Tartans steamroll Bison in final home game
On an ideal day to celebrate the individual, the Tartans reminded us just how much of a team sport football really is.
From a distance, Travis Sivek and Aaron Lewis carried Carnegie Mellon to Saturday’s 44–6 thrashing of the Bethany Bison in their regular season home finale. Sivek — the leading rusher in the University Athletic Association (UAA) — not only tied a career-best four-touchdown game, but the junior became just the second running back in school history to top the 1000-yard mark for a single season. And while his name will be the only one listed in the record books, Sivek did not see his achievement as a personal mark.
“I just would like to give a lot of credit to the other [running] backs and the offensive line,” Sivek said, who, upon learning that he had reached the milestone, rushed over to thank his offensive linemen. “I’ve always known it’s such a team game — the greatest team game — and honestly, without them there is no way I would have gotten this record.”
On defense, the day appeared to be a coronation for Lewis. The senior, who on October 26 was named one of 17 national finalists for the Draddy Award, an honor that recognizes exceptional athletic and academic achievement, snagged two interceptions, broke up two other passes, and did his best impression of an option quarterback during the day’s most exciting (despite the Tartans’ 36-point lead at the time) play: a 98-yard return of a blocked extra point. But he too spread the praise around.
“Our defensive line had unbelievable pressure the entire day,” Lewis said. “[Bethany’s quarterback] could never set up and make his reads and throw the ball. So when you’re getting balls thrown around, you have the opportunity to make a play. Thankfully I was able to make them when they were there. But our line [and] our underneath coverage was great. That frees us up to do our job. We didn’t even have to worry about the run as a defensive backfield because we knew that the front five would take care of it.”
Scoring touchdowns on their first four possessions, the Tartans, who last week won their first UAA championship since 1997, built a 28–0 lead late in the second quarter. After junior Colby Whitman put the finishing touch on a 10-play, 62-yard opening drive with a three-yard touchdown run, Sivek capped each of the next three drives with short rushing scores of his own.
The scoring streak briefly paused after a Doug Facemyer interception late in the second quarter, but Whitman charged in for his second touchdown on the final Tartan possession of the first half to send Carnegie Mellon into halftime with a 35–0 lead.
Carnegie Mellon’s offensive output surfaced, in part, thanks to a defense that stepped up nearly every time Bethany threatened to crack the scoreboard.
Despite giving up 232 yards through the air, Carnegie Mellon’s defense managed to keep the Bison scoreless through three-plus quarters. Before Lewis personally ended one Bethany drive with his fourth interception of the season, the defense stifled the Bison on consecutive fourth-down attempts inside Tartan territory early in the first quarter.
“You always want to bend, not break,” Lewis said. “We knew they had some playmakers — a couple of really good receivers —and the quarterback threw a really good ball. We knew that an offense that throws it that much is bound to make some plays. It was just important for us to limit those big plays, and when the time came, people made the stops when we had to.”
Following halftime, the Tartan offense picked up right where it left off. At the beginning of the third quarter, an eight-play, 60-yard drive culminated not only with the Tartans pushing their lead to 42–0, but Sivek’s two-yard touchdown romp that propelled him over the 1000-yard plateau. Sivek’s fourth score on the day also gave Carnegie Mellon its fifth touchdown in six possessions.
“We think we have a very strong running attack. We had success with it early,” Lackner said about a ground game that not only included 139 yards on 23 carries from Sivek, but compiled 254 rushing yards. “Now [Bethany] throws the ball well, and we felt that driving the football and running time off the clock leaves less time once we got ahead.”
At the start of the second half, three consecutive three-and-outs, followed by Lewis’ second interception as Bethany was approaching the Tartan red zone, kept the Tartan defense in line for a third shutout on the season. Early in the fourth quarter, however, Bethany senior quarterback Matt Blumer hooked up with wide receiver Milton Joyner for a 27-yard touchdown pass to inch the Bison to a marginally better 42–6.
Although the shutout was lost, team-defense earned the unit a measure of redemption on the ensuing extra point attempt. Junior defensive lineman Michael Reggie blocked kicker Rob Miele’s kick and Lewis recovered the football. Then, after charging up field for 10 yards, he pitched the ball to senior linebacker James Rogers, who dashed the remaining 68 yards for an electrifying, albeit superfluous, two points.
“It’s a very exciting play when you’re up. It just shows that we never really quit,” Lewis said.
Rogers’ two-point conversion finalized the lopsided contest as the 44–6 victory vaulted the Tartans to 9–0 on the season: the only record that concers the team.
“We’re not into personal stats — we’re into team stats, we’re into winning football games,” Lackner added. “But I’ve always said good things will happen when your team performs and your team wins.”