In arguably the most exciting game in the rivalry's history, 14th-ranked Case Western Reserve University defeated Carnegie Mellon University 41-34 in overtime in the 32nd-Annual Academic Bowl to clinch an undefeated regular season, a share of the 2017 Presidents' Athletic Conference Championship, and the University Athletic Association Championship outright.
The Spartans secured their first PAC Title since joining the conference as an affiliate member prior to the start of the 2014 campaign. With a perfect 8-0 record in conference play, CWRU finished tied atop the standings with 15th-ranked Washington and Jefferson College, which topped Waynesburg 42-0 earlier in the day. By virtue of the tiebreaker (strength of conference victories), the Presidents' claimed the PAC's automatic bid to the playoffs, leaving the Spartans in need of an at-large bid to the playoff field, which will be announced on Sunday.
CWRU also claimed its second-straight UAA Title and the seventh overall in the program's history. It was the fifth outright UAA Championship for the Spartans, who finished with a 2-0 ledger in UAA games. The Spartans improved to 15-17 all-time in the Academic Bowl.
The Spartans improved to 10-0 on the year overall, clinching the fifth undefeated season in program history (1984, 2007, 2008, and 2009). Carnegie Mellon ended its regular season with a 7-3 record, including marks of 5-3 in the PAC and 1-1 in UAA games.
The highlight of the game was a fourth quarter that saw the lead change twice in the final two minutes and 15 seconds, and a game-tying field goal as time ran out in regulation. With the Spartans leading 27-24, a fumble gave the Tartans field position on CWRU's 37 yard line, setting up an eventual 11 yard touchdown run for Rory Hubbard to put Carnegie Mellon ahead 31-27. It what appeared to be the last chance for the Spartans, CWRU turned the ball over on downs with 1:23 to play. With just one timeout left, Carnegie Mellon had a chance to run out the clock, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Tartans gave the Spartans an extra stoppage, allowing CWRU to force a punt by the Tartans with 28 seconds left from their own 41-yard line. Senior linebacker Zach Lyon was able to block the punt, and junior Justin Phan recovered at the three yard line and went into the end zone untouched to give CWRU the lead back, 34-31 with 22 seconds remaining.
However, an excessive celebration penalty and a short kickoff gave Carnegie Mellon possession at the Spartans' 41 yard line. The Tartans would quickly drive 16 yards, and Tyler Kohman was able to notch the game-tying 43 yard field goal with one second left in regulation.
In overtime, senior quarterback Rob Cuda converted a key fourth-and-12 play from the Carnegie Mellon 27 yard line with a 13 yard pass to Phan. Two plays later, Cuda and Phan hooked up again, this time from five yards out, giving CWRU a 41-34 lead after the extra point. Carnegie Mellon would get to the Spartans' nine yard line on their overtime possession, but senior linebacker Alex Habeeb tackled Tartans' running back Sam Benger after two yards on a fourth and four to clinch the victory and the perfect season for Case Western Reserve.
Cuda finished the game 10-for-26 for 171 yards and two touchdowns, while running for 116 yards and another score. Senior running back Jacob Burke had 164 yards on the ground in the game and a touchdown, surpassing the 1,000-yard mark for the season for the second-straight year. Phan caught six passes on Saturday for 101 yards and two touchdowns.
The Spartans' defense forced three turnovers in the game, with senior linebackers Justin McMahon and Andrew Banathy and sophomore safety Patrick Crossey each recording an interception. McMahon finished with 16 tackles, the most by a Spartan player this year, while Banathy added 12 stops, including 2.5 for a loss. Senior linebacker Chanan Demery had a pair of sacks in the game.
Carnegie Mellon took the early lead in Saturday's game, answering a missed field goal try by the Spartans early in the first quarter with a 34-yard field goal by Tyler Kohman with 7:44 remaining in the quarter. Karl-Mark Kumm added to the Tartans' lead with a five-yard scoring catch from Alex Cline, extending their advantage to 10-0 with 14:09 remaining in the second quarter.
However, the Spartans locked in on both sides of the ball from there, scoring 20 unanswered points over their final four drives of the half. CWRU needed just 2:22 to move 73 yards downfield on their next drive, with runs of 20 yards and 16 yards by Cuda and Burke, and a 25 yard pass from Cuda to senior tight end Zech Medved setting up a one-yard touchdown run for Burke, pulling the Spartans back within a field goal. The Spartans' defense forced a three-and-out on CMU's next drive, and would even the score on a 32 yard field goal by senior kicker Ben Carniol with 9:20 remaining in the half.
A pair of turnovers by the Tartans helped the Spartans add to their total. Banathy picked off Cline at the Tartans 35 yard line and returned it 18 yards to the Carnegie Mellon 17. Cuda would give CWRU its first lead of the day on a seven-yard run with 6:49 to play. An interception by McMahon help setup Carniol for his second field goal of the game, this time a 30-yard attempt with 2:08 to play, that put CWRU ahead 20-10. A late 78-yard drive, capped off by a nine-yard touchdown catch by Tommy Mansfield pulled Carnegie Mellon back to within three points, 20-17, by halftime.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Spartans extended their lead to 27-17 on a 36-yard pass from Cuda to Phan with 13:13 left in regulation. Carnegie Mellon inched closer on Sam Benger's two-yard scoring run with 10:52 to play, pulling the Tartans back within three and setting up the wild ending to the contest.
The overtime game was the Spartans' first since a 24-17 win over Oberlin on October 20, 2012, and was second Academic Bowl decided in overtime in the 32-year history of the game.
The field for the NCAA Division III Playoffs, along with first round host sites and matchups, will be announced via a selection show on NCAA.com at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, November 12th.