Photo by Dennis Putian
LA VERNE, CA — On fourth and eight in overtime, the Leopards elected to pass on a field goal opportunity and go for the win. The gamble paid off as quarterback Matthew Albright connected with Nathaniel Sagastume in the end zone to pull off the 20-17 win over the defending SCIAC champion Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags.
The La Verne defense came through clutch and twice forced red zone turnovers to stay close with the Stags.
With the win, the Leopards open conference play 1-0 and improve to 2-2 overall. The Stags fall to 0-1 in SCIAC play and 2-2 overall.
The Stags opened the extra period with the ball but managed to gain just three yards on their first three downs. Alessandro Maiuolo converted a 39-yard field goal to give CMS the 17-14 lead.
The Leopards didn't fare much better on their opening three plays with the ball, gaining just two yards. On fourth down, Head Coach Chris Krich sent his offense back onto the field after a timeout. Albright dropped back, Sagastume made a double move and got behind the secondary, and snagged the game-winning catch as he dove across the end zone.
The Leopards difference bent but did not break. After La Verne gave up a pair of scores in the first quarter, the defensive unit kept the Stags off the board for the next three quarters.
The Stags capitalized off a La Verne fumble on the opening possession of the game and with the help of the short field scored three plays later. In their next possession, CMS drove 67 yards down the field and looked like they would double their lead. But on third and 12, Torii Hilbert jumped in front of Zack Flogel's pass and picked off the attempt at the one-yard line to end the threat.
Hilbert, a 2017 All-SCIAC selection, has made big waves for the Leopards' defense in his return this season. The cornerback has picked off a pair of passes, forced and recovered a fumble, and has broken up six passes. Hilbert finished the game with 10 tackles.
With the clock running down in the second, the Leopards' defense again made a critical red zone stop. On second and goal from the eight-yard line, Gary Bojorquez picked off Jake Norville's pass in the end zone to notch his first career interception and send La Verne into the locker room down by just one score.
Trailing by eight early in the fourth quarter, Albright and Sagastume connected for 20 yards to get to the CMS 27-yard line. Later in the drive on fourth and seven, Albright got the job done with his legs, gaining just enough yardage to move the sticks.
On the next play, Albright continued to show off his abilities as a runner, went to his right on a designed run, and followed a great block by Martaveous Holliday for the 17-yard touchdown run.
The Leopards offense stayed on for the two-point conversion and again it was an Albright to Sagastume connection This time the slot receiver went in motion across the field and Albright dumbed the ball off to him in the flat to even the game 17-17.
On the final play of regulation, the Stags gave La Verne a huge scare. Norville completed a pass to Kaden Gallant at the five-yard line but the Leopards swarmed and stopped his momentum at the two-yard line to force overtime.
CMS had two other chances to take the lead in the fourth quarter but the defense held tight each time. After a La Verne turnover, the Stags took over at the Leopards' 22-yard line but on third down were stopped a yard short of the marker. CMS attempted a 30-yard field goal but the kick sailed wide right.
The Stags got the ball in La Verne territory on their next drive but were stopped on third down this time at the 16-yard line. CMS went for the go-ahead field goal and it missed wide right.
Robert Franklin had a huge game for the Leopards. The senior broke up four passes, registered five solo tackles and 11 total tackles in the game. Preston Carr led the Leopards with 13 total tackles and added one pass breakup. Carr leads the SCIAC with 11.8 tackles per game and 47 total tackles.
Linebacker Conner Johnson had a big game for the Leopards. The senior leader totaled eight tackles, seven on his own, and registered one tackle for a loss.
Arturo Herrera-Caballero averaged 43.4 yards a punt with a long of 55 yards. Entering the game, the punter ranked in the top-25 nationally in average yards per punt.
James Gonsalves scored the Leopards' first touchdown of the game on a one-yard rush in the second quarter. Gonsalves leads the Leopards and is tied for second in the SCIAC with four touchdowns.
Sagastume led the Leopards with 56 receiving yards and a touchdown. Sam Taylor led La Verne with 51 yards on the ground.
The Leopards travel to Sixth Street next week for a match-up against the Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.Watch Live Download the SCIAC TV App Follow ULV Athletics on Twitter Like us on Facebook Watch on Youtube Follow us on Instagram