Although they were mathematically eliminated from a chance to repeat as Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) champions with last week’s loss to the University of La Verne, the Chapman Panthers (3-5, 3-3) took the field Saturday night with nothing to play for but pride against their rival the University of Redlands Bulldogs (3-5, 3-3).
Chapman jumped ahead early and never looked back, defeating Redlands 27-13.
“Obviously this season didn’t go as we planned so it was just great to get a team win here tonight,” said junior quarterback Andrew Chavez. “I think a lot of the younger guys know that we had a lot of close games that didn’t go our way this year, but we’re just going to learn from it and get better and the program is going to keep ascending up.”
Chapman handed the ball to senior running back Jeremiah McKibbins early and often, as he scored three first-half touchdowns and ended up with 24 carries for 131 yards. He is not only having quite a special season, but a special career, as heading into Saturday’s game he was one of 16 active players to rush for more than 3,000 yards in the NCAA Division III and has the second highest active career scoring average at 9.7 points per game. McKibbins ranks sixth in the nation in scoring this year (13 points per game), 14th in rushing yards per game (139.5) and 16th in rushing touchdowns (13).
McKibbins now has 16 touchdowns for the season, ranking second among conference running backs.
“We had our up’s and down’s but every single week we fought through the pains and hardships. Of course, in a way, standings mean something, but it doesn’t define the team. How we handled those hardships and pains does,” McKibbins said about his historic season.
McKibbins left the game in the third quarter with what appeared to be a concussion. He did not return after being evaluated on the sidelines. His status for next week’s game, the last of his career, remains uncertain.
Chavez, who was the starter at the beginning of the season before being replaced by sophomore Mac Vail, was back and did well managing the game for the Panthers. He threw for 108 yards and didn’t commit a turnover in the victory.
Chapman’s defense came up with perhaps its best game of the season, coming up with four turnovers, three fumbles and an interception. Senior defensive back Drew DeMarco made the interception in the beginning of the second quarter. The interception was the seventh of DeMarco’s career.
“We just did our assignment. If we do that, we win and it showed tonight,” said junior safety Conner Larkin, who had seven total tackles during the game.
Two of Chapman’s fumble recoveries came in the fourth quarter, stopping any comeback attempt that Redlands tried to make. The Chapman defense allowed 333 totals yards on the night, which is considerably less than the 422 yards per game averaged this season.
The Panthers will conclude their season next week when they host last-place Whittier College (0-8, 0-6) for Senior Day at 1 p.m.
“We just want to leave it all out there for our seniors. It’s their last game here so we’re going to play for them,” Chavez said.