LOS ANGELES, Calif. – On fourth and one with just under seven minutes left in the game, the Occidental College football team's passing attack did what they've done all season: Come up with big plays down the stretch.
With a battered running game struggling on the ground, quarterback Luke Collis (Pasadena, CA) found Ryan Rodriguez (Oakley, CA) in the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown, giving the Tigers (4-3) a 10-point lead and some breathing room in a 27-17 win over Chapman University.
"Huge play. It really wasn't designed for Rodriguez we were just trying to get a first down," Occidental coach Dale Widolff said. "We were trying to leak the back out, they covered it and Luke just made a great decision and a great throw."
Tigers running back Wes McDaniel (Richmond, VA) was limited offensively with a bad knee and backup quarterback Samuel Crizer (Los Osos, CA)—who Oxy leaned on for a handful of carries to eat the clock in the second half on Saturday — had left the game a play earlier with an injury, making the crucial fourth and short even more challenging. But Collis found the team leader in receptions and Oxy picked up their first home win of the season on homecoming, in front of the largest crowd at Jack Kemp Stadium this season.
"It felt good especially with no home wins yet all year and with all the alums back," Rodriguez said. "Just to get the win and close it out felt good."
Chapman out-possessed, out-gained and generally was more efficient than the Tigers on offense, but Oxy managed to turn the Panthers over four times—two fumbles and two interceptions. Justin Garza (Newburry Park, CA) forced a fumble in the first half and Jordan Lance (San Diego) had the other interception during Chapman's last stab at a desperation comeback late in the fourth.
"That was the key to the game. They win the yardage game, the win the time of possession game. …They're wearing us out," Widolff said. "Everything's kind of going their way, but we created some turnovers and they gave up the ball a couple times on their own."
The usual suspects were at it again for Oxy offensively, with Collis throwing for 271 yards and three touchdowns and Matthew Tuckness (Alamo, CA) pulling down three receptions for 93 yards and a score, but it was freshman Samuel Stekol (Manhattan Beach, CA) that took advantage of his opportunities in the second half, with key receptions in the second half.
"We like him, we like his talent, he's a good practice player and we think he has a great upside," Widolff said. "It was nice to see him do it on the field. He played big for a freshman."
Stekol, who ended up with six catches for 68 yards, had four receptions on the Tigers go-ahead scoring drive, including a crucial fourth down reception that kept the drive alive.
"It started with the line really. Collis had plenty of time and I was able to make some catches," said Stekol, who replaced the injured Will Stanton (Hanford, CA) in the Tigers four wide receiver lineup. "We had a lot of guys hurt this week so it feels good to be able to step up.
The Tigers, while they played turnover free football, weren't without a few problems they have hampered them a bit this season. Oxy struggled stopping the run and moving the ball on the ground themselves. The Tigers ran for 69 yards on 22 carries and gave up 208 on 42.
Matthew Tuckness had a 69-yard touchdown reception to setup Oxy's first scoring drive and a 21-yard TD catch to start the second half, bringing his SCIAC-best touchdown reception total to
Oxy is back on the field next weekend taking on Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in a crucial game for third place.