Concordia Chicago edges Maroons football 27-26

CHICAGO, Ill. -- A thrilling back-and-forth game ended in favor of the visitors as Concordia University Chicago rallied with a late touchdown and stymied the game's final drive to edge the University of Chicago football team 27-26 on Saturday.

The Maroons even their record at 1-1. The Cougars stay undefeated at 2-0.

Concordia got on the board first on its second drive of the game. Chicago punter Jeff Sauer booted a 54-yard punt to pin the Cougars at their own seven-yard-line. On third down, CUC hooked up a 62-yard pass play and ran it into the end zone from seven yards out to cap the 93-yard drive.

The hosts scored on their first drive of the second quarter. Sauer came through with a 42-yard field goal to make it 7-3. Two drives later, a 14-yard punt by Concordia gave Chicago prime field position to set up its next score. Running back Ian Gaines carried the load and broke through for a 21-yard touchdown run to make the score 10-7 Chicago.

The Cougars answered right back with a long kickoff return to their own 47-yard-line. On fourth down, Concordia went for it and ran for 10 yards. After drawing a pass interference, quarterback Jake Koehler zipped in a touchdown pass to Jamal Thomas from 19 yards to go up 14-10.

Chicago made it 14-13 with its final possession of the half. A 32-yard hookup from quarterback Kevin Shelton to wide receiver Dee Brizzolara set up another Sauer field goal, this time from 36 yards. The Maroons defense held strong at the end of the quarter as cornerback Vincent Beltrano intercepted a hail mary pass as time expired.

A good kickoff return by Beltrano started things right for Chicago in the third quarter. Once again, Sauer came through when the drive stalled out and hit a 35-yard field goal to put the Maroons up 16-14.

After Sauer missed left from 46 yards later in the third quarter, the senior kicker came right back early in the fourth quarter and nailed his fourth field goal of the night with a 31-yarder.

Three-straight run plays for big yards put Concordia back onto Chicago's side of the field. Koehler's quarterback keeper went 21 yards to get within striking range and Andrew Maddox finished it off with a 10-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the visitors up only one point at 20-19.

Two tough runs by Chicago running back Zak Ross-Nash put the offense into CUC territory. Shelton then threw a deep bomb to Brizzolara, who made a highlight-reel catch with his defender all over him for a 39-yard touchdown. The extra point regained the lead for Chicago at 26-20.

The see-saw battle of momentum swung back to the Cougars on very next possession. In need of a third-down conversion, Koehler pulled out one of the night's biggest plays with a 36-yard completion to Thomas. Concordia ran five-straight run plays to get into the red zone. Then Koehler found Thomas again, this time for an 18-yard touchdown with 3:50 remaining in the game.

Down one point, Beltrano came up big again in the return game. The freshman ran the kickoff back 52 yards to the Cougar 43-yard-line. Shelton tried to thread the needle on third down, but he was intercepted at the 13-yard-line. Concordia then ran out the clock to clinch the victory.

Both teams had success running the ball. Chicago gashed the Concordia defense for 203 rushing yards and a 5.5 yards per carry average. The Cougars ran for 4.6 yards per carry for a total of 166 yards. Gaines was the workhorse in the back field, carrying 26 times for 163 yards and one touchdown. Maddox led the Cougars with 82 yards on 15 carries and Koehler was effective as well with 77 yards on 11 rushes.

Shelton completed 12 of 32 through the air for 201 yards. The senior had one touchdown and one interception. Brizzolara was the main beneficiary with four catches for 134 yards and a touchdown.

For the Cougars, Koehler threw 19-for-35 for 250 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Both scores went to Thomas, who ended up with nine catches for 171 yards.

Defensively, Maroons linebacker Alex Dzierbicki was all over the field with 13 tackles. Joe Tripolitakis added eight tackles while Brandon Bolock and Schuyler Montefalco tallied seven tackles each. Beltrano picked off two passes to go with his five tackles. Steven Murphy chipped in four pass breakups in the secondary.

The Maroons will head out on the road next Saturday with a 6 PM game at Elmhurst College.