Season preview: CMS football aims for SCIAC championship repeat, P-P tries to replace graduated stars

A college-aged quarterback in a red jersey gets ready to receive a football.
Quarterback Zach Fogel CM ’22 gets ready to receive the ball during football practice Sept. 5. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps football

The Stags made history in 2018 with their first NCAA Tournament appearance, which came on the heels of a 6-1 SCIAC record and a conference co-championship they shared with Redlands — their first in 31 years.

The team advanced thanks to a tiebreaker, but got walloped 48-6 in the first round of the tournament by Whitworth. Still, it was a successful season overall for the Stags.

Questions remain for CMS, though, which was picked to finish second in the SCIAC after Redlands in a preseason poll of the conference’s head coaches

A new safety policy implemented by head coach Kyle Sweeney effectively prohibits Stags from playing both football and rugby, and caused eight players — including several top contributors — to quit the football team in favor of rugby this past spring.

The biggest loss comes to the Stags’ receiving corps. Three of the departed receivers paced CMS in receiving yards, receptions and receiving touchdowns last season.

Sweeney, though, is feeling confident and attributed the playoff loss last year to a rash of injuries. This year’s team, he said, is stocked with veterans and ready for a SCIAC repeat.

“We won last year and hope that we can do that again,” he said. “We’ve got a chance, and now it’s how well do we execute and get things done.”

Here are three key questions for 2019:

How’s the offense?

The Stags were run-heavy last year, churning out yards on the ground behind running back Garrett Cheadle HM ’20, the SCIAC’s offensive player of the year. Cheadle rushed for 1,305 yards in 2018, the second most in program history.

A college-aged running back wears a white jersey and holds the football as he runs.
Running back Garrett Cheadle HM ’20 makes a run during football practice Sept. 5. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

And though he excels at gaining yardage, Sweeney said Cheadle can do even more.

“I don’t think he gets enough credit for his blocking and catching the ball and doing all the little things that don’t show up on the stat sheet,” he said. “He is a very complete football player.”

Despite the key losses at receiver, Sweeney said most of the receiving corps is returning, and thinks the team will actually be better at moving the ball through the air.

“Overall I think we’ll be a more effective team throwing the football this year,” he said.

Quarterback Jake Norville CM ’21 returns to lead the offense after throwing for more than 900 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions last year. He’ll be protected by an offensive line that returns four veteran starters but also has room for newcomers after the departures of offensive linemen like Jackson Tate CM ’19 and Brian Wahl CM ’19.

“We’ll have some younger guys, obviously, in some of the depth positions, but starting out we’ve got a good group,” Sweeney said.

What about the defense?

Sweeney said consistency will be a theme on the defensive line as well, as “basically everybody that saw substantial playing time last year is back.”

He predicts improvement among the group that calls itself the “Zoo,” even though linebacker and leading tackler Mitchell Allan CM ’19 is gone.

“They should all be hopefully at least as good [as they were last year], all a little bit stronger, a little bit bigger,” Sweeney said. The team will go as the defensive line goes, he said, and he hopes it will “be the engine.”

Which games should you circle on the calendar?

Sweeney is looking forward to CMS’ home opener Sept. 21, when the Stags will host Pacific Lutheran in what is expected to be a close contest.

The team plays four of its first five games on the road, then faces a tough homestretch against Redlands on Oct. 19 and Occidental on Oct. 26.

The Sixth Street rivalry against Pomona-Pitzer wraps up the regular season Nov. 16 at home.

“Both teams were kind of in the mix last year so … it’s a fun game and [we] need to have that kind of rivalry,” Sweeney said.

A college-aged quarterback wears a black jersey and gets ready to pass the football in his hands.
Quarterback Luke Thompson PO ’23 gets ready to pass during practice Sept. 4. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

Pomona-Pitzer football

The Hens are coming off a seven-win season — their first since 1999 — capped by a hard-fought Sixth Street rivalry win over CMS, the Stags’ only conference loss of the year.

Despite “a couple heartbreakers in the middle,” as head coach John Walsh described them, the team “went on a little roll at the end.”

But P-P hasn’t won a SCIAC title or been co-champion since Dwight Eisenhower was president of the United States back in 1955. The conference’s head coaches don’t expect much to change in 2019, picking the Sagehens to finish fourth this year after the program was third in the standings a year ago.

Walsh said the SCIAC is shaping up once again to be a dogfight between a host of impressive teams, but “life’s too short not to be optimistic.”

Here are three key questions for 2019:

How’s the offense?

The Sagehens graduated key skill position players this past spring, including wide receiver David Berkinsky PO ’19 and running back Joseph Ha PO ’19. But Walsh says there’s a host of receivers and backs ready to fill the void, with a mix of returners and rookies vying for top roles.

Win Hunter PZ ’21, Nathan Miles PO ’22 and Will Radice PO ’22 flashed in limited receiving roles last year, while Dominick Norris PZ ’22 will be competing for running duties with a handful of talented first-years, Walsh said.

It’s too early to say whether the Hens will employ a committee backfield, or even what shape the offense will take as a whole, the coach noted.

“It’s hard to find out who you are until you play,” Walsh said. “The final exam is Saturday — it’s hard to exactly tell in practice until you play live.”

Walsh knows exactly what he’s got in Karter Odermann PO ’20, though. The versatile senior took home Second Team All-SCIAC honors as a quarterback and led NCAA Division III teams in completion percentage in 2017, but also excels as a runner and receiver. He led the team in rushing last year and also finished First Team All-SCIAC as a wide receiver.

“He’s just a really special guy and a team-first guy,” Walsh said. “He’ll do anything, whatever’s best for the team.”

Much of P-P’s 2018 offensive line is returning, with offensive lineman Connor Addiego PZ ’20, who was First Team All-SCIAC last year, leading the way.

“[It’s] always great to have returnees and all-league guys up front,” Walsh said.

Two college-aged men practice a wide receiver drill.
Khalil Springs PZ ’20 and Sam Williamson PZ ’21 run a drill during practice Sept. 4. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

What about the defense?

Many four-year Sagehen football veterans on the defensive side of the ball graduated this past spring, and “those guys are tough to replace,” Walsh said.

First Team All-SCIAC cornerback Elan Harris PO ’19, who led the conference in interceptions, is gone now, as are a number of key defensive linemen, including Peter Troupe PO ’19.

“It’s time for other guys to step up,” said Walsh, naming Tate Tussing PZ ’21, Levon Lester PZ ’21 and Peter LaBarbera PO ’20, among others. “We have a great competition going on with some upperclassmen and some young guys.”

Which games should you circle on the calendar?

P-P starts with a tough three-game slate before getting into conference play.

On Saturday, the team will open the season in Washington with a game against Lewis-Clark Valley, which will be Walsh’s first chance to see his team in a live game setting.

The Hens’ home opener will be Sept. 14 against Lewis and Clark — a different team — which has both won and lost to P-P over the last few years.

The following week brings a trip to George Fox in Oregon, a team that “took it to us” last year, Walsh said.

Other games to watch include the Oct. 5 conference opener at Redlands — the team picked to win the SCIAC this year — the historic Battle for the Drum against Occidental on Nov. 9, and the always popular Sixth Street rivalry game at CMS, scheduled for Nov. 16.

“The greatest thing about [the Sixth Street rivalry] game is records don’t mean anything in that game,” Walsh said. Even if “both teams are 0-8 like they were [some years] ago, that game mattered.”

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