The Occidental football team (5-3 overall, 4-2 SCIAC) dethroned the Cal Lutheran Kingsmen 32-12 thanks to a strong defensive effort Saturday at Jack Kemp Stadium. The Tigers made the final night game of the season a memorable one, with a blocked field goal and a fake punt, culminating in their best defensive performance of the year. Offensively, the Tigers continued to push a well-balanced attack, passing for 258 yards and rushing for another 163.
While the Occidental offense was churning throughout most of the game, they relied heavily on place kicker Garrett Bronken (junior) to help convert their first quarter drives into points. Bronken’s duties started at the end of the Tiger’s opening drive, where he hit a 30-yard field goal to give Occidental a 3-0 lead. On Occidental’s ensuing drive, Bronken was again called upon to extend the Tiger lead. This time he split the uprights from 38 yards away, giving Occidental a 6-0 lead and marking a new career-long for field goals.
“We really emphasized getting the timing down, and being able to get the ball kicked as soon as possible has definitely made a difference,” Bronken said. “But it is not just me. Long snapper Brett Kassel [junior], holder Kaleb Mitchell [junior] and all the guys on the line have done a great job.”
After a Cal Lutheran touchdown that tied the game 6-6, quarterback Bryan Scott (junior) and wide receiver Cordell Harris (junior) took control of the offense. Scott, who leads the SCIAC in passing touchdowns (14), completion percentage (67.9) and yards per game (263.5), found Harris on a quick nine-yard route with just over four minutes in the half to give Tigers a 13-6 lead going into halftime.
However, it was punter and wide receiver Carlton O’Neal (first-year) that made the touchdown possible, as he successfully converted a fake punt attempt on fourth down at midfield to help Occidental retain possession.
“That was not a designed fake punt,” O’Neal said. “Coach told me to hold the ball as long as I could to allow the cover team to get down the field. But while I was holding it, I noticed that the Kingsmen did not leave anyone behind to make sure I kicked it, and I knew I could take off and pick up the first.”
In the third quarter, the Occidental defense decided to help out the offense in one of football’s most unconventional plays. Following a Kingsmen touchdown, senior defensive back Casey Dudley broke through the Cal Lutheran field goal formation and blocked, scooped and returned their extra point attempt for two points. The play negated what would have been a game-tying extra point attempt and gave the Tigers a three-point lead with just under 10 minutes in the third quarter. Dudley would go on to record three tackles and an interception in the fourth quarter.
When the defense was not trying to outscore the offense, they were wreaking havoc in the Cal Lutheran backfield and stifling the Kingsmen passing attack. Linebacker Marcus McDuffie (sophomore) recorded two sacks while defensive back Nicholas Mungia (senior) had a team-high seven tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss. In the air, defensive back Shay Mueller (senior) recorded three pass deflections.
As a team, the Tigers limited Cal Lutheran to only 214 yards in total offense. Occidental also won the turnover battle; they recovered a fumble and recorded an interception without turning over the ball themselves.
“Our main focus going into the game was to win the turnover battle,” head coach Doug Semones said. “Zero turnovers on offense and the two takeaways on defense gave us a big advantage.”
After the defensive theatrics, running back Kwame Do (senior) started to assert himself in the running game. Do, who needed 198 yards entering the game to break the all-time SCIAC career rushing record, ran for 156 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries. His 40-yard run and subsequent three-yard plunge into the end zone with just over four minutes in the fourth quarter helped seal the victory for the Tigers, who went on to win with a final score of 32-12.
Occidental’s final game of the season will be this Saturday at 1 p.m. in Jack Kemp Stadium, where the Tigers will take on conference rival Redlands. The game also marks the team’s Senior Night.