The La Verne Leopards faced off against the Whittier Poets for a wet and rainy Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Homecoming football game with La Verne coming out the victors, 43-20, after big plays and even bigger lightning strikes on Oct. 15 at Ortmayer Stadium.
The Leopards improved to 1-5 overall, finally getting their first win of the season at home, while Whittier continued to look for theirs, staying at 0-5.
The game was not the only thing that started at kickoff. With it being overcast all day it was only a matter of time before it started raining, and it just so happened to start at the opening kickoff. The rain quickly picked up with only the most loyal fans staying until the end.
La Verne came up for their second drive of the game, and they put three points on the board through sophomore kicker Kapena Kamakawiwoole, thanks to a Whittier unsportsmanlike conduct penalty earlier in the drive.
After the first play of the Poets’ next drive, they fumbled the ball with La Verne recovering it. Just two plays later, sophomore quarterback Andre Maldonado found senior wide receiver Spencer Pool in the endzone for the game’s first touchdown. The extra point was missed, but the Leopards still led 9-0 with six minutes to go in the first quarter.
The next drive for the Poets didn’t get any better. Just two plays later, Whittier’s quarterback Mario Martinez was picked off by La Verne freshman defensive back Chase Yanez, who made a house call, taking it all the way back for six with the extra point making it 16-0 Leopards.
“I was super excited taking that ball back to the crib with my teammates by my side putting up points for the Leopards,” Yanez said. “I will cherish that moment for the rest of my life with my brothers celebrating on the field and on the sideline.”
Whittier finally put together a solid drive, pushing the La Verne defense for six minutes only for freshman Will Triggs to put it wide left from 28 yards out at the beginning of the second quarter.
La Verne then decided to one-up Whittier’s drive, going down the field in seven minutes and putting up six through a one-yard rush from Maldonado. The extra point was also good, which put La Verne up, 23-0.
With Whittier driving into the red zone the game was delayed almost two hours due to lightning. The teams had to go back to the locker rooms, and the fans cleared the stadium multiple times due to all of the strikes just before halftime.
“I was excited that my teammates and I were putting on a show in the rain and lightning on Homecoming,” sophomore wide receiver Devonte Johnson said. “Definitely one to remember.”
When play finally resumed, Whittier capped off their drive after Martinez completed the pass to junior wide receiver Tyson Tapley to get the Poets on the board, trailing 23-7.
Opening up the second half, La Verne drove down the field with another seven-minute drive, ending in a touchdown when junior quarterback Miguel Aguero Jr. completed a pass to senior tight end Arturo Herrera-Caballero. With a good extra point, La Verne led, 30-7.
Whittier responded with a quick four-minute drive ending in a rushing touchdown. Whittier went for a two-point conversion using a fake kick but the pass was incomplete, keeping the score at 30-13.
During the next drive, La Verne went for it on a fourth down with four yards left at the Whittier 24-yard line but could not convert. Whittier turned that around and drove down the field, ending in a touchdown pass from Martinez to senior wide receiver Sean Aldana. The extra point was good, bringing them within 10 points of La Verne.
The Leopards did not let that scare them. They drove right down the field and scored with Aguero’s pass to senior wide receiver Ethan Madeiros, which extended the Leopards’ lead to 37-20.
With Whittier driving and at midfield with only two minutes left, Martinez was picked off by freshman cornerback Hector Facio, but Facio was called for pass interference, and the play was called back.
But on the next play Martinez was picked off again, this time by sophomore cornerback Artist Orange II, and taken all the way back for another Leopard pick six.
“I was excited that me and my teammates were able to close the game out during a fun Homecoming game,” Orange said. “After that interception I was just so excited to celebrate with my team with the victory that I forgot it was pouring rain. Homecoming was an experience I’ll never forget.”
Right after that, the game was called due to the weather with 35 seconds left on the clock, ending in a 43-20 La Verne Homecoming win.
“As a player, some of the best games to play in are Homecoming games,” senior defensive lineman Sam Melvin said. “The fans and atmosphere are always electric, and having the opportunity to compete in front of all your friends and family is something I’ll always remember.”
After the win against Whittier, La Verne lost 36-19 against the Redland Bulldogs on Oct. 22. The Leopards’ last two games of the season are an away game at Cal Lutheran on Saturday and a home matchup against Chapman for their season closer at 1 p.m. Nov. 12.
Michael Hill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.