LOS ANGELES — The 2011 Occidental College football team won't go down as one of the elite Oxy teams that have made the program the class of the SCIAC over the last 30 years, but the 2011 Oxy squad can certainly lay its claim as one of the more resilient.
Led by senior quarterback Luke Collis, a pair of standout wide receivers, and a playmaking defensive back, the Tigers overcame three fourth quarter deficits and were a perfect 4-0 on the road, finishing the year 5-4 overall and 3-3 (third place) in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
It was a 42-40 home loss to the University of Redlands on Oct. 22 though that 30th year head coach Dale Widolff said best represented the character of the team.
Oxy came into the game clear underdogs and despite two interceptions, a blocked punt a missed field goal and a missed point after touchdown, they still had the ball and a chance to send the game into overtime with 10 seconds left.
But after pulling within two on a 21-yard Collis touchdown pass to junior Matthew Tuckness, the two point conversion attempt to freshman Teran Mawhinney fell incomplete along with the improbable comeback.
Had they won, the Tigers would have finished tied with the Bulldogs for second place and set up a championship game in the season finale against Cal Lutheran University.
|Sept. 10, 2011||@ Puget Sound||W, 30-12||Full Story||Album|
|Sept. 17, 2011||Menlo||L, 41-17||Full Story||Album|
|Oct. 1, 2011||@ Whittier||W, 31-17||Full Story||Album||Highlights|
|Oct. 8, 2011||La Verne||L, 30-21||Full Story||Album||Highlights|
|Oct. 15, 2011||@ Pomona-Pitzer||W, 42-35||Full Story||Album||Highlights|
|Oct. 22, 2011||Redlands||L, 42-40||Full Story||Album||Highlights|
|Oct. 29, 2011||Chapman||W, 27-17||Full Story||Album||Highlights|
|Nov. 5, 2011||Claremont-Mudd-Scripps||W, 35-31||Full Story||Album|
|Nov. 12, 2011||Cal Lutheran||L, 70-20||Full Story||Album||
Oxy fell behind, had things go the wrong way but didn't quit in a performance that Widolff said was indicative of the Tigers character all season.
"It says a lot about the character of the team. Even though it's not a moral victory, I thought our effort against Redlands was outstanding," Widolff said. "This was one of the most tight knit groups I've had in my 30-plus years at Occidental."
Besides coming up short on that occasion and a few others, the Tigers still managed to fend off their two biggest rivals.
Oxy beat Pomona-Pitzer 42-35 on Oct. 15 in the "Battle of the Drum," Southern California's longest standing college football rivalry, and Whittier College 31-17 on Oct. 1 to keep the "Shoes" trophy.
The Tigers had no problem moving the ball through the air this season; they just struggled stopping it on the ground. The Tigers were sixth in the SCIAC in run defense, surrendering 219 yards per game.
Offensively, Oxy's top rated passing attack outgained any other SCIAC school by 70 yards per game.
Collis led the league in passing, Tuckness ranked in the top five in the nation with 14 touchdown receptions and junior Ryan Rodriguez caught more passes than anyone in the conference.
Senior defensive back Ayrton Bates was second in the league in interceptions and forced fumbles often bailing out the Tigers late and holding together a battered secondary that had player after player go down with injuries.
With starters Nate Proulx, Adam DiBenedetto and Carter Norfleet all missing significant time throughout the season, Bates accounted for eight turnovers — five interceptions and three forced fumbles — including a pair of picks in the fourth quarter to beat Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 35-31 on the road Nov. 5.
"Defensively we overcame injuries, especially in the secondary," Widolff said. "We forced turnovers so that was helpful and Bates had maybe the play of the year with that interception in the end zone."
Kevin May, one of the team's best defenders as a LB/DB, missed all but the first game of the year due to injury.
Six Oxy players — three on offense and three on defense — were named All-SCIAC.
Collis, Rodriguez and Tuckness earned the distinction on offense and Bates, junior defensive lineman Casey Shibuya and senior linebacker Greg Holsworth were recognized on defense. Collis, Tuckness and Bates made the first team.
Holsworth, who spent most of his career as a team captain on defense, stepped in halfway through the season to fill the Tigers need at tight end playing both ways. Against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, the senior had a pair of catches, one a crucial third down conversion in the fourth quarter.