Tartan football ends season with win against Rhodes

After the team lost three of its first four games, some football fans may have written off the Tartans. After recently losing two consecutive conference games to Case Western and Washington University, some might have said that their season was over.
While the Tartans will not be eligible for postseason play this year, it was evident from their play against the Rhodes College Lynx (5?5) on Saturday that the Tartans would not sell themselves short.
The Tartans began the game from their own 26-yard line and started off by handing the ball to first-year running back Colby Whitman, who gained seven yards. The following play, a pass by senior Jarrod Highberger, was overthrown. On third down Highberger rushed to the outside and was able to pick up the first down before being knocked out of bounds.
Next, with the speed of both Whitman and Highberger, the Tartans were able to pick up a first down. A 14-yard rush by Highberger moved the Tartans into Lynx territory.
Three plays later, on third and seven, Highberger dropped back to pass, and as he threw the ball, he was hit by Rhodes sophomore linebacker Will Bartholomew, who recorded a sack and forced a fumble. The fumble was recovered by Rhodes senior defensive end Ken Coward, and a footrace ensued. Coward was able to beat several Tartans to the end zone for a touchdown. After missing the point after, Rhodes led the game by six points.
A kickoff return of 11 yards by senior running back Joe Hurley, coupled with a short kick by Rhodes senior kicker Hunter Tigert, gave the Tartans a decent field position. The Tartans, however, were not able to take advantage of it, and after losing one yard on three plays they were forced to punt.
Neither team was able to establish a lengthy drive until late in the first quarter. A 37-yard pass from senior Rhodes quarterback Justin Sealand to sophomore receiver Michael Hatcher, as well as solid contributions on the ground by first-year running back Tyler Lake, led to a 17-play, 78-yard drive that ended with a 25-yard field goal by Tigert, giving Rhodes a nine-point lead.
Highberger finished the game completing none of his four passes ? very out of character ? and as a result, the offense was stagnant.
After the Rhodes field goal, Highberger was replaced by sophomore quarterback Kevin Mulkern, who played well last week against Bethany.
This was the turning point of the game, as Mulkern was able to be an offensive catalyst, displaying both a powerful arm and the ability to pick up yards on the ground.
Mulkern?s first drive resulted in a touchdown. First-year fullback Travis Sivek had 27 yards on the drive, including a ten-yard touchdown run. Mulkern and junior running back Jon Cakert also contributed on the drive, which went for 65 yards. A successful point after attempt by sophomore kicker Nathaniel Greenstein cut Rhodes? lead to two points.
?We felt we needed a change, a spark,? said head coach Rich Lackner, referring to his substitution of Mulkern for Highberger. ?Kevin [Mulkern] stepped in and did a nice job. We were moving the ball well with him, so we decided to keep him in.?
From this point on, the Tartan offense and defense both proceeded to dominate the game. The offense was able to score three more touchdowns as well as a field goal by Greenstein. The defense only allowed Rhodes six more points.
Sivek finished the game with 98 yards and scored three of the four touchdowns; Whitman scored the other. The Tartan ground game netted 264 yards. Solid contributions on the ground ? aside from Sivek?s and Whitman?s ? came from Cakert, who had 69 yards, and Mulkern, who had 56.
Mulkern was also effective in the passing game, completing five of seven passes for a total of 141 yards. Three of these passes went to sophomore receiver Mark Davis, who finished with 119 receiving yards.
Despite fumbling the ball seven times, and losing four of these, the team offense was able to score 31 points.
The defense, which has been the backbone of the team all season, provided another solid game. They gave up only nine points and kept the Lynx to 246 total yards ? 92 on the ground and 154 in the air.
The defensive effort was lead by senior and team captain Adam Lovrovich, who had four tackles as well as one interception and broke up six passes. Lovrovich was one interception away from tying the Carnegie Mellon individual season record for interceptions (seven, set by Andy Helms in 1991).
Meanwhile, the Tartans set a new team record, recording at least one interception in every game of the season.
Senior defensive back Adam Wirth finished the game with one interception, while senior defensive back Adam Bowland had two; in addition, Bowland broke up two passes.
Wirth, junior linebacker Jamie Ploetzner, sophomore safety Aaron Lewis, first-year linebacker Trent Sission, and junior defensive lineman Mike Burnside all finished the game with more than five tackles.
The Tartans concluded their season with a 31?15 win over Rhodes College and a record of 6 and 4. This is the thirty-first consecutive non-losing season for the Tartans.
?The seniors have given us everything we have asked of them. They have been great role models for our younger guys,? said Lackner, reflecting on the last game of the season. ?Their efforts and loyalty to this program have been superb. All of them have had a significant role in our team and they have given us 100 percent at all times. They will be missed.?
?It?s sad [having played my last game],? said Lovrovich. ?This is a great group of guys. It?s the guys I wanted to go out with.?
They certainly went out well.