Going into last Saturday’s game against La Verne, the Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens were rated the worst team in the country by the Los Angeles Times. That’s right, the absolute worst. On the top of Steve Harvey’s “Bottom Ten” list. In fact, the Leo-Sagehen match up was tabbed as “the crummiest game of the week,” by the Times.
Well, for the Leos, things were really crummy as they dropped a 17-10 decision in the final two minutes.
“This just makes things a little easier to deal with,” said Mike Steinhour, Sagehen head coach, in reference to his team’s win. “Don’t forget we had lost 18 straight before today’s victory.”
And what about being ranked the worst in the country?
“I think, if anything, it gave us more incentive,” said the head mentor. “The only people who were really upset were some of the alumni.”
Those same alumni probably grew hostile after Saturday’s first play from scrimmage. An 84-yard Greg Hopkins to Rick Romeo touchdown pass put the ‘Hens on the short end, 7-0, not even 25 seconds in to the contest.
The Leos then quickly recovered a fumble by Pomona quarterback Anthony Kandel two minutes later. After Bill Szitkar was ticketed for offensive pass interference, La Verne turned to Joaquin Zendejas. All the junior out of Chino did was boot a 55-yarder to put the Leos up 10-0.
That really set the scene. Not even six minutes were gone and the Leo fans were taking bets on whether La Verne could top Clemson’s 82 points versus Wake Forest two weeks earlier. This looked to be a “cake-walk.”
ULV dominated the ball game defensively. The only thing the Pomona offense did in the first half was run on and off the field after three plays. At times it appeared the Pomona offensive line was colorblind – not knowing what color jersey to block. Leo Defensive End Scott Bolsta had seven sacks alone. But as the first half wore on, the La Verne offense became sluggish. The Leos could not even hit paydirt when they had a third-down-and goal situation from the two-yard line.
“That seemed to be the turning point tor us,” said La Verne Linebacker Dan Olivera.
“To get in the locker room down only 10 points was a moral victory by itself,” said Steinhour.
It must have been as the Sagehens continued to battle. Pomona’s Derek Watanabe picked off Hopkins just outside the La Verne 31-yard line. Naturally, Pomona went nowhere against the Leo defense, giving rise to a 45-yard field goal at tempt by Tom Owens. As Owens’ kick fell through the uprights, one could feel the momentum taking a turn. Pomona was flying as high as a kite. After all, it was still in contention, and the game was already in the third quarter.
Pomona waited until the fourth quarter to really give La Verne a scare.
After back-up quarterback Bob Daniels hit his favorite target Tommy Moore twice, the Leos were called for facemasking, moving the ball to the La Verne 41. Then, for the only time in the contest, the Leos’ defense broke down. Daniels’ hit Ken Anderson on a screen play which went for 29 yards. Five plays later, Daniels snuck in from a yard out.
The extra point floated over like a dying quail, but still was good, tying the game, 10-10.
With 3:26 remaining, La Verne Head Coach Roland Ortmayer elected to go with second-string quarterback Gary Koustik. Koustick, on a roll-out option play, threw the ball right into the hands of Pomona linebacker Michael Aytch. The senior from New York, in turn, galloped 31 yards tor the score.
“I put Gary (Koustik) in because we were simply not moving the ball,” commented Ortmayer afterward. “It’s just a play you’d like to forget, but can’t.”
La Verne made things close in the waning moments. Hopkins, who was reinserted, hit Romeo twice collecting 24 yards. He then threw a ball on the Sagehen 16. However, the Leos could go no further, coming up short on the final four plays. “When that interference call materialized, I felt a dark cloud come over the field. I thought we were in for a tie,” said Steinhour.
All in all, this was a game the Leos should have never lost. Even with a sporadic offensive attack, the La Verne defense allowed only 51 total yards. Not 151 or 251, but 51 lonely yards.
La Verne gave Pomona good field position on a few occasions, and the ‘Hens simply capitalized.
“It’s pretty wacky when a team gets only 51 yards and still scores 17 points,” said Ortmayer. “We were downright bad today, no question about it.”
So it is now the Leos that must be considered for that top spot on the “Bottom Ten.” And even if Northwestern University, losers of over 30 straight, edges them out at season’s end. Just think; ULV was compared to a Big 10 entity.