A different offensive approach and a suffocating defense helped the Leopards win a tough 27-20 matchup over the Occidental Tigers at Kemp Stadium on Saturday.
The win was not only the Leopard’s first victory on the road this season, but it comes following a brutal 65-7 loss to the Redlands Bulldogs Oct. 26.
The victory gives the Leopards a 4-4 overall record and a 3-2 record in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference competition.
The Leopards, who typically use a run-heavy offense, took a different approach against the Tigers. They passed for 228 yards, their highest passing total since Oct. 20, 2018, when the Leopards threw for 251 yards against Redlands.
“We wanted to kind of change some things up a little bit,” said head coach Chris Krich. “We had an idea on what they were going to try to do to stop us. We wanted to come out and try to throw them off balance.”
And throw them off is just what they did. On the Leopards’ first drive from scrimmage, they drove 65 yards on four plays. The drive was capped off by an impressive 19-yard touchdown catch and run by senior wide receiver Grayson Kline.
“Coach motioned me across, when I caught the ball and I saw the corner fly down. I jump cut to the left, the safety came down, I jump cut to the left again and then dove in the end zone for the touchdown. It felt great,” Kline said.
The Leopards scored on two of the next three drives, including a beautifully placed 49-yard pass from senior quarterback Sam Taylor to junior wide receiver Nathaniel Sagastume.
“I noticed that they were running man coverage, and I like that matchup with Nate,” said Taylor. “He blew by them, I gave him a shot and he came down with it.”
Taylor finished the day passing for 221 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception.
As terrific as the offense played in the first half, it was the defense that took over in the second half.
A defensive unit that came into this game allowing over 470 yards of offense per game – worst in SCIAC – was able to hold the Occidental offense to 365 total yards along with five turnovers.
“Watching film, we knew the quarterback was going to give us some opportunities. We came in ready, got our hands on the ball, it was all good,” said freshman safety Mason Montanez, who led the defense with seven tackles and one interception.
The defense stepped up in a big way after losing senior linebacker Preston Carr to injury last week against Redlands. Carr averaged 10 tackles per game prior to his injury.
With a 21-6 lead entering the second half, the Leopards returned to their traditional offensive game plan of running the ball to kill the clock. They were only able to add six points to their lead from two well placed kicks from junior kicker Diego Garcia.
The Tigers made the game interesting in the second half, scoring 14 of their 20 points in the final two quarters. The Tigers were driving on the final possession of the game but were unable to find the end zone as time expired and the Leopards took the victory.
The Leopards’ next matchup is against the Cal Lutheran Kingsmen at 5 p.m. Saturday at Ortmayer Stadium.
Christopher Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.