The Leopards football team opened the 2019 season with a tough 50-24 loss to the No. 11 ranked Whitworth Pirates at Ortmayer Stadium on Saturday.
This was the Leopards’ first official game of the season after taking a 34-13 loss in an exhibition game against Centro de Eseñanza Técnica y Superior Universidad in Mexicali, Mexico, Aug. 31.
Despite the final score of the game, head coach Chris Krich sees this game as an opportunity for growth.
“Hopefully this game for us wasn’t a loss, it was a learning opportunity for us,” Krich said. “When you’re facing the eleventh ranked team in the nation, you gotta play perfect and we didn’t do that.”
The Pirates started strong on their first drive of the day. Senior quarterback Leif Ericksen drove the offense down the field to end the drive with a 20-yard pass to junior receiver Andrew Meredith to make the score 7-0.
The Leopards struggled to find any offensive rhythm in the first quarter, punting the ball on their first three possessions. They were finally able to find some success on their fourth drive of the quarter.
On a risky 4th and 10 play, senior quarterback Sam Taylor made an incredible throw to senior fullback Kevin Stark that put the Leopards at the 6-yard line with an opportunity to score.
“I had a protection sliding right, my left tackle was yelling that there was a guy coming in hot on the left, I went away and was able to spin out at the last second,” said Taylor. “I was able to see [Stark] running wide open down the middle of the field and set up the play for our first score.”
The Leopards followed up that play with their first score of the game and of the season.
The score came off a six-yard run, courtesy of senior running back James Gonsalves, to tie the game 7-7 late in the first quarter.
However, things would fall apart for the Leopards in the second quarter.
Ericksen put on a passing clinic throughout the first half, surgically dissecting the Leopards’ defense, passing for 288 yards and five touchdowns before the end of the first half.
At halftime, the score was 43-7 in favor of Whitworth.
The second half started positively for the Leopards, after the defense forced a Pirates turnover on downs, senior quarterback Matt Albright orchestrated the Leopards’ second scoring drive of the game, thanks to a long 55-yard run when he scrambled to escape pressure.
“We had a motion out to the left, as soon as the backer goes I’m supposed to look the other way,” Albright said. “I looked the other way, no one was there so I got around the edge. I saw everyone was in man coverage so I took off and got as far as I could.”
The Leopards finished the drive with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Albright to sophomore receiver Spencer Pool, making the score 43-14.
The Leopards looked completely different in the second half, holding the Pirate offense to one touchdown while La Verne added another touchdown in the second half to make the score 43-21.
Senior linebacker Preston Carr, who led the team with 14 tackles, felt the overall defensive effort increased after the half.
“We need to start with the energy that we had in the second half and bring it to the first half,” Carr said. “We need to start and finish the same way we finished this game every game.”
The game’s most memorable play came from freshman kicker Mika Makekau, who made her season debut as the first ever female football player for the Leopards.
Makekau, who holds the Hawaii state record for longest field goal ever kicked by a female football player, was able to boot a 26-yard field goal to make the score 50-24 with only seconds left on the clock.
“Overall, I’m proud of our guys for not giving up,” Krich said. “But I’m also getting tired of moral victories. I want us to come out and be ready to go.”
The Leopards face off against Willamette at noon on Saturday at Ortmayer Stadium.
Christopher Livingston can be reached at email@example.com.