The Leopards wrapped up the 2022 football season with a 42-14 loss at the hands of Chapman on Saturday at Ortmayer Stadium.
Before the game, the senior Leopards were honored on the field as they were escorted by their families and the announcer described each of the players’ plans after graduation.
“This is really one of the best teams I’ve ever played on,” senior offensive lineman Joseph Griffin said. “All of the guys are super close, the coaching staff is great and it just feels like one big family.”
On the very first play, Panthers’ junior quarterback Nathaniel Espinoza was picked off by sophomore defensive back Tyler Martin and it got the Leopards’ sideline and stands fired up.
The momentum did not swing for the Leopards though, as they went three and out and punted the ball back to the Panthers. Then on the very next play, Espinoza connected with senior wide receiver John Krall for a 71-yard touchdown pass to put the Panthers up, 7-0.
The Leopards’ offense struggled to get things going early on and did not get a first down until their fourth drive. They threatened to score as they got to the Panthers’ 16-yard line but a fumble by sophomore quarterback Andre Maldonado gave the ball back to Chapman.
The Panthers took advantage of the Leopards’ mistake and had an 82-yard scoring drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown pass from Espinoza to senior wide receiver Spencer Corona to make it 14-0 Panthers.
The Panthers ended up scoring again before the end of the half when Espinoza threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Krall to make it 21-0 Panthers at half time.
The Leopards started the second half with the ball on their own five-yard line. Facing a fourth down and three yards to go, they ran a fake punt and senior tight end Arturo Herrera-Caballero ran the three yards needed for the first down.
The Panthers ended up getting the ball back and marched down the field for another touchdown drive. Senior running back Tanner Mendoza ran for 17 yards to score and the Panthers took a 28-0 lead.
The Leopards responded by getting the ball on their own 30-yard line and stormed down the field with the help of a 50-yard completion from junior quarterback Miguel Aguero Jr. to junior wide receiver Jonathan Torres. Sophomore running back Abel Cueva got the two yards needed to get to the end zone and the Leopards were finally on the board to make it 28-7 Panthers.
And then just like that, the Panthers came right back to score. After a 56-yard gain by senior running back Marcos Reyes, Espinoza completed a six-yard passing touchdown to senior wide receiver Wyatt Hardin to extend their lead to 35-7.
The Leopards’ offense came up big in their next drive as they faced two fourth-and-longs and converted both of them. Facing a fourth-and-seven, the Leopards went for it and Aguero Jr. completed an eight-yard pass to senior wide receiver Daniel Momand for the first down. Then the Leopards came up with a fourth-and-13 on the Panthers’ 25-yard line and Aguero Jr. connected with junior wide receiver Spencer Pool for the 25-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 35-14 Panthers.
Later on, the Panthers got the ball back on an interception by senior defensive back Carson Campuzano. A couple plays later, the Panthers put the finishing touch on the game when Espinoza found Corona in the end zone for a 18-yard touchdown pass to make it 42-14 Panthers with just over three minutes left.
The Leopards ended the 2022 season 2-7 overall and 2-4 in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
“Going forward, (we have to) just continue to work, be in the gym, on the field and continue to just work hard,” Maldonado said.
After the game, the players stayed on the field and shared some hugs, laughs and even tears as they said goodbye to this year’s senior class and the seniors reminisced about their time at La Verne and what they are going to miss about the game they love.
Senior offensive lineman Trent Mondini shared his favorite memories of playing with the Leopards.
“Strapping the pads on, man, just going out there and hitting and playing the game I’ve played since I was 7 years old,” he said.
“I loved it,” senior linebacker Philip Conner said. “Every moment, the early morning workouts, I enjoyed every part of it.”
Jack Janes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.