Football on a roll, wins first games

Carnegie Mellon’s varsity football team pushed its record to 2–0 with an impressive 28–0 victory Saturday afternoon against Grove City College in Grove City, Pa.

“I’m really pleased. The kids played a great game and the effort they gave was fantastic,” said head coach Rich Lackner.
Not only did Saturday’s output mean that the Tartans will open their home schedule undefeated, but the victory showcased an ability to excel in all three phases of the game: offense, defense, and special teams.

As expected, the running game played a large role in deciding the outcome on Saturday. Carnegie Mellon faced a Wolverine defense that allowed just 2.9 yards per carry last season and an offensive attack that rushed for over 150 yards per game in 2005.

But the Tartans dominated both sides of the ground game against Grove City as they had in the previous week’s 27–6 victory against Hiram College.
As a unit, the offense rushed for 360 yards, highlighted by two junior running backs — Robert Gimson (14 carries, 140 yards, TD) and Travis Sivek (29 carries, 131 yards, TD) — passing the century mark.

Sivek, who pounded out 103 yards and two touchdowns in the second half of last season’s come-from-behind victory over Grove City, moved into fourth place on Carnegie Mellon’s all-time rushing list with 1972 career yards.

The Tartans, who had more than 37 minutes of possession, also threw the ball with great efficiency. Senior quarterback Kevin Mulkern (10 of 13 completions, 118 yards, TD) opened the first drive with a 48-yard completion to senior Mark Davis, and although that drive did not result in points, the play exemplified the Tartans’ balanced attack.

After a first-quarter field goal gave Carnegie Mellon a 3–0 lead, the running game, powered by the offensive line, began to overwhelm the Wolverines’ defense. Touchdown runs on consecutive drives of 70 and 78 yards gave the Tartans a 16–0 lead at the end of the first half.

“If you look at the stats, we sprayed the ball around with Gimson, Sivek, Colby [Whitman], and Jon [Cakert],” Lackner said. “We were very pleased with the balance offensively.”

While the offense ate up the clock in the first half, the Tartan defense held Grove City to just 89 yards with three of four drives consisting of three plays or less.

“For the most part we were very disciplined, and a lot of what they were trying wasn’t working,” said senior linebacker Aaron Lewis (8 tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss), whose second-quarter forced fumble ended a Grove City drive and led to the Tartans’ second touchdown of the game. “There were a few series where they found a few things, but we were able to adjust to it pretty well and shut them down.”

Grove City’s biggest scoring attempt came in the third quarter. Led by first-year quarterback Andrew DiDonato — the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League record holder for passing yards — the Wolverines put together a 16-play, 77-yard drive that led to a first-and-goal at the one. But when senior linebacker Jaime Ploetzer stripped Grove City running back Matt Weil, senior defensive back Jonathan Menhart recovered the ball and preserved the Tartans’ shutout, the first over the Wolverines in 23 years.

“That’s a very cool stat,” Lewis said. “It’s usually been a very close game, but we always try and go for the shutout. And they came close a few times, but you make plays like that fumble on the one-yard line and you’re able to keep the shutout.”

Although the defense will get the praise for the shutout, both defense and offense seemed to feed off each other’s success.

“I thought the defense played good but the offense kept us off the field,” said Ploetzer, who recorded six tackles and a half-sack in addition to a forced fumble. “All the credit goes to them; they controlled the ball.”

In addition to churning out 478 yards of total offense, the unit produced 26 first downs, did not turn the ball over, and converted 10 of 14 third-down opportunities.

“It’s a feather in our cap,” added senior guard J.P. White. “We like to run the ball but to have a balanced attack — coming out early throwing the ball — really got the momentum going.”

Special teams also had a solid performance for a second straight week. Senior kicker Nathaniel Greenstein booted a 25-yard field goal while junior defensive back Jonathan Scholl returned a Grove City punt 35 yards to the Wolverines’ 18-yard line, setting up the Tartans’ final touchdown.

The two early-season wins give Carnegie Mellon a solid start as they open up their home schedule next Saturday against Westminster College. And with three consecutive home games before beginning UAA conference play on October 14, the team knows that there is a long season ahead of them.

“We’re excited but we’re taking it one game at a time,” White said. “We want to carry the intensity we had this week into practice and next week [against Westminster].”