by Matt Paulson
The University of La Verne football team squeaked its way to an undefeated start last Saturday afternoon at Ortmayer Stadium as it knocked out the Pomona Pitzer Sagehens in their 64th meeting with a heroic fourth quarter punch.
The climax came with only 11 seconds remaining in the game as junior kicker Ian Britt, in his first year on the Leopard squad, took the entire weight of the team on his shoulders as he stared past hungry Sagehen defenders to the goalposts that lie 42 yards away. After a low snap, Britt made contact. Immediately after the ball was kicked, the Leopard sideline, lined with ULV players who had taken a knee to watch intently as the outcome of the game rested on this one down, erupted; there was never a doubt. The ball, struck solidly, would find its way through the uprights to catapult the Leopards into their season with a last-minute 17-16 win.
“Don’t miss. Please don’t miss, for the love of God,” Britt said as he recalled his pre-kick feelings.
ULV got on the scoreboard first with a 65-yard drive in the first quarter that ate 8:55 off the game clock. The drive began at the Leopard 35-yard line after a 14 yard punt return from senior running back Travis Lerma. After a Pomona Pitzer offside penalty, the Leopards were faced with a 4th and inches situation on their first series. Head Coach Don Morel made the key decision to go for it. The ball was handed to Lerma as he picked up more than enough for the first down on the Pomona Pitzer 35-yard line.
After another 4th down conversion and a key defensive penalty on the drive, which erased a nine-yard loss due to a fumble, Lerma plunged his way over the goal line from the two yards out with just 1:39 remaining in the first quarter for the first score of the game. Britt was successful on the point after the touchdown to make it 7-0 ULV.
The Sagehens ended the quarter with yet another punt after the ULV kickoff. The Leopard defense stoned Pomona Pitzer in the first quarter, allowing no first downs.
The second quarter was scoreless as the Leopards would carry their 7-0 lead into the locker room for halftime.
After the break, Pomona Pitzer would strike first on its first drive in the second half. The Leopard defense let the Sagehens back it onto its own 20-yard line before regaining form and sacking Felipe Aguilar for a 5-yard loss and forcing Pomona Pitzer into a 42-yard 4th and 16 field goal try. A small breath from the football gods propelled this ball as it bounced over the crossbar and through the uprights. The two teams exchanged a few punts; then the Sagehens struck again.
After a punt to their own 27-yard line, the Sagehens faced a 3rd and 12 situation from their own 25. Aguilar connected with wide receiver Matt Hermsen for a 45-yard pass play over the middle into Leopard territory. Five plays later, Aguilar connected for an 11-yard scoring strike with tight-end Andrew Ackerman. Eric Nielson’s PAT was good as Pomona Pitzer boasted a 10-7 lead.
The Sagehens would strengthen that lead early in the fourth quarter with an eight-play drive covering 55 yards. After a 12-yard pass from Aguilar to running back Andrew Vie, kicker Eric Nielson missed the extra point to make the score 16-7 in favor of Pomona Pitzer. This failed attempt would prove to be the difference in this close contest.
The Leopards saw their task ahead and acted accordingly. Later in the fourth quarter, ULV made its way down to the Pomona Pitzer 40-yard line but faced a difficult 4th and 3 situation. Morel, seeing the score difference and the ticking clock, decided to go for it. Quarterback Gabe Lujan took the snap and kept the ball. He got to the outside and went nearly untouched for the touchdown to get the Leopards to within three points. Britt nailed the PAT to make the score 16-14 in favor of the Sagehens.
“They told me to fake a handoff and just try to get a first down. Luckily, there was no one there and I took it all the way,” Lujan said.
The following kickoff almost proved disastrous for the Leopards. The short kick went directly to running back Jonathon Samples, who led the Sagehens with 94 yards in the game. He returned it to the ULV 36-yard line for excellent field position.
The kick was a failed attempt to simply float the ball over the front line of the Sagehens, who were expecting an on-sides kick, Morel said.
But the Leopard defense took control, forcing Pomona Pitzer into a 4th and one play. Aguilar handed the ball off to Samples. The Leopard defense did not budge. They held Pomona Pitzer, turning possession over on downs, giving their offense the chance for victory.
The offense did just that as it marched 49 yards on 11 plays into field goal position where Britt converted on the kick.
With a last second interception to regain possession at the end of the game, the Leopards iced the cake on their first victory at home in two years.
“I think it’s great for the team, the school, and the fans,” Lujan said.
“We’re out here to win some games. We needed the win and we got it,” Morel said following the game.
The Leopards will attempt to continue their undefeated start against the University of San Diego at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 14, in San Diego.