Tartan football falls to conference rival in a heartbreaker

Senior defensive lineman Jack Fagan fights a defender in the loss to Washington University of St. Louis at home. (credit: Courtesy of CMU Athletics) Senior defensive lineman Jack Fagan fights a defender in the loss to Washington University of St. Louis at home. (credit: Courtesy of CMU Athletics)

The Carnegie Mellon football team opened up their season against Washington University in St. Louis on Saturday. In a hard-fought matchup, the Tartans fell to the Bears 41–34 in overtime, falling to 0–1 overall and in University Athletic Association (UAA) standings.

The Tartan offense took the field first. After going three and out, a 54-yard punt by junior punter and kicker Tyler Kohman put the defense in a good position. The Bears tried to pick up the pace by going no-huddle, but the Tartan defense stopped them in their tracks. After taking a delay of game penalty, junior quarterback Bryan Jangro nearly made the first down himself on a scramble, but fell just short of the first down. After two great stops by the Tartans, Washington University accelerated, getting two quick first downs before senior safety Malcolm Guya stopped their progress with an interception, setting up the Tartan offense with great field position. After two plays of nothing for the offense, junior wide receiver John Prather hauled in a pass for the Tartans’ first first down of the day, and junior running back Sam Benger took advantage of the momentum, running all the way to the end zone and putting the Tartans up 7–0.

On the next drive, the Tartan defense once again shut down Washington University. Benger made a few first down runs, as the Tartan offense dominated the line of scrimmage. On third down, senior wide receiver Matt Forjan made a diving catch for a critical first down conversion, allowing Prather to haul in the next pass for a touchdown, going up 14–0. The Tartan defense once again pressured the Bear offense, and junior inside linebacker Sean Graff made an interception deep in Washington’s territory. Benger brought the Tartans to the goal line before taking it in himself after a few more plays, putting the Tartans up 21–0. Washington University caught a break as the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, giving the Bears the ball at their 35–yard line, but the defense once again shut them down.

In the second quarter, Washington got the ball back quickly, and went to work at trying to cut the Tartan lead down. The Bears made a deep pass, getting into Tartan territory, and another pass quickly brought them to the goal line. Offsetting penalties removed a touchdown pass for Washington, forcing them to settle for a field goal and cutting the Tartan lead to 21–3. On the next drive for the Tartans, Jangro completed a deep pass to get to Washington’s side of the field, but the Tartans were unable to go much further. The Bears began approaching with a more tempered offense, running the ball for decent chunks of yardage. Still, Washington tried for some deep passes after running out of patience, and the Tartan defense was able to cover well. The Bears once again caught a break as the Tartans fumbled on their next possession, and Washington went deep for a touchdown, making the score 21–10.

The Tartans went back to work, with Benger giving the Tartans a bit of breathing room after a poor kickoff return. A pass from Jangro got the Tartans to the other side of the field, but a tripping penalty on the next pass put an end to the drive. Kohman pinned the Bears within their 10–yard line, and the Tartan defense was able to keep them from gaining much traction. Jangro gave the ball back to the Bears on his next pass. Washington marched down the field toward the goal line, but the Tartans forced the Bears to settle for a field goal as the 21–13 score turned the early blowout into a one possession game. At the end of the half, the Tartans hurried to the other side of the field, managing to give Kohman a chance to make a field goal. The kick sailed right of the post, and the Tartans went into halftime with the 21–13 lead.

The start of the second half went fantastic for Washington University. A 78-yard run got them a touchdown early, bringing the game to a slim 21–20 Tartan advantage. The next drive saw the Tartan offense picking up the pace, with Prather taking the Tartans to the Bears’ side of the field, but Jangro once again threw an interception after his pass missed his receiver’s hands. The defense bailed the offense out of the difficult position, allowing the offense to get the ball back with the lead. This time, the Tartans relied more on running to drive down the field, getting to the goal line with only one pass on the drive. The Tartans made a field goal, pushing their lead to 24–20. The Bears then proceeded to march down the field, scoring a touchdown and taking their first lead of the game at 26–24. The Tartan offense fizzled on their next possession, but the Tartan defense got the ball back quickly. The Tartans made it to the other side of the field before the third quarter ended.

The start of the final quarter saw the Tartans fail to convert on third down, but a penalty for roughing the kicker gave the offense another shot. Jangro scrambled to bring the Tartans to the red zone, and Benger kept pushing through Washington’s defense before finally getting the touchdown to take back the lead at 31–26. The Bears marched back to the Tartans’ side of the field, but Guya got his second interception of the day. The Tartans began to wind the clock down, with Benger helping the Tartans take a good amount of time off the clock. Senior kicker Gabe Renna got the Tartans up 34–24 with 3:35 left to play.

The Bears once again got great field position after a kickoff out of bounds, but the Tartan defense came up with another stop. Though the Tartans went three and out, they forced Washington to burn all their timeouts.

The Bears’ final drive saw the Tartans aggressively go after the quarterback, generating incomplete passes but allowing Washington to drive close to the Tartan goal line. The Tartans had chances to finish the Bears off, but Washington scored the touchdown and two-point conversion, forcing overtime at 34–34.

Though the Tartans won the toss, they allowed the Bears to take the football first. The Bears scored another touchdown bringing the game to 41–34. On the Tartans’ turn, Jangro completed a pass to Prather to get a first down, and Benger brought them close to the goal. On a scramble, Jangro took a heavy hit and was forced to leave the game. With Jangro out, everything depended on Benger’s running ability, but the junior wound up one yard short of converting a fourth down, and the door closed on the Tartans’ season opener.

The close loss is tough to swallow. The Tartans outplayed the Bears for quite a long time. They ran up the score early, and showed a great ability to milk time off the clock as the game headed toward the end. Benger became the second best rusher in Tartan history, his career yardage now behind just one other player. The defense was phenomenal at stopping the team that had trounced them 45–24 one year earlier.

Still, the mistakes made throughout the game added up. On three separate occasions, the Tartans tried to return kickoffs instead of take touchbacks at the 25–yard line, losing seven to eight yards of field position each time. Making the field goal at the end of the second half could have prevented the Bears from being in a position to tie the game with only one score. The turnovers provided Washington with much needed momentum as they were trying to claw their way back into the game. These mistakes could prove to be even costlier in future games if they persist.

The Tartans, however, remain a resilient team. Last year, they overcame a 1–3 start to win their last seven games. They have the capability of turning things around quickly, especially with Benger continuing to perform well for the team.
The Tartans will next play against Waynesburg on Saturday, Sept. 17.