The Chapman Panthers played their last game of the season with heavy hearts Saturday afternoon after learning just a day before of the death of their former teammate, ’15 alumnus Dan Steele.
The team honored its former teammate with a moment of silence before its game against Whittier, and then played its first play on offense with just 10 men on the field.
While the Panthers had already been eliminated from postseason contention, Chapman ended its season on a high note, dominating Whittier 63-15.
“With what happened with Dan, this was really important to us as a program,” said head coach Bob Owens. “It’s about leadership. In a situation like this, when guys are hurting and feeling a little bit of pain, then the leaders take over.”
The Panthers (4-5, 4-3) were forced to punt on their first drive, but senior defensive back Drew DeMarco intercepted Whittier senior quarterback Joseph Anderson on the first defensive play from scrimmage and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown.
“For Drew to just hype everyone up right at the start with the pic-six, and then everything else after that, it just kind of felt like a gift,” said senior linebacker Garrett Frediani, who also had an interception during the game. “It’s all just gifts to us as seniors to send us away feeling complete after playing a game that we knew there wasn’t going to be another one after.”
After a quick 3-and-out by Whittier (0-9, 0-7), senior defensive back Ethan Weinstein returned the Whittier punt 59 yards to the eight yard-line, setting up junior quarterback Andrew Chavez to connect with senior receiver Riley Guilbeault for an 5-yard touchdown to put Chapman ahead 14-0 early.
After another Panther touchdown, followed by a Whittier field goal, Chapman’s all-time leading rusher Jeremiah McKibbins broke loose at the beginning of the second quarter. The senior scored three touchdowns for 71 yards, 14 yards and four yards to give the Panthers a 42-3 lead.
McKibbins finished with 12 carries, all in the first half, for 117 yards and three touchdowns in the final game of his Chapman career. He scored 19 rushing touchdowns on the season, breaking the Chapman record.
“I don’t think anyone wants to be forgotten,” McKibbins said of all the records he’s broken. “So it feels good. I’m glad I was able to do what I can. But for me to gain those yards, I had to rely on the guys I played with. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
After another interception, Chavez connected with senior receiver Sean Myers for a 36-yard touchdown with a minute remaining in the first half, putting the lead at 49-3 at halftime.
Chavez finished 8-for-10 with 144 yards and two touchdown passes to go along with six carries for 49 yards rushing and a touchdown. Myers closed out his career with a big day – six catches for 128 yards and a touchdown.
Myers finished the season with a team high of 48 receptions, 716 yards and seven touchdowns.
Whittier was finally able to find the end zone twice in the fourth quarter. The Chapman offense was able to run the clock out on the season and securing the 63-15 victory.
Chapman finishes fourth in conference this season after winning the championship in 2014. The team loses 21 seniors to graduation, including the standout offensive players, McKibbins and Myers.
“These guys that are walking away, they’ve been champions, they’ve been the winningest team in the conference the last four years,” Owens said. “There have been some incredible things that have happened with this senior group. I’m just glad they took me along for the ride.”