ORANGE, Calif. – Sixteen unanswered points in the final 8:49 by the Chapman University football team broke open what had been a tied game as the Panthers defeated visiting Occidental College 44-28 at Ernie Chapman Stadium on Saturday night. The win was the 50th career head coaching win for Panthers' head coach Bob Owens, who ran his Chapman record to 31-28.
Chapman (4-1 overall, 3-0 SCIAC) remains unbeaten in its first season of conference play and is a perfect 3-0 at home this season.
The Panthers twice built a two touchdown lead at 14-0 and 28-14 only to see the Tigers climb back into the game and tie the score on each occasion. However, Chapman took the lead for good 31-28 on a 30-yard field goal by sophomore K Markus Trujillo with 8:49 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Following a big defensive stop by Chapman, the Panthers then marched 70 yards on nine plays capped by a 30-yard touchdown pass from freshman QB Andrew Chavez to a wide open senior WR Kali'i Kunitomo on a reverse play with 2:55 left to extend their lead to 38-28. The touchdown pass was Chavez's fifth of the game tying a Chapman record previously set by Stan Villanueva versus Menlo in 1999.
A desperate Occidental tried moving the ball downfield quickly in the final minutes, but junior DB Cameron Cutter intercepted Tigers' junior QB Tommy Edwards at the Chapman-44 to seal the win. Four plays later, the Panthers punched in one more touchdown for good measure on a 36-yard run by sophomore RB Jeremiah McKibbins to make it 44-28. On the ensuing PAT attempt, Trujillo's kick missed wide right bringing an end to Chapman's school record string of 65 consecutive PATs made.
The Chapman offense was once again potent, scoring more than 40 for the third time in five games this season. In every game this season, the Panthers have scored first and they did so again on Saturday, finding the endzone on their third play from scrimmage when Chavez hit McKibbins with a 41-yard touchdown pass to give Chapman an early 7-0 lead. The Panthers made it 14-0 on their next drive another TD pass from Chavez to senior WR Alex Wendling from 21 yards out.
Occidental (1-4 overall, 1-2 SCIAC) rallied to knot it at 14 on a pair of scoring passes from Edwards, the second of which came with 1:56 left in the half, appearing as though the teams would go into the locker rooms tied. However, Chavez and McKibbins connected again on a 63-yard touchdown strike just 23 seconds later to go up by a touchdown 21-14 at halftime. McKibbins, who ran for at least 150 yards in each of the first four games, this time caught for 131 yards to complement his 135 yards rushing. Meanwhile, Chavez was 17 of 26 for 318 yards – his first 300-yard passing game of his career.
After the intermission, the Chapman defense came up with another big defensive play as senior LB Michael Mehlhaff stripped junior RB Austin Cheadle and recovered the fumble on the Occidental 19 yard line. That play set up the first of two TD catches by Kunitomo, a one-handed grab in the back-left corner of the end zone from Chavez to put the Panthers up 28-14 at the 14:44 mark of the third quarter. Kunitomo finished with 123 yards receiving on seven catches.
Edwards again brought Occidental back, tossing two more touchdown passes in the second half to tie it at 28 with 12:54 to go in the game, but Chapman came up big in the fourth quarter to quell any further comeback attempts by the Tigers. Edwards finished 35 of 49 for 321 yards.