Though the first 59 minutes of Saturday’s battle for the “Peace Pipe” were long on incompletions and short on drama, the final 60 seconds reminded the hundreds of huddled Pomona-Pitzer fans why people love college football. No, nobody truly thought that the Sagehens could overcome a ten-point deficit with 19 seconds to go, but that didn’t stymie anyone’s excitement. Every student, professor, and parent finished the game on their feet, directing cheers and jeers towards the Stag stands (to be fair, there wasn’t much jeering from the professors). Pomona-Pitzer’s late offensive surge helped take a bit of the sting out of a tough loss to their bitter rivals.
The CMS Stags brought home the Peace Pipe for the fifth straight year, outlasting the Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens 24-14. The Stags were propelled by their option running game, which allowed not only their two running backs—Corey Bickler CM ’13 and Alex Wheatley CM ’12—but also their quarterback Peter Kimmey CM ’13 to rush for touchdowns. Linebacker Matthew Laredo CM ’12 also led a defensive effort that, for the first 59 minutes, was nearly unstoppable.
Luke Sweeney PO ’13 received his typical 40 carries for the Sagehens, but was not as effective as he has normally been, recording just 142 rushing yards (3.55 yards per carry). Every yard Sweeney gained, however, was another tally in the Pomona-Pitzer record book. Sweeney finished the year with 1,419 total yards—159 more than any other Sagehen in history—and will likely end the season as Division III’s top per-game rusher. The Sagehen passing attack failed to find a consistent groove against the staunch Stags, but quarterback Luke Ferguson PO ’13 did have a fairly effective day punting the ball: he landed three punts inside CMS’s 20-yard line.
Sagehen seniors James Lambert PO ’12, Tim Stapenhorst PZ ’12, Kareem Smedley PO ’12, Zach Tannous PZ ’12, and Andre Shepley PO ’12 put forth emotional efforts in their final collegiate games. Shepley, who has previously discussed his pride in his fellow seniors for fighting all four years, recorded seven tackles against the Stags, putting him at a team-best 76 for the season. Smedley also caught a touchdown on his final play for P-P. Tannous had nine carries for 27 yards, and both Lambert and Stapenhorst plowed the way for Sweeney’s record-setting performance.
Despite strong efforts from their seniors, the Sagehens were unable to keep up with the Stags for most of the day. P-P managed little momentum during its first-half drives; too often a stuffed run early would make it impossible for Sweeney to pound his way to a first down, and Ferguson’s passing attack was not as effective as it had been earlier in the season. CMS, on the other hand, was able to capitalize on the initial confusion caused by their option rushing attack. The Sagehens’ missteps lead to three long touchdowns in the first and second quarters. By halftime, the Stags had a 21-0 lead and looked like they might run away with the game.
Pomona-Pitzer opened the second half, however, with their most inspired defensive performance of the season. The Sagehens halted the Stags’ rushing attack and held the once-potent offense to five consecutive three-and-outs. Unfortunately, P-P’s own offense continued to struggle against the CMS defense, and aside from a Stag field goal, the teams traded punts until there were four minutes left in the fourth quarter.
With their fans restless and ready to call it a day, the Sagehens mounted their most impressive drive of the contest. The series spanned ten plays and 57 yards, highlighted by a twenty-yard Luke Sweeney option pass and capped off with a four-yard Sweeney touchdown run. With thirty-eight seconds to go, the Sagehens recovered the ensuing onside kick and scored on a two-play, thirty-yard drive, punctuated by the aforementioned Smedley grab. Although Pomona-Pitzer didn’t see the ball again, the late Sagehen flurry, and their refusal to be manhandled all game, resonated with their fans. Nobody left the stadium as downtrodden as they were 60 seconds before.
This final loss caps off a disappointing 0-9 season, but does leave hope for the future. The Sagehens are a young team that will lose just five seniors this offseason, and they will have their starting quarterback (Ferguson) and defensive captain Jake Rollins PO ’13 entering their senior years. Sweeney will also return for his senior season, just 458 yards shy of the school career yardage record. The Sagehens’ next game will be in September 2012, and they look forward to the fresh start.