Football crushes Case Western behind resurgent offense and steel-curtain defense
Improving their overall and University Athletic Association records to 7-2 and 2-0, respectively, and their win streak to six games, the Red and Green find themselves in a position similar to the 2010 season. That year, the Bears had the same record and win streak but concluded the season with a loss to the University of Chicago, ending the Bears’ playoff hopes. After the convincing win against Case Western, the team is confident in its chances to clinch a playoff bid this time around.
“We feel like we’re on top of the world right now, and our team put on something special today,” senior defensive lineman Nelson Nwumeh, who recorded eight tackles with 3 1/2 for loss and two sacks, said. “This win is just a great morale booster for all the hard work that we’ve been doing in practice. We want to play at a high level of intensity, and we certainly showed that against Case.”
Averaging eight points and four turnovers in the last two games, the Bears’ offense turned things around starting in the first half, scoring on four of the first six possessions for a total of 20 points at the half and recording no turnovers in the game. Senior quarterback Eric Daginella took advantage of the Spartans’ deep coverage with short completions.
“The key was to not force anything and just take what the defense gave us,” Daginella, who completed 17 of 32 passes for 171 yards and threw a touchdown pass, said. “Our offensive linemen had great games, so we were really able to do whatever we want, both running and passing. We had a great week of practice, so we expected an efficient game.”
On the Bears’ fourth scoring drive, with less than a minute left in the second quarter, Daginella electrified the crowd on a quarterback draw play, showing off his speed to evade the Spartans’ defensive backs and sprint 51 yards into the end zone.
“Our guys did a great job of blocking up front, and that created a lot of space for me to run,” Daginella said. “I made a couple of guys miss, and all I could think about was getting a touchdown.”
While the offense suffered its fourth injury to a running back when sophomore Alex Graham went down early in the game, sophomore Cody Ratermann and freshman Austin Smestad shouldered the weight of the running game for the Bears, picking up 160 yards on 26 carries. On the other hand, the return of junior wide receiver Tim Bartholomew, who had been injured, helped the Bears’ passing game. Bartholomew made four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown.
“We’ve been battling with injures, but we’ve had guys who’ve stepped up for us,” Kindbom said. “I was just really happy, not just about the effort that I saw but about the performance. The way that we made plays this week on offense came from a great week of practice, and the defense fed off of that energy.”
That energy proved to be vital as Wash. U.’s defense recorded its second shutout of the season and allowed only 116 yards through the air and 37 yards on the ground. According to junior linebacker Fade Oluokun, the Bears’ focus on creating pressure from the edge and middle proved to be key in stopping Case Western’s reliance on screen passes and its running attack.
“We knew we had to get penetration, and our defense did a pretty good job of reading the line,” Oluokun said. “We knew their tendencies on certain downs from studying film, and that’s why we were so dominant in creating pressure.”
The Red and Green’s defense dominated on third-down conversions, forcing the Spartans to fail on 11 of their 12 attempts, which kept the Spartan offense out of rhythm all day. Nwumeh believes that the defense’s aggressive mindset made the Bears dominant in short-yard situations.
“I think a lot of guys are playing at a high level of intensity, and that just comes from hard practices,” Nwumeh said. “Guys are playing like it’s going to be their last game. Hopefully, this is an omen of what’s to come if we make it to the playoffs.”