(PITTSBURGH, Pa.) – The Carnegie Mellon University football team hosted Presidents' Athletic Conference (PAC) and University Athletic Association (UAA) rival Case Western Reserve University in the 30th Annual Academic Bowl on Saturday, November 14. The Tartans won a thriller over the 22nd-ranked Spartans, 52-42, snapping an eight game skid to Case Western Reserve, and claimed a share of the UAA championship. The Association title is the first for the Tartans since 2006, the last time the Cardinal and Gray defeated Case Western Reserve.
The win also marked the first for Carnegie Mellon over a top 25 team since D3football.com started a poll in 2003, as the Tartans had lost the previous 10 outings. Carnegie Mellon concludes its regular season with a 7-3 overall mark, including a 6-2 record in the PAC and 2-1 in UAA play while Case Western Reserve ends its season at 7-3, 6-2 and 1-2.
Senior quarterback Andrew Hearon (Tulsa, Okla./Metro Christian Academy) passed for a career-high 298 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for another score. Hearon became the school's single-season leader for touchdown passes and now has 24 on the year. Hearon passed Thomas Hubka's mark of 21 set in 1967. Senior wideout Graham Schilling (Export, Pa./Franklin Regional) was Hearon's favorite target on the afternoon, as he broke his previous single-game record for receiving yards with 207 on nine receptions. Schilling also caught a career-best four touchdowns. Schilling has 794 yards receiving this season and moved into second on the school's single-season charts.
Carnegie Mellon got the scoring started when Hearon capped off the opening drive of the game with an 11-yard touchdown strike to sophomore wide receiver John Prather (Olney, Md./Our Lady Of Good Counsel). On the second play of the six-play, 79-yard drive, sophomore running back Sam Benger (Hingham, Mass.) burst for 58 yards.
Case Western Reserve responded and knotted the score at 7-7 with 9:17 to play in the first quarter. Rob Cuda ran it in from 10 yards away on a quarterback keeper play following a muffed punt by the Tartans.
Hearon's second touchdown pass came at the 3:19 mark of the first quarter, which put the Tartans on top 14-7, when he found Schilling on a 43-yard catch and run.
Aaron Weisberg tied the game two minutes later on a 29-yard interception return for a touchdown. The pick-six came on the Tartans first play after holding the Spartans to a three-and-out.
Carnegie Mellon added two second quarter scores to grab a 28-14 lead with 4:09 to left in the half. The first came on Hearon's recorder breaking touchdown pass when the signal caller connected again with Schilling. This time the tandem connected for a 13-yard score. Hearon then added his fourth score of the game when he rushed in from 15 yards out on fourth-and-inches.
Case Western Reserve added a late first half touchdown on Cuda's second rushing score of the game. His 2-yard run made the score 28-20 where it remained following a blocked extra-point by junior Jack Fagan (Milford, Pa./Delaware Valley).
The Tartans first score of the second half was setup by senior linebacker Nico Comsa's (Connellsville, Pa.) interception and return to the Spartans 43-yard line. Five plays later, Hearon hit Schilling in the middle of the end zone to make the score 35-20.
Cuda pulled the Spartans to within a score once again, but this time through the air when he found Zech Medved for a 25-yard touchdown. The score cut the deficit to 35-27, but the tandem of Hearon and Shilling struck again. Their fourth touchdown, a 22-yard score, pushed the score to 42-27.
The teams' rushing attacks exchanged touchdown runs to leave the score at 49-34 with 13:52 to play in the game. Case Western Reserve's score was a 1-yard run by Adam Hochman while the Tartans score was a 5-yard run by Benger.
With 6:29 to play in the fourth, Cuda threw his second touchdown of the afternoon, finding Bryan Erb from 10 yards out. The score completed a 13-play, 65-yard drive that took just over three minutes off the clock. Hochman cut the lead (49-42) down to seven with a successful two-point conversion run.
On the next drive, the Tartans were able to run off almost five minutes, with the end resulting with a 36-yard field goal by junior placekicker Gabe Renna (Carlsbad, Calif./La Costa Canyon) to seal the victory.
For the second time this season, Carnegie Mellon eclipsed 600-yards of total offense, as they outgained the Spartans 627-472. The rushing attack accounted for 329 yards with the nation's leading rusher, Benger, finishing with 237 yards on 39 carries and a touchdown. It was Benger's ninth 100-yard rushing game of the season and fifth 200-yard outing. For Hearon, besides throwing for 298 yards, the senior also rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown.
Comsa led the defense with a season-best 11 stops, five solo. The senior also forced a fumble, had an interception and recorded two pass breakups. Sophomore Stanley Bikulege (Greer, S.C./Saint Joseph's Catholic) ended with eight tackles and a forced fumble. The Tartans totaled 11 pass breakups and forced four fumbles while recovering two.
Cuda threw for 332 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the game, while running for another 61 yards and two scores. Erb ended the game with eight receptions for 117 yards while Ethan Albers had 109 yards on seven catches.
Carnegie Mellon will learn if its season continues on Monday, November 16 when the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) announces its field for their 2015 Division III Bowl Championships.