Heartbreak Continues for Sagehen Football Despite Birir’s Monster Day


A group of football players stands on a field
The Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens square off against the California Lutheran University Kingsmen last Saturday at Merritt Field. (Lia Francis-Bongue • The Student Life)

Aseal Birir PO ‘18 ran for a single-game rushing record of 275 yards on Saturday, Oct. 7, setting a new high for the Pomona-Pitzer football program. He also scored five touchdowns, enough to earn him the SCIAC Player of the Week honor.

But it wasn’t enough to push the Sagehens (1-3, 0-2 SCIAC) past the California Lutheran University Kingsmen (3-1, 1-1 SCIAC). The Sagehens lost 43-41, their second straight game decided in the final seconds.

The scoring started early when the Sagehens marched down the field on their first drive and Birir was able to punch it in from five yards out. However, two long scoring drives by Cal Lutheran put them ahead 10-7 at the end of the first quarter.

On the Sagehens’ first offensive play of the second quarter, Birir took the ball 60 yards up the middle, weaving between defenders on his way to the end zone. The long run brought Birir to 97 yards and two touchdowns on the day, with nearly three quarters still to play.

After a Kingsmen touchdown, a 45-yard kick return by Levon Lester PZ ‘21 gave the Sagehens a short field. A 37 yard completion from Odermann to David Berkinsky PO ‘19 set up another rushing touchdown from Birir, which put the Sagehens in front 20-17. After two scoreless drives by Cal Lutheran and a Sagehen turnover, the teams headed to the locker rooms for halftime.

The Kingsmen opened up the second half with a touchdown drive. After multiple scoreless drives, a blocked punt gave Cal Lutheran the ball at the one yard line. An easy score put the visitors up 31-20 entering the fourth quarter.

Pomona-Pitzer set the tone for an explosive quarter with a quick scoring drive finished off by a fourth Birir touchdown and a successful two point conversion attempt. This was the first of five straight touchdowns between the two teams. The Kingsmen responded with a 63 yard touchdown pass.

A 23-yard touchdown run by Birir was followed by a three play: an 80-yard scoring drive by the Kingsmen that took just over a minute. This set the stage for the Sagehens’ final drive, which ended up sealing the loss for the home team.

Trailing by eight with four minutes left, quarterback Karter Odermann PO ‘20 led the team 78 yards down the field. With 43 seconds remaining, Odermann scrambled left, finding Nick Kapule PZ ‘21 in the back of the end zone. However, with a chance to send the game to overtime, the Sagehens’ two point conversion attempt failed as Odermann’s pass fell incomplete.

When asked about the play selection for the two-point conversion, Birir said “We came into the huddle with two plays that we were thinking of running and changed to the play on the line that we felt was most advantageous from what the defense was giving us, which was the pass play.”

Despite another loss, Birir’s gmae has continued to be stellar. His 543 yards and 10 touchdowns both lead the nation among teams who have only played four games. With five regular season games remaining, Birir is on track to have a shot at the Pomona-Pitzer single season rushing records for both yards and touchdowns.

Birir credited his incredible performance to his offensive line. “It is a reflection of how well they played on Saturday, allowing me to get so many yards,” he said.

Thanks in large part to the running game, the Sagehens have certainly demonstrated their ability to score in bunches. The offense ranks second in SCIAC in scoring, third in yards per game, and first in first downs per game.

When asked about the team’s comfort level with so many high scoring games, Birir said that while they are prepared to play them, they “are not comfortable in them.” He added that the offense has “to do a better job of creating longer, more sustained drives to keep our defense off the field to avoid these shootout games and give ourselves a better chance to win.”

Next week the Sagehens travel to Whittier to take on the Poets (0-4, 0-2 SCIAC).

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