All of the momentum from La Verne’s Homecoming victory over Pomona-Pitzer was gone by halftime in their game against visiting Occidental last Saturday, as the Leopards went into the locker room trailing, 34-0.
As the home fans prepared for the worst, the home team gave them an inspiring performance that saw the Leopards hold the Tigers to only six points in the second half before falling in defeat, 40-27.
“Our guys were excited and ready to go all week, but it just wasn’t clicking for us in the first half,” head coach Andy Ankeny said. “The biggest thing in the second half was that our guys finally relaxed.”
Going up against the No. 20-ranked team in Division III is no easy task as La Verne learned the hard way, allowing Occidental to score six times on its first eight drives.
While this is not the first time the Leopards have played against a Top 25 team—so far they have played three this season—they appeared to be lost in the first half.
The Tigers piled up 318 yards on offense while holding La Verne to only 47 yards. Occidental was led on offense by quarterback Justin Goltz, who threw for 247 yards and two touchdown passes in the first two quarters.
Junior quarterback Anthony Andre, who has started every game for the Leopards this season, struggled in the first and second quarter before being replaced by freshman quarterback Christian Winnewisser.
Andre completed five of his 12 passes for 28 yards and was sacked once.
“I just came out and did what we do everyday in practice,” Winnewisser said. “ I felt good; everybody as a team stepped up.”
After being down by 34 points, their largest deficit of the season, La Verne came out an entirely different team in the second half.
The Leopard defense swarmed around the Tigers’ offense that was unstoppable early on, giving up only one score in the second half on a 23-yard touchdown throw from Goltz to wide receiver Chris Washington.
Washington finished the game with nine receptions for 175 yards and three touchdowns.
The Leopards, who were once again led by senior linebacker Jason Carpenter, forced two turnovers in the second half and gave up 177 yards.
Carpenter, who is currently leading the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in tackles with 59, finished the game with 11 total tackles.
“The only thing they really did against us in the first half was make big plays,” Carpenter said. “Once we got that out of the way, they couldn’t really do anything.”
“Our DBs were more physical in the second half; we didn’t make any little mistakes and no big plays,” senior defensive back Grant Woods said.
“Containing the No. 20-ranked team shows we can play with anybody,” Woods added.
As the Leopards’ defense was containing Occidental’s offensive attack, Winnewisser was getting warmed up and leading La Verne to 27 second half points.
Coming off the bench as a freshman, Winnewisser showed much poise standing in the pocket, spreading the ball around and connecting with nine different receivers.
“Our receivers were catching balls that they were dropping in the first half, and our line was doing a better job picking up blitzes,” Winnewisser said.
Winnewisser finished the game with 303 yards passing and 16 yards rushing, to go along with three touchdown passes and one touchdown run.
Wide receiver Charles Lacy led the Leopards with eight receptions and 52 yards.
“I felt as a receiving corps, we were getting open all day,” Lacy said. “The only difference in the second half was he (Winnewisser) had a little more time to throw the rock and more time to go through his progressions. He’s all about leading the team on the field, and that’s why he did such a good job.”
Wide receivers John Ausman, Kenneth Chapman and Andrew Rubel added a combined 79 yards receiving in the game, and each collected one touchdown catch for the Leopards in the second half.
ULV’s record now sits at 1-5 overall and 1-3 in SCIAC play.
The Leopards hope to carry their second half momentum forward as they play on the road tomorrow night against Whittier at 7 p.m.
“It’s insanely important for us to finish the season on a high note not only for our seniors, but also for our guys coming back so we have something to build on heading into the offseason,” Ankeny said. “Our first step is Whittier.”
Richard Lugo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.