Special teams and trick plays foil football team in season finale

Senior wide receiver Tim Kikta makes a move against a Case Western defender. (credit: Jonathan Leung/Assistant Photo Editor) Senior wide receiver Tim Kikta makes a move against a Case Western defender. (credit: Jonathan Leung/Assistant Photo Editor)

The Carnegie Mellon football team opened its final game of the season against Case Western Reserve University on an optimistic note – but ultimately lost 35-32 last Saturday night.

After an impressive Carnegie Mellon defensive stop ended Case Western’s opening drive, senior quarterback Rob Kalkstein connected with junior wide receiver Tim Swanson for a 72-yard touchdown score.

The momentum did not last long, though. Two drives later, on fourth-and-eleven on the Carnegie Mellon 46-yard line, Case Western lined up in a punt formation but shocked the Tartans and pulled off a flea flicker that went for 29 yards and an improbable first down, setting up a tying score for Case.

After that, the momentum really seemed to roll in Case Western’s direction. A lost fumble by Carnegie Mellon’s special teams and impressive kick returns from Case led to a 28–10 deficit by the middle of the second quarter.

The lost fumble was symptomatic of butterfingers in the Carnegie Mellon kick-return teams. Five different kicks were dropped or fumbled on kickoffs, leading to consistently poor field position.

In what turned out to be only a three-point loss, the field position battle probably made the difference.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Tartans alternated between impressive drives and frustrating possessions that stalled at midfield.

Both the aerial attack and the running game were inconsistent; they were often impressive, but sometimes underwhelming.

The offensive line can’t be blamed, however. The blocking was great, and Kalkstein’s blind side was well protected throughout the entire game, thanks to a strong showing from the left tackle senior Alex Copeland.

Copeland wasn’t satisfied with his individual performance, and felt this was a game Carnegie Mellon could have won.

“It’s tough,” he said. “You try and do what you want to do with the offense, put up 32 points, [but] the offense and defense didn’t really sync together, and as a team it’s really tough on all of us. Everybody played well during the season and really tried to do all that they could do, but at the end, it’s tough to see that it didn’t all come together.”

This sentiment echoed a frustrating season in which very few bounces seemed to go in the Tartans’ favor. Copeland continued, “We could have done a lot better this season; we had a lot of close losses.”

The offense did all it could to mount a comeback, including an electrifying final drive capped with a great two-point conversion pass to Swanson. The ensuing onside kick was a 50/50 ball, but Case Western recovered it to seal the game.

On the other side of the football, the defense gave up 35 points, but deserved far more credit.

Drives often started close to midfield, and the Case Western offense was inconsistent, relying on big plays as opposed to consistent positive plays to move down the field.

The defense’s real Achilles’ heel throughout the game was the flea flicker. Flea flickers resulted in both the aforementioned long fourth-down conversion and a touchdown later in the game.

Case Western tried to avoid wherever senior safety Jack Butler was, and with good reason. Whenever he was near the ball, he shut everyone down. It was an unfortunate way for the star’s career to end.

“This season was definitely a heartbreaker,” Butler said. “We had a lot of close games where we kept it tight and we couldn’t pull it out in the end. But I don’t regret coming here; I don’t regret playing here at all.”

It was a cruel ending to some great careers in Carnegie Mellon football. In addition to Butler and Copeland, quarterback Kalkstein ends his distinguished career. His 327 passing yards gave him a total of 5,664 yards for his career, setting a school record.

It was a tough season – one that could have had a wildly different ending based on a few bounces. The 3–7 record doesn’t do justice to a team that consistently played hard and kept games close, but just didn’t have the luck to pull wins out in the end.