Foxhole guys — motivated, unselfish, high character. That’s what Occidental football head coach Doug Semones looks for in his players and, apparently, what he has found.
In a thrilling comeback win at Jack Kemp Field Saturday night, the Occidental football team fully lived up to its coach’s “foxhole” mantra and overcame a two touchdown deficit to beat the Chapman Panthers 35-27 in the homecoming game. The victory marked the first time in their four years that the team’s seniors defeated Chapman.
Quarterback Bryan Scott (junior) threw the winning score to wideout Devin Bullock (senior) with less than two minutes left, capping a stirring sequence of events that featured an Occidental defense that stiffened in the second half. Ongoing heroics from running back Kwame Do (senior) and a savvy punt return by Cordell Harris (junior) put the offense into striking range at the end of the game.
The plays reflected the “foxhole” mentality Semones brought with him when he came on as head coach three years ago.
Dating back to World War I, foxhole is a military term describing the trench where soldiers protected each other in the midst of warfare and fought together against the odds in combat. According to Do, the intensity of the sport creates solidarity and brotherhood similar to the kind formed among soldiers in a foxhole.
“Football is a tough, violent game, and you have to be able to trust the guy next to you,” Semones said. “If you believe in the guy next to you, trust the guy next to you, love the guy next to you, you play hard for him.”
Occidental suited 52 players whereas Chapman had the depth of over 90, an imbalance that ultimately proved inconsequential.
“It’s the kind of kids we recruit,” quarterback coach Darnell Arceneaux said. “When you’re put under pressure, you learn a lot about who you are. Gritty, tough — these are a hard-working bunch of guys.”
Reflected in pure numbers, the strength of the team’s camaraderie was clearly a powerful factor in the game.
The team leaders were quick to point out that the individual accomplishments and notable plays were the result of a deep-rooted team mentality. Do, the record-setting running back who has rushed for 861 yards already this season, emphasized the performance of the offensive line, which regularly opened up gaping holes for him to run through and provided ample time for quarterback Scott to throw.
Do pointed to Nicholas Lunn (sophomore), Niko Lachman (junior), Jim Partee (senior), Mike Consunji (junior) and Alec Garofalo (junior) as leaders on the offensive line.
“This summer, I worked on where I was weak.” Partee said. “There was positive pressure, and there’s nothing like being out on the field and doing something that’s difficult really well. It’s a powerful feeling.”
In a back and forth first half, Chapman drew first blood after Scott fumbled after a blindside hit near midfield. The Chapman offense methodically marched down the field employing screen passes and effective outside rushes and scored on an 11-yard pass from quarterback Mac Vail to receiver Noah Rivard. Occidental responded in kind with a 78-yard, nine play drive that culminated with Do’s one-yard dive into the end zone. The Tigers’ missed extra point left the score at 14-6.
On the first play of the second quarter, Chapman roared into action, with an 85-yard catch and run to expand its lead.
Occidental matched the score quickly. The offense began to gain rhythm, as Scott connected with Bullock and other receivers to complement Do’s hard running. The Occidental score came on a 26-yard strike from Scott to Bullock. But after an exchange of punts, Chapman took advantage of a strong punt return and an Occidental personal foul to begin a drive at the Occidental 24-yard line and quickly scored to extend its lead to 21-13.
The amount of movement across the field throughout the game showed the intense energy and tension between the men on the field, with Chapman extending their halftime lead in the opening drive of the third quarter on an eight-play, 79-yard drive.
After a botched snap prevented Chapman from scoring the point after touchdown, the major turning point of the game featured Scott firing a 48-yard strike to Bullock on a third and long. Coupled with a penalty on Chapman, the Tigers’ forced their way onto Chapman’s eight yard line.
From the Wildcat formation at the one-yard line, Do scored his second touchdown of the game to bring the Tigers within a touchdown.
From that point onward, the Tiger defense stiffened, helped by Chapman miscues. According to linebacker Devin Chapman (senior), Occidental’s halftime adjustments focused on changing its defensive alignments to respond to Chapman’s passing attack, which enabled Vail to pass for over 150 yards in the first half.
Anticipation coursed through the crowd as the Occidental defense set the stage for the fourth quarter comeback. Evidenced by two older, enthusiastic alumni in Hawaiian shirts growing hoarser as they yelled football cheers into a stolen megaphone, energy levels rose as the crowd and the teams seemed to fuel the intensity on the field.
Semones himself reflected the contagious energy from the stands and the players.
“I’ve been doing this thirty years, I’m still nervous, still jacked up in the locker room, during the game.” Semones said. “I felt we had that momentum to keep going on offense in the fourth quarter, so that’s why I went for it on the fourth down at midfield.”
In the final 2:30, the crowd gasped and rose as the offensive linemen created huge gaps for Do to advance the ball and set up the winning touchdown strike. Scott connected on a short pass to Bullock, who broke a tackle to force his way into the end zone. A bizarre two-point conversion when Chapman blocked the point-after kick but nose tackle Zack Heerwagen (senior), serving as blocker, picked up the loose ball and carried it into the end zone put the Tigers ahead 35-27.
With a deafening crescendo of hoarse yells, the final play was quickly followed by the glare of cellular light as enthusiastic fans whipped out statistics and game rules on their phones to check its validity. Heerwagen recognized the absolute improbability of the play.
“It’s not even normal for me to be on that team.” Heerwagen said, referring to the conversion. “That’s not something you can possibly prepare for, the ball just ended up right behind me and I scooped it up and tried to make a play.”
Arceneaux summed up the team well.
“We’re not the biggest team, we’re not the fastest team, but you really can’t judge how big these kids’ hearts are when it comes down to giving it all they’ve got,” Arceneaux said.