by Rosie Sinapi
The Leo football team struggled in 90 degree temperatures to beat Menlo College 42-38 in Saturday’s season opener.
The 1993 SCIAC champions felt the pressure coming into the game, but managed good field position early in the first quarter.
“We are going to find some bright spots and some dull ones during the course of the season,” said Head Coach Rex Huigens.
In the first quarter there were some definite bright spots. Eleven seconds into the game senior running back Darren Maclellan connected with senior wide receiver Bill Battin for a 62-yard touchdown pass.
Battin is close to breaking ULV’s all-time career receiving record needing 503 yards to set a new record. The current record of 2090 yards was set by Maurice Harper in 1983.
Junior transfer place kicker Juan Contreras’ extra point gave La Verne a 7- 0 lead.
Later in the quarter, quarterback Ryan Campuzano handed off to Maclellan, who took the ball 6 yards for a touchdown. With 8:62 still left, the Leos led 14-0.
“The first game is mostly a test,” said Campuzano. He threw for 292 yards and seemed to be passing the test.
The Oaks’ only touchdown in the quarter came off of quarterback Jason Heard’s 8-yard pass to tailback Joel Allen.
Heard passed for 285 yards in the game.
The Leo offense quickly responded with Campuzano connecting with sophomore wide receiver Anthony Rice for a 35-yard touchdown pass.
“I’ve never played wide receiver before … I’m happy to help the team,” said Rice. “Ryan’s one of the best quarterbacks I’ve ever played with. He makes it good.”
Rice was named SCIAC player of the week. He caught 9 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
Scoring 21 points and stopping two drives with the Oaks in fair goal position in the first quarter, La Verne slowed down in the second only scoring once on a Campuzano keeper.
The Leos suffered a substantial injury when senior defensive lineman Michael Pollard suffered a ruptured achilles tendon. Pollard will be out for the season according to Huigens.
The Leos also lost junior running back Kurt Oliver. Oliver went off the field with what seemed to be a simple leg injury. After an x-ray, it was shown that Oliver broke his leg and will be out for the season.
Also slowing La Verne were nine penalties for 110 yards.
The Oaks only touchdown in the second came off of a Heard keeper, but they would fail to get an extra point.
In the third quarter, La Verne’s defense, which had held Menlo to 13 points, were unsuccessful in stopping Menlo’s offensive line.
Menlo scored 18 points in the third quarter, with a 45-yard Heard pass to wide receiver D.R. Moreland and on a 31-yard run by tailback Stephen Neal.
The Leos scored once in the third quarter with a Campuzano 72-yard pass to Rice.
La Verne would later lose possession when sophomore running back Linza Williams downed a kick-off in the end zone for a Menlo safety.
“We’ve got to fix a couple errors because of new rules, the officials are harder,” said senior defensive end Tyrone Youngblood.
Youngblood and the defense would successfully manage to keep Menlo from scoring another touchdown late in the third by forcing a field goal.
Menlo took possession again early in the fourth when La Verne failed to score when junior tight end Will English fumbled on Menlo’s 48 yard line.
Menlo took the ball for a 52-yard drive scoring to tight end Martin Wilkes on a 14-yard Heard pass.
After the extra point Menlo led the game for the first time, 35-31 with 13:32 left in the game.
Although La Verne would gain possession of the ball early in the fourth, it was not until La Verne’s six minute drive late in the game that they scored a touchdown with yet another Campuzano keeper from three yards in.
“I’m proud of the offense in the fourth quarter. It was good. We picked it up,” said Huigens.
The Oaks failed to score in their last possession giving La Verne their first win for the season.
Looking toward tomorrow’s game against Azusa Pacific University, Huigens believes the errors will need to be corrected.
“We had a tum over. We can’t beat good football teams if we do this,” said Huigens.
The last time the two teams met was at the Leos’ homecoming. Leading early in the game, the Leos looked like the winners at the half, but lost late in the game.
“We want to win. We don’t think of it as revenge. Defensively we want to win and I’m sure they want to, too,” said Huigens.
The team realizes that there is animosity between the rivals, but they feel that beating the Division II team is simple.
“To me APU is a big rival. I played here in ’92. We beat them 35-7. It can be done again,” said senior defensive lineman Davin Wright.
“I didn’t play last year, but I came to the game. The team was a little off. I think we’ll be a whole lot better,” Wright commented.
Now that the Leos are missing two players, Huigens will be turning his defense and offense toward his many reserves to fill the gaps.
“I plan on spreading the ball out among our players making us a much bigger offense,” said Huigens.
Linza Williams will hopefully see plenty of action under Huigens’ new format. He feels that the game will be a matter of respect for ULV.
“I feel rather confident. They’re a strong team, but we’ve prepared our. selves mentally and physically,” said Williams.
For tomorrow’s game Huigens plans to change his defense in order to stop APU from running options.
Huigens also believes that Contreras will help the team immensely. Contreras was able to hold back the Oaks kicking most of his kickoffs out of the end zone.
Contreras plays soccer and football, but has given Huigens his word to stay with football if conflicts arise.
“I think he’ll have a chance to play beyond college,” said Huigens.
Also helping La Verne will be the night conditions, something that slowed down La Verne against the Oaks.
“It’ll be a little cooler and a night game. It’ll make it easier on us,” said senior defensive end Kelly Mattson.
Likewise Youngblood feels that the extra week of practice will help the team.
“We only had two weeks to prepare. We’ve got to fix a couple of errors and we’ll do well,” added Youngblood.
Assistant coach and graduate student Rick Gronda agrees that the adjustments made this week in practice and the time will cut down in errors and stop APU.
“l think we’ve definitely improved. The players worked very hard this week. You’ll see a different La Verne team,” said Gronda.
The Leos will travel to Azusa for a 7 p.m. game.