Football drops home opener to Pacific, 41-23

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Author: Ryan Whalen

The Occidental football team (1-1 overall, 0-0 SCIAC) ended non-conference play in a back and forth game against Pacific University Saturday at Jack Kemp Stadium. The Tigers took control early, jumping out to a 6-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, but untimely turnovers led to a 41-23 defeat that soured Occidental’s home opener.

After receiving the opening kickoff, the Tigers’ offense rattled off five first downs before the Boxer defense was able to regroup and stop the drive. Running back Kwame Do (senior), who played a critical role in setting the tone for physical play, averaged 6.3 yards per carry and totaled 126 yards on the night.

“We knew they were a pretty big team, so we knew we had to go into the game and be really physical and let them know that we could play with them,” Do said.

Making an early statement, the Occidental defense stonewalled Pacific’s first drive, with linebacker Devin Chapman (senior) recording three tackles during the series. The defensive pressure forced a poor snap on the Boxers’ ensuing punt attempt, giving the Tiger offense the ball deep in Pacific territory.

Occidental quarterback Bryan Scott (junior) did not let the opportunity go to waste. He soon found wide receiver Kaleb Mitchell (junior) in the end zone four plays into the drive to put the Tigers on top.

“We did what we normally do offensively — we tried to be balanced and throw it around the [field] and we were able to move the ball well,” head coach Doug Semones said.

After trading punts, the Occidental defense again asserted itself through physical play. Defensive back Casey Dudley (senior) swallowed up Pacific running back Bronson Barretto in the backfield and jarred the ball loose, while defensive lineman Aaron Jones (senior) fell on top of the loose ball.

“Our game plan was to try and stop the run, we wanted to be fundamentally found and force them to pass,” defensive back Shay Mueller (senior) said.

Dudley was the cornerstone of the defense, recording the second most tackles for the team (nine in total) and breaking up two pass attempts on top of his forced fumble.

The Boxer turnover gave the Tigers great field position and Scott again capitalized. But this time the junior captain called his own number, rushing for a 12-yard touchdown on the second play of the drive and pushing the lead to 13-0.

With just under six minutes left in the half, the Tiger defense started to show some cracks, as Pacific was able to cut the Occidental lead to six with a nine-play, 81-yard drive. The Boxers’ defense got the ball right back after an interception. Four quick completed passes later and Pacific took their first lead of the night 14-13.

The Tigers regained some momentum heading into halftime when Occidental kicker Garrett Bronken (junior) split the uprights with a 25-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 16-14 lead heading into the locker room.

“We had one interception at the end of the first half that hurt our momentum,” Semones said. “But we made a few adjustments coming out of halftime, switching some of the slants on defense and keying on some of the offensive things they hurt us on.”

Despite the adjustments, the Occidental defense did not seem to have an answer for the Pacific offense at the start of the third quarter. The Boxers extended their lead to 20-16 before widening the Tigers’ deficit to 27-16 by the end of the period.

“We kind of came out flat at the start of the second half, we had momentum and gave it away with a score and no answering back,” Do said.

The Tiger offense was unable to carry their offensive efficiency from the first half into the third quarter, failing to score in the 15-minute period.

The Occidental offense wasted no time cutting into the 11 point deficit during the fourth quarter, as Scott found Mitchell for the Tigers’ second passing touchdown of the game. However, that would be the last time Occidental would find the end zone.

Scott finished the game with 258 yards passing and two touchdowns, while adding another running score. Wide-out Cordell Harris (junior) was Scott’s big target, as he collected 129 receiving yards.

After recovering a fumble, the Boxers put the game out of reach by scoring touchdowns on back-to-back drives. Despite the strong effort, the Tigers dropped their home opener 41-23.

“The biggest thing for us is we got to win the turnover battle, and we did not do that tonight,” Semones said. “Now, our biggest thing is just getting healthy for La Verne.”

The Tigers start conference play in Jack Kemp Stadium this Friday at 7 p.m. when they take on the University of La Verne to open SCIAC play.

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