The football team’s record-breaking season ended with a crushing 55-24 loss to Linfield in the first round of the NCAA playoffs.
Entering the game on an eight-game winning streak, the 17th ranked Panthers (8-2) took on the 10th ranked Wildcats (9-1) in a rematch of the team’s week one loss. Although their first competition came down to the wire, Saturday’s game was decided by halftime.
Down 14-0 in the first quarter, the Panthers offense had been unable to get anything going against a stifling Wildcat defense. Following another unsuccessful possession, Chapman’s Markus Trujillo punted to Jordan Giza who exploded past defenders for a 63-yard touchdown run that pushed Linfield’s lead to 21-0 and put the game out of reach.
“When two good teams play each other, you can’t hand them points or go three and out on offense,” said senior quarterback Michael Lahey. “You got to make big plays in big games and we weren’t able to do that in the first half.”
Lahey finished with 206 yards and one touchdown on 14-28 attempts, but most of the team’s success came after the outcome had been decided.
Chapman came into the game averaging 38.6 points per game and 473.4 yards per game. However, Chapman was unable to get any offensive rhythm in the first half and struggled to contain Linfield’s savage defensive line.
“I’ve played for five years and they have the best defensive line I’ve seen on film,” Lahey said. “They have a very efficient offense that knows what it takes to get to the playoffs and be successful.”
Combining a bruising running attack with a strong aerial assault, the Wildcats took advantage of a stunned Panthers defense, and exploded for 28 first-quarter points.
Linfield quarterback Sam Riddle led the Wildcats with a monster game, finishing with 279 yards and four touchdowns on 22-36 attempts. The Tigers relied heavily on their rushing game and ended with 227 yards and two touchdowns.
“They hit us with a quick jab in the beginning and knocked us on our heels,” said senior corner back Sean Davey. “It knocked the wind out of us early and we got into too big of a hole.”
With the loss, Chapman finished its most successful season in team history that included its first ever league championship and playoff bid. Although the team wanted a different outcome, Davey said the players feel incredibly proud about the team.
“We look around and are so thankful we came together and were able to accomplish all that we did,” he said. “Looking back on the ride, it was really special.”