Tartans Win 31st Academic Bowl with 26-21 Victory at No. 21 Case Western Reserve; Benger Becomes All-Time Rushing Leader

Tartans Win 31st Academic Bowl with 26-21 Victory at No. 21 Case Western Reserve; Benger Becomes All-Time Rushing Leader

(CLEVELAND, Ohio) – The Carnegie Mellon University football team traveled to Presidents' Athletic Conference (PAC) and University Athletic Association (UAA) rival Case Western Reserve University for the 31st Annual Academic Bowl on Saturday, November 12.  For the second straight season, the Tartans won a thriller over the 21st-ranked Spartans, 26-21, and claimed a share of the UAA championship. The Association title marks the 10th in program history. The contest counts towards both the PAC and UAA standings.   

Junior running back Sam Benger (Hingham, Mass.) ended the game with 158 yards on 31 carries and a pair of touchdowns. He became the school's all-time leader rusher, as he now has 4,243 yards for his career. The junior surpassed Travis Sivek's mark of 4,182 career yards rushing from 2004-07.

Junior wide receiver John Prather (Olney, Md./Our Lady Of Good Counsel) led the Tartans with his fifth career 100-yard outing, as he finished with eight catches for a career-best 178 yards. Prather became the school's single-season receiving holder with 1,011 yards and passes Tim Kikta's record of 954 yards set in 2012.

Carnegie Mellon totaled 432 yards of offense to Case Western Reserve's 451. Sophomore quarterback Alex Cline (Dublin, Ohio/Dublin Jerome) finished the game with 266 yards and a touchdown completing 19-of-29 attempts. Senior Zach Cree (Vanderbilt, Pa./Connellsville Area) hauled down a career-best five catches for 49 yards and a score.

For the second straight week, junior Stanley Bikulege (Greer, S.C./Saint Joseph's Catholic) led the Tartans defense with 13 tackles including a sack. Senior defensive lineman Brian Khoury (Davenport, Iowa/Bettendorf) and junior outside linebacker Kyle Brittain (Largo, Fla./Clearwater Central Catholic) each finished with nine tackles. Khoury added a sack, forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Spartans quarterback Rob Cuda ended the game with 309 yards of total offense. The junior signal caller threw for 186 yards and a score while rushing for 123 yards and another touchdown.  
Case Western Reserve took the opening kickoff and drove 74 yards on 12 plays to take an early 7-0 lead. Cuda founded Connor Hall on a middle screen on third down for an 11-yard catch-and-run.

Carnegie Mellon got on the board five minutes into the second quarter when Cline found Cree on a 4-yard touchdown strike to knot the score at 7-7.

On the first drive of the second half, the Tartans took their first lead of the game, as senior placekicker Gabe Renna (Carlsbad, Calif./La Costa Canyon) capped of a nine-play, 59-yard drive with a 21-yard field goal. Renna's kick put the visitor's ahead 10-7 four minutes into the third quarter.

The Cardinal and Gray extend the lead to 17-7 five minutes later. Benger broke through the right side for a 45-yard touchdown scamper.

The Spartans wasted little time responding. Case Western Reserve pulled within three at 17-14 with 3:46 left in the third frame when Cuda sprinted up the middle on a quarterback draw from 37 yards away.

Benger put the Tartans back up by 10 with a 1-yard touchdown run with 14:25 to play in the game. The junior's run made the score 24-14 and marked his 23 rushing touchdown on the season, breaking his school record mark of 22 set last year.

On the Spartans ensuing possession, they marched 67 yards on eight plays to once again pull within three, 24-21. Myles Anthony plowed one yard up the middle for the score.

With 30 seconds to play, the Spartans kept the Tartans from putting the game out of reach when they tackled Benger at the 1-yard line on fourth and goal from the three. After an incomplete pass started Case Western Reserve's drive, senior defensive lineman Jack Fagan (Milford, Pa./Delaware Valley) sacked Cuda in the end zone for a safety with 17 seconds left to push the lead for the Tartans to 26-21.

Case Western Reserve had one last opportunity after recovering two onside kicks, with the first being negated because of an illegal procedure penalty. On the Spartans lone play following the second recovery, senior Samer Abdelmoty (McLean, Va.) intercepted Cuda to preserve the Tartan victory.

Carnegie Mellon ends its regular season with an overall mark of 7-3, a record of 6-2 in PAC play and 2-1 showing in the UAA while Case Western Reserve ends its season at 9-1, 7-1 and 2-1. Carnegie Mellon will learn if its season continues on Monday, November 14 when the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) announces its field at 12:00 p.m. for the 2016 ECAC Division III Football Fest.