Football ends strong season on sour note

Junior wide receiver Kali’i Kunitomo (85) sits dejected with his head down as the team’s season comes to an end after Saturday’s 38-28 loss against Cal Lutheran. Photo by Kate DeSalvo

Junior wide receiver Kali’i Kunitomo (85) sits dejected with his head down as the football team’s season comes to an end after Saturday’s 38-28 loss against Cal Lutheran.

With a conference title and an automatic berth into the NCAA Division III playoffs up for grabs, host Cal Lutheran scored 24 straight unanswered points in the second half to defeat Chapman football 38-28 on a brisk Saturday afternoon at William Rolland Stadium. The win marked the fourth straight SCIAC title for the Kingsmen, stretching their conference winning streak to a noteworthy 27 games.    Head Coach Bob Owens said his team played at the same intensity as the No. 7 ranked Cal Lutheran.

“It was truly an exhausting game. Both teams were very physical and matched up well,” Owens said.

Chapman (6-3, 5-2) finished the first half with a 14-7 lead, thanks to two consecutive touchdowns by junior wide receiver Robin Harris and sophomore running back Jeremiah McKibbins.

Junior quarterback Kevin Hunter provided the crucial passing the Panthers needed, completing a total 14-of-21 passes for 177 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Hunter said the first half provided the opportunity to capitalize on an over- confident Cal Lutheran.

“We knew they were going to under- estimate us,” Hunter said.

Despite the boost, it didn’t take long for Cal Lutheran (8-1, 7-0) to make a comeback in the second-half. The Kingsmen wasted no time as senior wide receiver Eric Rogers scored a 32-yard touchdown from senior quarterback Zach Shultis at the 12:16 mark to open the third quarter with an even 14-14 tie. Chapman bounced back, once again grabbing the lead on a 6-yard touchdown pass from Hunter to Harris at 9:31.

Cal Lutheran didn’t let the Panthers get too comfortable and went on a 24-point scoring streak to grab control of the game. The run started when Shultis connected with senior wide receiver Donald Senegal for a late third-quarter touchdown. With a 21-21 tie to open fourth-quarter action, Chapman watched its hope of a SCIAC title fade as the duo once again combined for an 11-yard touchdown at the 11:12 mark.

Junior middle linebacker Wade Minshew said the Kingsmen made adjustments late in the game that Chapman couldn’t keep up with.

Chapman football cheers for the last time this season after losing to Cal Lutheran. Photo by Kate DeSalvo

“We knew that they were going to come out strong, but they used a few different plays in the second half that got us out of [our] system,” he said. “[Cal Lutheran] has a lot of good athletes and they were able to find the open space they needed to run the ball.”

Chapman’s defense again struggled to stop the tough Kingsmen offense, allowing another two touchdowns to slip through and pushing the score to 38-21.    A late rushing touchdown by McKibbins with 40 seconds on the clock narrowed the gap, but the game was well out of reach.

The otherwise successful season may have ended on a bitter note, but Owens remains proud of his team’s accomplishments.

“Of course ending on a loss is a tough way to go out, but I couldn’t be more proud of how our guys represented themselves this season,” Owens said. “We played hard all year and had great leadership from the returners. We got to [play for the] conference championship and that’s where we wanted to be.”