A 23-yard touchdown pass from Niko Fortino to Dejour Williams put Lewis & Clark on the board in the early fourth quarter, but Claremont Mudd-Scripps won the Pios season opener 27-7 at Griswold Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The first-year starting quarterback hit Williams on a double move in the back corner of the end zone, giving Fortino his first Lewis & Clark touchdown pass, and Williams his first TD reception.
For the game, Williams had seven catches for 77 yards, the longest of which was the scoring play. Fortino went 24-for-45 for 251 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in his debut.
"He did a good job," said head coach Jay Locey about Fortino. "He had good command in the huddle and in the pocket and made some good decisions. He's a good general and is going to do some good things for us."
The game was the Lewis & Clark debut for Locey, who won a national championship with Linfield in 2004, but had been out of Division III since the end of the 2006 season when he joined the staff of his alma mater, Oregon State.
Overall, Lewis & Clark outgained CMS in passing yards 251-54. In his debut, Lewis & Clark tight end Carl Appleton had five catches for 71 yards, including a 26-yard gain on his first reception in the early second quarter. Appleton is playing football for the first time this season after being an All-NWC selection for the Pios basketball team.
Senior Bruce Taft ended the game with four receptions for 52 yards, including one of Lewis & Clark's three passing plays over 20 yards. Jantzen Shinmoto had two catches for 14 yards and Dennis Kamakana had three for 12 yards.
The Pioneers scoring drive started from their own 31-yard line. In five plays, Fortino was 3-for-3 on passes to Taft and two to Williams, the last for the touchdown. Sophomore running back Eric Hawkins had an 18-yard run to get Lewis & Clark to the Claremont M-S 23-yard line, where Williams scored on the next play.
Hawkins had 24 yards on seven carries, while senior Josh Bocker ran nine times for 20 yards plus had three receptions for 25 yards.
"We have to build on what we did today and we're going to go watch some film and check out where we went wrong," said Bocker. "We can be a lot better than we were today and I expect big things from this team this season."
"They like the game and play hard," said Locey. "I was encouraged about that. I thought that we fought, scratched, bit, clawed - did everything that we could to stay in the game. Stayed competitive, so I was very happy with that."
Both teams were slow to start, exchanging two three-and-out series apiece. Lewis & Clark's second series was marred by two penalties that backed the Pioneers all the way to their own 7-yard line.
While big plays paced the Stags throughout the day, as they picked up the first 27 points of the game, their first scoring drive was constructed bit-by-bit capitalizing on good field position. The Stags used 12 plays, only one of which gained over five yards, to drive 41 yards before Shane Pico scored a 1-yard rushing touchdown, his first of two in the game.
Pico ended the afternoon with 129 yards rushing from 17 attempts. As a team, the Stags outgained Lewis & Clark 315-35, much of which came on CMS' 7-play, 80-yard drive in the third quarter. Every play of that drive was a run. Nick Gott carried 11 times for 76 yards and Segre finished with 58 yards on 11 touches.
After another three-and-out, CMS took over in Lewis & Clark territory once again, going from the 45 to the 21 in seven plays before Matthew Aven missed a 38-yard field goal attempt.
Lewis & Clark's best first half drive took the Pios from their own 20-yard line to the CMS 10 where junior kicker Colin Brown setup for a 27-yard field goal try. His kick was blocked by Andrew Frick and three plays later, Stags quarterback Sam Healy, who played nearly evenly with starter Trey Reynolds, busted a 46-yard touchdown run to help the Stags to a 14-0 lead.
Before the half, the Pioneers had two possessions that ended in Claremont M-S territory, once to the 48 and the last to the 29. During the latter, Fortino was stripped of the football by Andrew Sova and the fumble was recovered by Ryan Haughton. On the ensuing drive, the Stags went three-and-out, but led at halftime by 14.
CMS had played one game leading into the contest, a 22-19 overtime loss to Puget Sound. For the Pioneers, Locey was happy his team finally got on the field after three weeks of fall practice.
"You can't simulate [competition] too much in practice," said Locey. "I'm encouraged by what it showed in terms of our heart, attitudes and pulling together because I think it showed if we stay strong together like that, it'll be a fun group to work with."
On the opening drive of the second half, Lewis & Clark took the ball to the CMS 33 when Fortino threw deep to the end zone intended for Taft, but it was picked off by Victor Bunce.
From its own 20, Claremont M-S used seven plays to go 80 yards, including a Pico run of 26 yards, and scored again on Andrew Segre's 10-yard run. With 9:15 left in the third quarter, the Stags led 21-0.
Two possessions later, Pico broke off a 48-yard run on the drive's second play, and scored two snaps later from two yards out to help Claremont M-S lead 27-0 at the end of the third quarter. The extra point was wide right by Aven.
Other than the scoring drive to open the fourth quarter, Lewis & Clark had only one more series go into CMS territory, but it ended after Fortino was intercepted by Brendan MacDonald.
Defensively, Remington Campbell shined with nine tackles, many of which came in the first half, and a fumble recovery. Stein Retzlaff, the Pios second-leading tackler from a year ago, had nine stops. Siosifa Tonga finished with eight. James Ingram and Mitchell Allen led the Stags with eight tackles apiece.
After Tonga started as Lewis & Clark's punter, Lucas Rogers kicked the final four, average nearly 44 yards per kick. CMS did not return a single punt.
Lewis & Clark plays next week on the road at Pomona-Pitzer (Saturday, Sept. 19 at 12:30 p.m.) before returning to Griswold Stadium on Oct. 3 as Locey's former team, Linfield, visits to start Northwest Conference play.