Claremont, Calif. – Junior running back Luke Sweeney (Broken Arrow, Okla.) rushed for a career-high 265 yards, but a late diving catch in the end zone by Occidental's Bobby Phillips gave the Tigers a 42-35 win over Pomona-Pitzer on Saturday evening at Merritt Field.
The loss drops the Sagehens to 0-5 on the season, including 0-2 in the SCIAC, while Occidental improves to 3-2 overall and 2-1 in the SCIAC. The Tigers also captured their eighth straight in the series with Pomona-Pitzer, which is one of the oldest college football rivalries in the United States (dating back to 1895).
Sweeney broke his career high of 220 yards, which he set last year at Occidental. He came into today's game as the leading rusher in all of college football (182.7 yards per game) and pushed his average up over 200 (203.2 yards per game) with his huge performance, which included 176 yards in the first half alone.
Sweeney set up a go-ahead touchdown for the Sagehens in the final minutes with a 48-yard run down the right sideline, putting the ball on the Occidental 12-yard line. One play later, quarterback Luke Ferguson (Silverton, Ore.) threw a pass into the end zone, where sophomore Ryan Randle (Compton, Cal.) made a spectacular diving catch to lay out and pull the ball in by his fingertips to put the Sagehens ahead 35-34 (the ensuing two-point conversion failed) with 2:48 left.
Occidental brought the ensuing kickoff to the 49-yard line and three plays later, Luke Collis threw the ball into the end zone and Bobby Phillips answered with a diving catch of his own with 1:35 showing on the clock. The Tigers then converted their two-point conversion to go ahead 42-35.
Pomona-Pitzer got as far as the Occidental nine-yard line with one second left on the clock, and rolled Ferguson out to the right, but the Tigers secondary closed off any open receivers, and Ferguson was left with no choice but to force the ball into the back of the end zone, where it was intercepted by John Hansbrough as the clock expired.
After Occidental jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, Sweeney scored a pair of long touchdowns from 51 yards and 19 yards to even the score at 14-14, and Ferguson then hooked up with Randle for the first of their three touchdowns on the day from 20 yards out to take a 21-14 lead.
The Sagehens looked like they were in good shape to take that lead into halftime, but Hollis threw a desperation pass under pressure that was nowhere near its intended target, but two different Pomona-Pitzer defensive backs tipped the ball in the air, and it ended up in the hands of Occidental wide receiver William Stanton, who caught it at the five and carried it into the end zone with six seconds on the clock.
The Tigers then took a 28-21 lead on their first possession of the second half, before the Sagehen defense came up big, forcing an intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety, and then an interception as sophomore defensive back Joshua Rothman (La Jolla, Calif.), who earlier had an interception return for a touchdown called back on an illegal block, came on a blitz, batted the ball up in the air and caught it himself at the Occidental 12-yard line. Facing fourth down at the 12, the Sagehens went for it and Ferguson found Randle in the end zone to take a 29-28 lead (the two-point run attempt was stopped).
Occidental's Joshua Mun kicked two fourth quarter field goals to put the Tigers up 34-29, before the diving catch by Randle gave the Sagehens their latest lead of the season with 2:48 left.
Randle finished with 10 catches for 101 yards and three touchdowns, giving him 30 catches for 304 yards and seven touchdowns in the last three weeks. Ferguson was 20-of-35 for 164 yards and three touchdowns. Collis was 26-of-42 for 343 yards and four touchdowns for the Tigers, while Wesley McDaniel also carried for 110 yards on the ground. Don Swan (Gold Beach, Ore.) led the Sagehen defense with eight tackles (six solo, four assisted), while Kyle Roskamp (Chesterfield, Mo.) forced two fumbles and blocked a field goal.
Pomona-Pitzer will return to action next weekend for a home game against nationally ranked Cal Lutheran at 7 p.m.