By Ryan Graff
LOS ANGELES — Turnovers proved costly for the Occidental College football team on Saturday night at Jack Kemp Stadium, as the Whittier Poets beat the Tigers 61-30 to win back the coveted bronzed cleats for the first time in five seasons in the 67th "Battle of the Shoes."
The black and orange turned the ball over five times, leading to four Whittier (4-4, 3-3 SCIAC) scores. The game marked just the seventh time the Poets have won a match-up against Occidental in the last 32 years.
Despite the loss, Occidental's seniors performed well on Senior Night. Receiver Matthew Tuckness (Alamo) led the Tiger air attack, catching 13 passes for 206 yards and one touchdown.Ryan Rodriguez (Oakley) added three receptions of his own for 47 yards and one trip to the end zone.
"It's been a great four years," an emotional Tuckness said after the game. "I've made great friends, great memories. I'll always be an Oxy Tiger and I'll always love Occidental football."
The Tigers jumped out to an early lead just 40 seconds into the game when Tommy Edwards (Sherman Oaks) found Kwame Do (San Marino) in the flat and the freshman running back scampered down the sideline, finding pay dirt on a 62-yard touchdown after a Whittier defender failed to push him out of bounds on the short pass.
Edwards finished the contest with 444 passing yards and four touchdowns and Do reeled in 10 catches for 129 yards and two scores. He also led the ground game, tacking on 39 rushing yards.
The celebration was short-lived, though, as the Poets forced the first Tiger turnover with about nine minutes remaining in the period, strip-sacking Edwards and recovering on the Occidental 44-yard-line.
"It's tough, turnovers definitely killed us tonight," Edwards said. "We had a lot of good things going, but those turnovers killed us."
Michael Gilliam (South Korea) led a Tiger defensive stand, recording one sack and one backfield stop to force the Poets to try a field goal. Teran Mawhinney (Fort Collins, Colo.) blocked the 20-yard attempt, allowing Occidental to retain the seven-point advantage.
The Tiger offense hopped back in the driver's seat following the block, driving 80 yards in two minutes to take a 14-0 lead. Tuckness made a key catch on the possession, gaining 34 yards down to the Whittier 15-yard-line. Edwards once again found Do in the flat, and Do dove and snuck the ball inside the right pylon, capping the drive with an 8-yard touchdown reception.
"I was just thinking that two wasn't enough, and as you can see it wasn't," Do said after the game. "We got two but we had to keep going. I wasn't satisfied."
Whittier responded when running back Rufus Osby ran off-tackle right, splitting the Tiger defense and making the score 14-7 on his way to a 50-yard touchdown sprint.
With just over a minute left in the first quarter, Mawhinney returned the ensuing kickoff 57 yards and put the Tigers within striking distance. Mawhinney dominated special teams on the with 190 kickoff return yards. The Tigers ended the quarter driving and appearing to have gained back some momentum.
Instead, Whittier went on to reel off five unanswered touchdowns, going up 41-14. Poet quarterback Steven Rivera and receiver Dameron Fooks proved to be a heroic couplet for the Poets, hooking up for three scores on the evening. Rivera finished with six touchdown passes on 380 yards and Fooks recorded four touchdowns off 12 catches for 138 yards.
The Tigers used two touchdown passes from Edwards to come within 13 points with seven minutes left in the third quarter. Comeback hopes were quickly stomped out, however, when Kimble Tillman returned a kickoff 97 yards to put the Poets back up by 20 at 48-28.
Occidental booked its final two points when they blocked Whittier's last extra point attempt and Matthew Malos (Bellevue, Wash.) ran it all the way back.
"I thought if we could hold them to 42, we would have a shot. I thought it would be a high scoring game, but they just scored more than we did," said Occidental head coach Bill Redell.
The Tigers (2-6, 2-4 SCIAC) travel to La Verne next Saturday to conclude their 2012 campaign