Leopards’ running back, Steve Smith (No. 28), ran over Claremont’s Adam Richter (No. 2) and Matt Roberson (No. 12), as he rushed for 205 yards in 27 carries, ending the night with two of La Verne’s three touchdowns. ULV’s offense dominated Claremont on the Stags’ turf in a 20-14 victory. The Leopards improved to 2-2 on the year and 2-0 in conference.
The University of La Verne football team posted a 20-14 victory over host Claremont-Mudd-Scripps behind a giant rushing attack which amassed 272 yards Saturday night at Zinda Field in Claremont.
Entering the game, the visiting Leopards were looking to improve on their undefeated conference record and to defeat the Stags for the first time in four years.
ULV got off to a great start, getting on the board with a 3-yard run from senior running back Steve Smith with 3:58 to play in the first quarter. The touchdown capped off a five-play, 62-yard drive which put the Leopards on top, 7-0.
Without a question, defense was the name of the game in the first half. Both teams struggled to find much offensive rhythm as the two teams were still becoming comfortable with one another.
Claremont missed two key opportunities to get on the board in the first half. With 10:34 to play in the first quarter, freshman kicker Griffin Halpern missed on a mammoth 54-yard field goal attempt. With 8:22 to play in the second quarter, Halpern had a 29-yard chip shot blocked by La Verne defenseman Toso Matau.
ULV, riding the strong play of its defense, went into the half leading 7-0.
“Our defense played great all four quarters,” La Verne head coach Don Morel said. “We dominated the tempo of the game.”
“We did well, the defense played excellent,” Matau said.
In the third quarter, the Leopards’ defense came up big once again.
With 7:47 to play in the third quarter, Claremont had possession at their own 37-yard line when senior quarterback Mitch Browne dropped back on third down and nine and was intercepted by Leopard cornerback Keith Cooper (two tackles, two interceptions) on the La Verne 40-yard line. Cooper then returned the ball 11 yards up the sideline to set up a first down for the Leopards on Claremont’s 49-yard line.
On the ensuing possession, La Verne quarterback Jeff Magdaleno (6 of 16, 86 yards passing, one touchdown) hooked up with tight end Kellen Guthrie from second and goal on the Claremont 11-yard line. The score capped off a seven play, 49-yard drive, and put the Leopards up, 14-0, with 5:17 to play in the third quarter.
On the following kickoff, Claremont slowly drove the ball up to midfield and with 2:56 to play, Browne was intercepted again by Cooper, this time at the La Verne 27 setting up first and ten for the Leopards with a 14-0 lead.
ULV took the next possession all the way down to the Claremont 15-yard line. But with first and 10 at the 15, Steve Smith’s fumble was recovered by the Stags on their own 16-yard line, leaving the door open for a possible comeback.
Claremont finally got on the board with a 9-yard pass from Browne to junior Tyler Jank with 5:58 to play in the fourth quarter. The touchdown pass ended the eight-play, 67-yard drive and cut the Leopards’ lead to 14-7.
Feeling the need to redeem himself from the fumble on the previous possession, Smith took the opening handoff 59 yards before he was tackled at the Claremont 2-yard line setting up first and goal.
Smith wasted no time taking the very next handoff two yards directly into the end-zone, catapulting the Leopards back in to the driver’s seat. The conversion failed, but left ULV with a comfortable 20-7 lead with 5:23 to play in the fourth. The drive
tallied 61 yards on two plays, tallied 61 yards on two plays, taking only 35 seconds to score.
“Smith played great, and we all feel that he can be even better,” Morel said. “Overall, we are very pleased with his play.”
Determined not to fall to 0-2 in conference play, the Stags marched down the field on the next possession and scored on a four yard pass from recently substituted quarterback Bo Drake to receiver Brian Nwokedi to cut the ULV lead to 20-14 with 3:37 to play. The drive tallied 12 plays, 76 yards, and burned only 1:46 off of the clock.
Claremont would get the ball back with 1:11 to play in the game, but would have to drive 90 yards in that span with no timeouts.
The Stags inevitably turned the ball over on downs and ULV ran out the clock holding on to the 20-14 victory over host Claremont.
“Our offensive line blocked and played well the entire game,” Morel said.
The Leopards improved to 2-2 overall and 2-0 in conference and received their first victory over Claremont in four years.
The loss dropped the Stags to 1-2 overall and 0-1 in conference.
Smith finished the game with an impressive 205 yards rushing on 27 carries and two touchdowns, proving to be the deciding factor in the victory for the Leopards.
Browne finished the game 19 for 38 with 251 yards passing and a touchdown. Browne was also intercepted three times in the game, twice by Cooper, proving to be key plays in the game.
“Family ball right there, family ball,” junior safety Frank Milia said.
Coach Morel hopes his team can step up to the challenge and play at this level in the future.
“We are going to have to raise our level of play,” Morel said. “Redlands is the two time defending conference champion.”
ULV will continue conference action against two time defending Southern California Intercollegiate Conference champions University of Redlands (1-2 overall, 0-0 conference) at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Ortmayer Stadium.
Staff Writer Melissa Rodriguez contributed to this report.
Steven Falls can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.