The University of Redlands football team capped off an impressive regular season with its seventh win in a row to capture sole possession of the 2016 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) championship with Saturday's 34-30 victory over the visiting Cal Lutheran University Kingsmen. In the fifth-annual Smudge Pot showdown, the Bulldogs maintained the trophy for the fourth-consecutive year, giving their seniors an undefeated run against the rival from Thousand Oaks.
Amidst a relentless battle of two quality opponents, the teams traded scores throughout the first half, with Redlands taking a slight 9-8 lead into halftime. Freshman kicker Nathan Hierlihy (Redondo Beach, CA) split the uprights on a 45-yard field-goal for the first score of the game, before junior wide receiver Kyle Kabeary (Indio, CA) hauled in a 21-yard reception from junior quarterback Mitch Kidd (Salinas, CA) for the one-point advantage.
With a lot of pride behind the Smudge Pot trophy, Cal Lutheran opened the third quarter with a quick touchdown, before the Bulldogs immediately answered back with a seven-point play of their own. On 2nd and 11 from the Redlands' 24-yard line, Kidd found junior wide receiver Christian Guzman (Desert Hot Springs, CA) on a beautiful, over-the-shoulder pass. After hauling in the catch, Guzman accelerated past the defender to go 76-yards to the house for Redlands' 16-14 advantage with 13:14 left in the third quarter.
But Cal Lutheran kept at it on the ensuing drive, orchestrating another touchdown and two-point conversion to regain the lead.
Another Hierlihy field goal from 45-yards out cut the deficit to three points at 19-22, before the Kingsmen rallied for another eight-point play to extend their lead late in the third quarter.
Redlands' defense was tested throughout the game, but especially in the fourth quarter when CLU found ways to keep its offense on the field. Nonetheless, the Bulldogs showed their resilience by coming up with big sacks by junior defensive lineman Tristan Corwin (Wildomar, CA) and senior defensive lineman Brian Keyser (Medford, NJ). Pinned deep in their own territory, a CLU punt turned into a safety for the Bulldogs as well.
Midway through the fourth, the Maroon and Gray made it a one-score game when Kidd connected with sophomore running back Jacob Guglielmana (Lake Elsinore, CA), who juked the defender to find just enough space along the sideline for a touchdown on a 44-yard strike.
Needing to get the ball back quickly, the Bulldog defense limited the Kingsmen to 17 and 11 yards on their next two drives, with quality coverage by junior linebacker Mitch Shepherd (Seattle, WA), senior defensive back Connor Hoffman (Tustin, CA), sophomore defensive lineman Joe Munroe (Costa Mesa, CA), and others, throughout the effort.
With 3:35 remaining, Redlands looked to Guzman for another big-time catch, as Kidd unleashed another over-the-shoulder throw that Guzman grabbed before pulling away from the CLU defender for 98 yards on the winning score.
The home team continued to display its defensive resilience by stopping the visitors to end the game. Senior linebacker Justin Lantz (Corona, CA) and senior defensive back Aaron Mandell (Seattle, WA) added to the Bulldogs' outstanding night in the trenches. Late in the game, junior defensive back Dustin Nascimiento (Aiea, HI) hauled in an interception to stymie the Kingsmen's momentum.
Kidd finished the day with 413 yards through the air, with Guzman tallying a career-high 220 yards on just four catches.
Shepherd racked up eight tackles, while Munroe added seven. Hoffman provided six but was credited with five pass break-ups.
Redlands now awaits its fate in the NCAA Championships, with the bracket being announced on Sunday at 3 p.m. on NCAA.com. The first-round game will take place on Saturday, November 19.