Occidental football narrowly lost 34–31 at Willamette University Sept. 21 in a game that saw nine touchdowns, three ejections and a number of refereeing decisions that, according to some Occidental players, left the team feeling they had been robbed of victory.
“We had some unfortunate calls go against us, but that’s football, and on the road that tends to happen more often,” head coach Robert Cushman said.
The game itself began on a positive note for Occidental, when quarterback Joshua Greaves (senior) completed a 51-yard touchdown pass to John Isaac Cordova (sophomore) on the first offensive play from scrimmage. Greaves finished the game with 370 yards and four touchdowns, part of an overall team performance that pleased Cushman.
“It was a real battle, and I’m real proud of many of the things we did on both sides of the ball,” Cushman said.
After Occidental began scoring, Willamette opened their account for the day on a turnover that Occidental disputed heavily, according to Cushman. Cordova fielded a Willamette punt before being tackled around the midfield. While Occidental players stood around, thinking the play was over, Willamette’s Christian Tovar (sophomore) came away with the ball and ran it back, scoring a touchdown.
“Certainly we didn’t see it that way, when you look at the replay, you look at the play itself, we thought our guy was clearly down,” Cushman said.
Mike Allegre, who has broadcasted Willamette football games for over 25 years, said he was unsure if the referees made the correct call.
“I think the call could have gone either way,” Allegre said. “I think it was close, let’s just put it that way.”
According to Greaves, the call was clearly incorrect.
“I’ve watched that play 10 times since it’s happened,” Greaves said. “It was a blown call.”
This was not the only call against Occidental that Greaves said was unjustified, as the Tigers racked up 16 penalties for 177 yards.
“Obviously some of those penalties were our fault. We lacked discipline in a lot of areas,” Greaves said. “However, I do feel the refs played a role in that as well.”
Allegre, on the other hand, said he felt the calls made on the field were largely justified.
“From everything I saw and the replays, they looked legitimate — despite Occidental fans thinking otherwise,” Allegre said.
Cushman said these penalties hugely impacted his team’s chances of coming away with the win.
“It’s hard enough to gain one yard in this game, let alone overcome that type of yardage,” Cushman said.
Despite having to overcome the penalties, Occidental was still in a position to win the game, leading 31–27 when Willamette attempted to go down the field with a little over two minutes to go.
Ultimately, Willamette was successful in scoring the winning touchdown with just 57 seconds remaining in the game, following a drive that featured multiple Occidental penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct. Allegre said he was surprised by the number of these calls and could not find a point of comparison in his extensive broadcasting career.
“I had not seen that many ever, not only in one game but in one drive,” Allegre said.
While the Tigers came up short, the 34–31 result is a marked improvement from the 25–6 loss Occidental suffered last year to the Bearcats.
“If you told me last year that we would have been in the game until the last minute with Willamette, I would have thought you were joking,” Greaves said.
Cushman agreed the team has made strides, but also said the team will be looking to start winning these close games in the future.
“In terms of overall comparison, we were much better this year against them, but we still came up short, so we’ve got to continue to grow,” Cushman said.
While the game may have been littered with controversies, Cushman said the team must put all of that behind them now.
“Penalties and questionable calls are going to be part of the game, and you’ve got to be able to overcome those,” Cushman said.
Greaves, too, said the team was able to find elements of growth from the game and trip overall.
“It was a lot of fun,” Greaves said. “It definitely was a crazy game, so I’m happy I was a part of it.”
Occidental football’s next home game is against California Lutheran University, kicking off at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5. Five Occidental players will be suspended for the first half of the game following NCAA suspensions incurred during the Sept. 21 game versus Willamette University, according to linebacker Joshua Yee (senior).