La Verne denied NCAA playoff bid

Showing valiant defense on the field during last Saturday’s game is Kevin White (#24). White had his eyes on the ball and was determined to take down Cal Lutheran tailback Fredrik Nanhed (#22). / photo by Brian Murphy
Showing valiant defense on the field during last Saturday’s game is Kevin White (#24). White had his eyes on the ball and was determined to take down Cal Lutheran tailback Fredrik Nanhed (#22). / photo by Brian Murphy

by Rosie Sinapi
Sports Writer

Discussing upcoming recruiting visits and a possible promotional video on the La Verne football team, Head Coach Don Morel did not look like a man with any anger about not being offered a bid to the national playoffs.

That is because he is not.

“I’m proud of the guys and happy we did so well,” said Morel Wednesday afternoon.

“This was the best football team ever to play in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC), or for that matter, the best La Verne football team ever,” he said.

Be that as it may, the La Verne football team will spend this afternoon not flying to the Division III playoffs as many expected them to be, but rather at a team barbeque.

Going undefeated (9-0, 6-0) for the season, winning SCIAC and leading the Division III in scoring, Morel and his team of Leopards were shut out from post-season play by the NCAA selection committee and left stranded in La Verne this week.

To Morel, the loss is just another lesson in life that sometimes no matter how well a person or team does, there are some things in life you have no control over.

“If this is the worst thing that ever happens in my life, then I’ve lived a pretty good life,” said Morel.

As for critics who say that La Verne needs to play stronger teams, Morel scoffs at the criticism.

“The football program at La Verne is not about national playoffs and national championships. It’s about guys playing hard football and graduating, and that’s all it has ever been,” said Morel.

And although Morel and the Leopards are happy with their performance this season, there is a hint of sadness and disappointment in many Leopards’ eyes.

“If we get invited, we get invited, but it can’t take away from what we had this season,” said Morel after Saturday’s 31-21 victory over Cal Lutheran. After the news, Morel said he was just happy that the team reached its goal of winning all its games.

The season saw a rise in several new players and a team which Morel calls La Verne’s best running team ever.

Leading the charge was senior transfer Anthony Jones. Along with junior Anthony Rice and Anthony Hayes, the trio of Anthonys dominated SCIAC. Jones ended the year with 200 carries for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Rice was second in rushing and first in receiving, with 102 carries for 931 yards and 32 receptions for 374 yards. Hayes was second in receiving with 14 receptions for 309 yards.

The offensive line was an essential part of the Leopards’ dominance. For Morel, he is not worried about next year’s line. Sophomore Dan Fewx and juniors Pat Samsonas, Andrew Moran and Scott Poskitt will all return.

According to Morel, the true heart of the Leopards’ offense was third-year starting quarterback Ryan Campuzano.

While at La Verne, Campuzano never lost a SCIAC game and managed to play a back seat position this year as La Verne earned most of its 4,139 offensive yards from rushing. As a starter, Campuzano was 25-2 in regular season games during his La Verne career. The Leopards had 3,070 rushing yards, compared to 1,069 passing yards.

Campuzano will graduate this year.

Kicker Juan Contreras will also graduate. In his two seasons at La Verne, he managed to lead SCIAC in kicking and this year was fifth in all-round scoring for SCIAC, with 70 points.

Also leaving will be Doug Dubois, Carl Caston, Kevin and Keith White and David Sutton, all defensive starters.

However, Morel praises assistant Kirk Harmon for his techniques as defensive coordinator and believes that Harmon will be able to fill the vacancies just as he did this year.

On the year, the Leopards proved to be more than their opponents could handle. The team lead SCIAC in team rushing, rushing defense, passing defense, total offense and defense and turnovers.

In the Leopards’ performance on Saturday, there was already a hint of what would happen on Sunday. Beating Cal Lutheran by 10 points, their second-narrowest margin of victory of the year, the Leopards played a relaxed game.

If the game had any stars, they were Rice, Jones and Caston. Rice, a running back and wide receiver, spent most of the game as tailback. With the help of a strong offensive line opening the gaps for him, Rice had 20 carries for 145 yards with two touchdowns. His presence was heavily seen in the first half.

Although within scoring position several times in the opening minutes of the game, the Leopards’ first score came with 9:49 left in the first when Contreras kicked a 29-yard field goal.

Jones, who had 34 carries for 185 yards, came in late in the half and scored on a 9-yard touchdown run. Contreras kicked for the extra point to put the Leopards up, 10-0.

Cal Lutheran was not about to let the half go by without any scoring. Fredrik Nanhed ran the ball in from 8 yards out for the touchdown with 2:12 left in the second quarter. Cal Lutheran kicked for the point, making the score 10-7 at the half.

The second half began in a momentous charge as the Leopards ran through a tunnel of friends, family members and fellow students. Leading the charge was Campuzano, who had a slow day, throwing for only 44 yards.

Campuzano’s passes included a 7 yarder to junior Peter Teichmann for a touchdown. Contreras kicked for the point, making the score 17-7 with 8:08 left in the third.

One key to the Leopards’ strength was Caston, who had several important stops and an interception deep in Kingsmen’s territory.

Rice came back in the third with a 7-yard run. Contreras’ kick put the score at 24-7 with 3:40 left in the third. Cal Lutheran shined its own torch in the fourth, producing two touchdowns, but Rice came back with another touchdown to extend the lead to 10 again and move the final score to 31-21.

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