Teams search to send their seniors out in style. Mission accomplished.
The No. 6 John Carroll University football team looked to stay focused on senior day. Added to mix was next week's looming matchup with No. 3 Mount Union next week in Alliance, Ohio for the OAC title.
The Blue Streaks (9-0, 8-0 OAC) sent their 32 seniors out in style with a 66-13 win over visiting Otterbein (5-4, 5-3 OAC) on Saturday afternoon inside Don Shula Stadium.
"We are incredibly happy for those guys," said head coach Tom Arth. "They mean so much to me and to John Carroll football. I think this class when they came in as freshmen, they turned the program around. Their competitiveness, their leadership is what changed our program immediately."
Tommy Michals and Brody Zangaro put the exclamation point on senior day.
Michals became JCU's first 200-yard rusher since Willie Beers in 1990. With his 205-yard performance Michals sits right at 1,000 yards for the season, the first 1,000-yard rusher since Ryan DeGeorge in 2002.
Said Arth, "It was awesome. It was great to see. I had no idea that he was there (at 200 yards). Tommy is an unbelievable player. Tommy is a great leader in our program. He works so hard. He deserves it. The preparation he puts in is incredible. You could see it and he earns every yard that he gets."
The senior scored on a 90-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to put JCU up 45-7. The run was the senior's second-longest of his career. Michals had a 97-yard touchdown rush at Marietta last year, the longest rush in school history.
"That was awesome," said Arth. "Tommy hit it hard. We had three backs in the game. Vince, Stan and the offensive line did a good job opening it up. Vince and Stan cleaned up the linebackers. Tommy was off to the races. It was great to see. It was the first time we've had a run like that in a while."
Michals surpassed 100 yards in the first half. He capped the half with a 3-yard touchdown rush with 27 seconds remaining in the first half. The senior ran for 111 yards on 13 carries in the first half.
Zangaro came up with interceptions on back-to-back drives in the third quarter. The first prevented a potential touchdown with the senior intercepting the pass on the Otterbein 10-yard line.
Said Arth, "It was great for Brody. Again, another senior captain. He is everything to our football program. I'm so happy for him, the way that he played today and that whole group (the defense)."
Kresimir Ivkovic became JCU's all-time leader in field goals in the game's opening drive. The senior made a career-long 46-yard attempt to surpass David Vitatoe with his 36th-career field goal. The field goal marked the longest field goal made on Wasmer Field at the west goal by a JCU kicker since freshman Mike Sottosanti (1971).
JCU's defense kept applying pressure. A week after forcing five Muskingum turnovers, the defense came through with five more against Otterbein. The first came on the Cardinals' first possession.
Senior Jimmy King forced a fumble on Otterbein's second offensive play. Sophomore Reese Armstrong scooped up the loose ball and was off to the races darting 34 yards to have JCU up 10-0 less than three minutes into the game.
From there the St. Ignatius connection took over.
Mark Myers found Brendan Carozzoni from 22 yards out late in the first quarter. The former high school teammates would connect from seven yards out on the next drive. The duo had their third touchdown connection in the third quarter, this time from eight yards out. The third score put JCU up 38-7.
"It was great to get Brendan back out on the field," said Arth. "He felt great this week and looked great this week in practice. He played a really great game."
Myers would fire an 11-yard touchdown to Marshall Howell before being lifted early in the fourth quarter. Myers finished 21 of 34 for 282 yards and four scores.
Carozzoni and Howell combined for 14 catches for 203 yards and four touchdowns.
Otterbein briefly made things interesting in the second quarter. Brick Davis connected with Ryan Thombs on a 45-yard touchdown strike. The score made the game 17-7, the closest an opponent has been since the Ohio Northern contest.
JCU's seniors made two big plays to close the game.
Fullback Vince Ziccardi scored his first career rushing touchdown with 46 seconds remaining. The senior plunged in from 1-yard out. Last week, Ziccardi recorded his first career touchdown catching a pass from Myers.
Pat Gawryszewski would make the final big play of senior day. The reserve linebacker came up with a fumble recovery on Otterbein's final possession.
Armstrong led the defense with six tackles, including two for loss.
JCU's offensive line held firm only allowing one sack. Otterbein came in to the game sixth nationally in sacks per game.
John Carroll takes on Mount Union next Saturday, Nov. 15, at 1:30 p.m. The game will decide the OAC championship with both teams coming in with identical 9-0, 8-0 OAC records for the second straight year.