What was expected to be a powerhouse year for the football team did not meet team expectations with some crucial close losses.
The Leopards finished the season 2-7 overall and 1-6 in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“Record wise this season we were not where we wanted to be,” head coach Chris Krich said.
“But as far as an internal group and as a team reaching certain goals together, I thought we did a great job of doing that with forming a brotherhood and a true football family, which we been working on since last year. I’m proud of our 13 seniors staying the course and truly showing a lot of our young guys of what it means to not only be a good college football player, but also great young men,” he said.
It looked like a promising start to a good season, with a win on the road against George Fox, 47-33, in the team’s first game Sept. 13, turned out to be a season of misfortune for the hard-working team.
The team remained focused in the second game of the season, in a high-scoring game against Whitworth.
Senior wide receiver Jon Lilly and junior quarterback William Livingston put together a game for the ages.
Lilly had 274 yards receiving in the game off of eight catches with six touchdowns.
“The Whitworth game was absolutely unbelievable,” Lilly said. “My quarterbacks put me in a position to succeed and I just had to finish the plays.”
Lilly finished the season ranked No. 4 in the nation, with 131.3 receiving yards per game and posted one of the best single-season by a receiver in La Verne history. He is also tied for ninth in the nation with 13 reception touchdowns, both categories ranked first in SCIAC.
Lilly is a first team All-SCIAC player this season and ranked third in conference in scoring with 78 points.
He finished his senior year ranked second all-time in La Verne history with 1,855 receiving yards. Livingston threw for 469 yards in the game and seven passing touchdowns. He ended the season with 1,543 passing yards and third in SCIAC with 220 passing yards per game with 15 touchdowns in just seven games.
Even with a glimmer of hope on the final play of the game, when senior quarterback Justin Gomez came in to throw a last-second Hail Mary that was batted down in the in zone for a potential game-winning pass the Leopards lost, 50-48.
In the first SCIAC game of the season at home against Occidental, the Leopards put together a big offensive charge in the second half to make it a tight game.
“During the Occidental game we put two quarters together as a team that I had never seen before,” senior linebacker Christian Lozon said. “Offensively and defensively we were making plays to complement each other and we were at our best.”
The Leopards went on to lose the game, 33-27.
“This year was little disappointing from the standpoint of things didn’t turn out the way we wanted them to as a team in regards to our record,” Gomez said.
“We did however, make a lot of strides on offense with being nationally ranked as an overall offense and I think that was a good step in the right direction, but I think as far as the record goes which is really all that matters to us, it definitely was not the year that we were expecting to have,” he said.
Gomez finished his senior season with 976 passing yards and eight touchdowns in limited time alongside Livingston.
La Verne ranked nationally at No. 25, behind No. 23 Cal Lutheran, for total offense with 472.2 yards per game.
The Leopards then went on to lose four straight conference games by double-digit margins to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Whittier, Redlands and Chapman.
The team went into the Homecoming game against Redlands with high hopes to end its 19 year drought of losing to the Bulldogs.
With a 14-0 lead early in the first quarter ended in decisive fashion for the Bulldogs, as they came back and defeated the Leopards late in the game to give La Verne its fourth conference loss in a row, 64-28.
Second-team all league player, sophomore safety Connor Truhitte ranked ninth in SCIAC with seven tackles per game.
He leads the team with 69 tackles and six pass breakups.
Lozon finished 15th in SCIAC with 6.6 tackles per game.
First-team all league player senior linebacker Anthony Arguello, finished 21st with six tackles per game.
This is Arguello’s third All-SCIAC honor.
He was named to the first team in 2012 and earned a spot on the second team last year.
Arguello was third on the team in tackles with 48 and 4 in pass breakups.
He also forced a fumble and recovered one.
Both Lozon and senior defensive linemen Nik Gutierrez were named preseason Division III All-Americans.
After an 0-5 start in SCIAC, the Leopards were able to get their first win with a strong home victory on senior day against the Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens, 41-37.
Sophomore running back Dallas Parent was one of the best all-purpose players in the conference with 138.6 all-purpose yards per game, which ranked second to Pomona-Pitzer freshman running back Asseal Birir.
The Leopards ended the season with a loss to Cal Lutheran, even behind a personal record-setting performance by junior running back Travis Sparks-Jackson. He had 250 rushing yards on only 13 carries with a touchdown.
The second-team all league player Sparks-Jackson finished third in SCIAC with 116 rushing yards per game, which also ranked 34th nationally on the season.
He eclipsed the milestone 1,000 yard mark as a rusher for the season with eight touchdowns. His 8-yards per carry average ranked third in the country for the season.
Sparks-Jackson finished the season with seven touchdowns.
“I am not a big personal guy as far as accolades are concerned, my offensive line was the unsung heroes and was always there for me and they were the true key to my success this year,” Sparks-Jackson said.
“Our groups of backs, including Dallas Parent, really picked up the load for us this year and made it so even if I was tired or was not in the game our offense didn’t miss a beat and we were always getting the job done,” he said.
With Chapman finishing 7-0 in SCIAC and 8-1 overall, it claimed the league title for the first time in school history and made the school’s first NCAA playoff appearance.
La Verne looks forward to laying that claim next year for the first time since 1992.
“We will continue on with the same attitude into the off-season of approaching each moment as one play at a time, one game at a time, all following are values of faith, courage, class,” Krich said.
“I know we will see the results we want next season,” he said.
Hal Hargrave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.