Football sets stage for SCIAC showdown

Sophomore tight end Anthony Ezeakunne celebrates after receiving a touchdown pass from junior quarterback Kevin Hunter, giving the Panthers a 31-7 lead going into halftime. Photo by Larry Newman

Chapman football (6-2, 5-1) added another win to its successful season, venturing to Claremont Mudd-Scripps (0-8) where the Panthers were able to run down the Stags 34-14.

With only one regular season game remaining, Chapman needed a win to stay in the race for the SCIAC championship and earn a berth into the NCAA Division III playoffs.

“It was a team we were supposed to beat,” said senior tight end Sean Denny. “We have one more game to win, and that has been our mentality the whole season.”

Matching up against the winless Claremont team, the Panthers went into the game with confidence.

“We took the game seriously, it didn’t matter what their record was,” said senior left tackle D.J. Brandel. “We never gave them an opportunity to be in the game and that is what we had to do to come out on top.”

The coaches came in with a concrete game plan and the team was able to execute it.

“Our offensive line is one of the biggest strengths of the team, so running the ball has really been key for us,” said Assistant Coach Kevin Ashton.

Junior wide receiver Robin Harris sprints past Claremont’s defense during Saturday’s game. Photo by Larry Newman

The Panthers were led on the ground by senior running back Al White, who had 117 yards and a touchdown on the night. A strong contribution also came from sophomore running back Jeremiah McKibbins who rushed for 97 yards on 21 carries. McKibbins is four yards away from eclipsing the 1,000-yard rushing mark, and his 142.3 rushing yards per game is only one yard off of the school record.

With such a strong running game, the aerial attack opened up for the Panthers.

“We knew we could run down the middle and that’s what we did,” Denny said. “We could pass because they had to watch the run on every play.”

Junior quarterback Kevin Hunter stood out in his first start of the season, going 11-14 with 215 yards and three touchdowns.

“It was great to see Kevin have a strong game,” said Head Coach Bob Owens. “We had a good time throwing the ball throughout the game.”

Junior wide receiver Robin Harris had a standout night, pulling in five catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns.

It was not just a night of offensive success for Chapman, as a solid defensive effort was also crucial in the victory.

“[Claremont] came out and scored on their first drive, but then we picked ourselves up and didn’t let them score until pretty much their final drive,” Ashton said.

The win keeps the Panthers in second place, behind Cal Lutheran. The two will face off Saturday in what will be a clash for the SCIAC championship.

“We have to use our leadership, our captains and play on top of our game,” Ashton said. “They are a tough team, but we are capable of beating them and the team knows it.”

With a potential first SCIAC championship now in sight, the team knows that its focus must be on what is in front of them.

“We each signed a contract at the beginning of the year saying that our goal as a team was to make the playoffs and win the championship,” Brandel said. “To have an opportunity to accomplish that is huge for us and we have to take advantage of it.”

The battle against Cal Lutheran will take place Saturday at the Kingsmen’s Rolland Stadium at 1 p.m.

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