With rain pouring down on players and fans alike, the Stags fought through the eye of the storm to reclaim the Sixth Street title.
On Sept. 30 at Burns Stadium, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) football stifled a Pomona-Pitzer (P-P) second half comeback to seal an impressive 30-20 victory. In the final game of the 2022 season, the Sagehens defeated the Stags to earn their first trip to the NCAA Division III playoffs in program history. This season, CMS waited little time to take revenge and bring the trophy back to Roberts Pavilion.
Although P-P received the opening kickoff, the first drive was an undeniable tone-setter for CMS. Putting together a solid drive, the Sagehens marched their way down field, putting immediate pressure on the Stags’ defense. However, CMS defensive back Jacob O’Connell CM ’24 read P-P quarterback Ethan Gretzinger PZ ’24 like a book, intercepting a medium passing attempt and taking it all the way back to the house.
Putting CMS up 7-0, O’Connell’s pick six erupted the Stags faithful and deflated the Sagehens. Still, he gave all the credit to his teammates.
“It’s all about the guys up front who were putting pressure on the quarterback and everyone else was holding up in coverage,” O’Connell said. “I was lucky to be there at the right time, right place.”
Looking to bounce back from the setback, P-P didn’t make it past their first set of downs before throwing another pick six, this time into the hands of Thanio Bright CM ’24, leading to a 14-0 lead just five minutes into the game. CMS head coach Kyle Sweeney described how crucial these two plays were to the Stags’ path to victory.
“For them to come out right off the bat and [score] 14 points before you play an offensive snap is incredible,” Sweeney said. “I think it really settled the nerves on our side and put us on the offensive … from that point forward.”
Just when things looked like they couldn’t get any worse, the bleeding just kept coming for P-P. After another offensive drive stalled, the snap sailed high over the punter’s head, forcing him to fall on the ball deep into Sagehens territory. This led to a CMS field goal, extending their lead to 17-0 with over eight minutes to play in the first quarter.
Still, with so much time left in the game, the Sagehens were unwilling to concede defeat. After a 34-yard kickoff return seemed to spark life back into the team, Sander Wimmer PZ ’24 shook off a number of CMS defenders on screen pass, dragging the team to a 20-yard gain. Taking another shot to the end-zone, Matthias Olson PO ’26 hauled in a ball over his shoulder, just in front of the left pylon. Then with a quarterback sneak from the one, Gretzinger broke the plane, cutting the lead to 17-7.
This concluded a wild first quarter as the field continued to be showered by erratic storm clouds. The Stags started the second quarter with a successful field goal, going on to score one more and tacking on another Gretzinger interception before halftime. As the 5C Dance Company took the muddy field for their halftime performance, both teams headed to the locker room with CMS ahead 23-7.
Right out of the gate in the third quarter, the Stags were given a taste of their own medicine. On just the fourth play of the drive, P-P linebacker Thomas McConnel PO ’25 intercepted a pass by CMS QB Walter Kuhlenkamp CM ’25 on a throw up the middle.
This would mark the start of the Sagehens’ comeback, led significantly by several strong defensive stands and Wimmer’s two-way ability on offense. Rushing from the wildcat formation and bringing in an incredibly difficult catch in the end zone, Wimmer helped P-P bring the CMS lead to just 23-20, tallying 147 yards from scrimmage on the day. Still, Sweeney was confident his team would find an answer.
“[The Sagehens] are definitely unique and they’re very creative,” Sweeney said. “Obviously, Wimmer made a couple big catches, and those hurt, but we were able to bounce back and have an answer when that happens.”
And bounce back they did. Converting on a series of third downs, the CMS offense entered the red zone where Kulenkamp found receiver Ben Kim CM ’27 in the end zone without a single Sagehen in the area code. Kulenkamp described his mindset making such a crucial play.
“Just make the read,” Kulenkamp said. “We were talking about it all week … Kim deserved that touchdown so [I’m] glad we could make it happen.”
Putting them up 30-20 with a quarter left, Sweeney revealed the scoring play has long been ingrained in the CMS offense.
“It was actually a day one of camp play,” Sweeney said. “It’s nice when you can do something … that’s part of your foundation and have it work out so successfully in a big moment.”
Nevertheless, there still was time on the clock for the Sagehens, yet this was where the CMS defense really shone. After forcing a three and out on P-P’s first drive, they would only allow one more completed pass for the rest of the game. O’Connell spoke on how the Stags managed to shut down the Sagehens’ offense when it counted.
“When we go out there knowing that all 11 guys are gonna do exactly what they’re supposed to do, we can play really fast and have a lot of fun out there,” O’Connell said. “When we play as a unit we’re unstoppable.”
As time ran out, the Stags emerged victorious with a final score of 30-20, once again claiming the Sixth Street trophy. Dubbing it an always a meaningful victory, O’Connell shared his immediate reaction to the win.
“It means everything,” O’Connell said. “It’s great to have the trophy back at Claremont where it belongs.”
Sweeney added his thoughts on bringing home the title.
“[Seeing the trophy] makes me smile every day when I walk in the building,” Sweeney said.
The defending conference co-champions will have the opportunity to meet again in the SCIAC final if they both win their respective pods (divisions). According to Sweeney, if they do, the title will once again be up for grabs.
“Gotta defend it if you wanna hold it,” Sweeney said.
The Sagehens, now 1-1 in conference and 2-2 overall, will look to rebound in a crucial game versus Redlands Saturday at 7 p.m., with a loss potentially taking them out of SCIAC championship contention.
Meanwhile, the victory brings the Stags’ record to 2-0 in conference and 4-0 overall, maintaining their lead in the Surf pod. They will face 0-2 Chapman away Saturday at 7 p.m. with an opportunity to put themselves in great position for the rest of the season.