, who totaled 104 yards on 29 carries, capped the drive with his second one-yard touchdown on the day. Junior running back Robert Gimson — also a weekly threat to break the century mark — carried the ball 16 times for 93 yards.

“When we needed to get it done, the offensive line put forth the effort,” senior running back Jon Cakert said. “I think especially Travis and Robert really found the holes and did what had to be done, and that’s pretty much what wins you games.”

With a 20–3 lead halfway through the third quarter, the defense continued to bend but not break against a Spartan offense that averages 22 points and 219 yards passing per game.

After Sivek’s second touchdown, Case drove to the Tartan five-yard line but gambled on fourth-and-goal, choosing to forgo the field goal attempt and go for a touchdown. Senior nose tackle Mike Reggie sacked Mirando at the nine-yard line to force a turnover on downs.

Two series later, after a blocked punt gave Case another chance deep in Carnegie Mellon territory, the defense again clamped down. Senior linebacker Terry Bodnar intercepted quarterback Dan Whalen and returned the pick 60 yards to the Case 32.

The two offenses traded interceptions on the next two series, and Case scored a quick touchdown on two plays late in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 20–10. But the combination of four turnovers and the Tartans’ 11:36 time of possession in the fourth quarter alone sealed a sixth straight win heading into the crucial three-game conference portion of the schedule.

“I think the biggest thing was to reestablish ourselves into the second half of the season,” Cakert said. “We felt that everything we had accomplished was great, but we really had to get it done. The ball was in our court and we had to establish ourselves in the UAA. We hadn’t proven anything yet. [Saturday] I think we did a great job of that.”
The next conference test will be noon on Saturday when the Tartans host the University of Chicago, a program that defeated the Tartans 35–6 last season.

“We have a pretty big score to settle with Chicago,” Rogers said. “The most important thing this year is to come out with our best foot forward and really take it to them.”