Fans packed the Ernie Chapman Stadium Saturday night to watch the Chapman football team (0-1) open its season against visiting fourth-ranked Linfield (1-0).
Facing one of the most successful teams in Division III football, the Panthers were shut out in the second half after leading 14-7 at intermission, falling 21-14.
In a game that many Chapman fans had circled on their schedule, the Panthers battled the Wildcats all night and at times looked like they might pull off the upset. However, crucial penalties toward the end of the game prevented the Panthers from achieving the comeback.
“It was two very good football teams and unfortunately somebody had to lose,” said head coach Bob Owens. “I thought it was going to be a tough game and that’s exactly what it was to the very end.”
Playing against an extremely physical and aggressive Linfield team, Chapman came out strong and looked to make a statement by establishing its running game. The Panthers knew that they would have to execute their game plan extremely well if they wanted to compete with the Wildcats.
“We understood how good of an offense Linfield had and it really took each and every person doing their assignment, which I thought we did pretty well,” said senior linebacker Greg Johnson, who recorded a sack and a pass deflection on a screen pass that would have gone for a first down.
Heading into halftime with a 14-7 lead, the Panthers were in control of the game as their running game allowed them to dictate the flow and tempo. The Panthers also got lucky with key penalties against Linfield that kept the game within reach.
Tied 7-7 with 1:29 left in the second quarter, Chapman had put together a drive into Linfield territory and faced an important third down. On the ensuing play, the Wildcats brought pressure and hammered senior quarterback Michael Lahey, earning themselves a penalty for roughing the passer.
It was one of 10 penalties for Linfield, and the Panthers quickly capitalized on the mistake as senior running back Cody Chapple broke a tackle and ran in for a touchdown with 1:00 left in the first half.
Coming out of halftime, Linfield made key offensive adjustments and focused on throwing the ball down field in the second half. That decision proved to be a good one, as the team targeted Chapman senior defensive back Chase Tamashiro for both its two passing touchdowns in the second half, and finished with 281 total passing yards.
Receiver Charlie Poppen led the Wildcats with five receptions for 119 yards and one touchdown on a 73 yard pitch and catch.
“You can’t shoot yourself in the foot against a good football team,” Owens said.
While ultimately the Wildcats overpowered Chapman’s secondary, the Panthers defense put up an impressive fight against the larger Linfield team. Led by Johnson, the Panthers defense looked solid through four quarters.
“There’s always room for improvement but I think we showed glimpses of what we could be,” Johnson said. “I have confidence in the group of guys that we got.”
The Panthers struggled to throw the ball down field, as Lahey was constantly under pressure from an unrelenting Linfield defense. The Wildcats bullied Chapman’s offensive line, sacking Lahey six times and hitting him whenever possible.
Utilizing multiple running backs, the Panthers relied heavily on their running game and finished with 143 total rushing yards. Chapple led all rushers with 14 carries for 87 yards and one touchdown. Senior Kean Stancil finished with 42 yards on 10 carries and senior Jeremiah McKibbins with 23 yards on eight attempts.
It was a big moment for McKibbins, who missed all of last season due to a knee injury and was visibly excited to be back on the field.
“It feels great, there’s no better feeling than being out there,” he said. “Our guys fought a heavyweight match tonight and we fought until the end.”
The Panthers will travel to Whitworth in Spokane, Washington Sept. 27 for a 1 p.m. game.