December 9, 2013

2013 Summary: Bulldog Football Wins 29th SCIAC Title to Cap off Outstanding Campaign

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While taking on one of the strongest schedules in NCAA Division III, the University of Redlands football team successfully stepped up to the challenge by winning the program's 29th Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) championship and the first in undefeated fashion since 2002.  Furthermore, the Bulldogs advanced to the NCAA Championships for the seventh time under Head Coach Mike Maynard en route to a 7-3 overall record.  Among multiple accomplishments, the Redlands football team put together yet another memorable campaign that once again raises the bar of expectations for the future.

The Bulldogs opened the 2013 campaign by battling it out with a pair of nationally-ranked foes in No. 3 University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (TX) and No. 11 Pacific Lutheran University (WA).  Despite the losses, Redlands took away plenty of positives, including an NCAA record-tying 99-yard reception by senior wide receiver Taylor Irwin (Rocklin, CA) against the Crusaders.  In addition, sophomore defensive back Connor Hoffman (Tustin, CA) nabbed a 76-yard, pick-six play against the Lutes.

In addition, these opportunities for growth inspired the Maroon and Gray to rattle off seven consecutive wins for a perfect conference season.  This string of triumphs began with a 38-21 showing at Occidental College on October 5, when the team registered the second-highest number of rushing yards in program history.   Overall, the Bulldogs racked up 606 yards of total offense, with 424 of them coming on the ground to rank second all-time at Redlands.  Thanks in great part to the success of the offensive line, the Bulldogs gained a balanced rushing attack, with senior running back Bobby Brown (Rancho Santa Margarita, CA) and sophomore running back Curtis Tanquary (San Jose, CA) both breaking the century mark at 175 and 133 yards, respectively.  

In addition, sophomore quarterback Kevin Russell (Lacey, WA) shined in his first start with the Maroon and Gray, finding six different targets through the air. 

Against the Tigers, Redlands broke a third-quarter tie with 17 unanswered points, while the Bulldog defense showed its strength by coming up with a pair of big stops that erased any chance of an Oxy comeback.

Riding the momentum of this solid win, the Maroon and Gray headed to Thousand Oaks for a critical showdown against the Kingsmen of Cal Lutheran University.  Amidst a defensive struggle, the Bulldogs rose to the occasion with integral plays throughout the game while limiting CLU to its lowest number of rushing yards this season at 114.  Redlands captured the 2013 Smudge Pot Trophy with a 10-7 victory and snapped the Kingsmen's conference win-streak.

Early in the first period, senior kicker Kevin Grady (Seattle, WA) put the Bulldogs on the board with a 21-yard field goal, before Tanquary's one-yard scamper into the end zone midway through the third stanza made it a 10-0 game. 

Although CLU eventually answered with its own touchdown, the Bulldogs' three-point lead held up through the final ticks of the clock, allowing Redlands to capture its first win over the Kingsmen since 2007.

One week later, the Redlands football team celebrated Homecoming with a 21-6 victory over the visiting Leopards of the University of La Verne.  After opening the game with an 81-yard, nine-play drive for the score, the Bulldogs methodically picked apart the opposing offense with incredible persistence and tenacity.  The Maroon and Gray took a 14-6 lead into the locker room before tacking on an insurance touchdown in the fourth frame. 

However, the highlight reel for this game included a huge goal-line stand by the Bulldog defense.  With successful carries and a five-yard pass, La Verne moved the ball all the way to the Redlands three-yard line.  However, the Maroon and Gray refused to back down, standing up the ball-carrier on three occasions to halt the Leopards at the one.  Among the total-team effort, the Bulldogs gained big stops from senior defensive lineman Steven Locke Jr. (Barstow, CA), junior linebacker Michael Tootle (Las Vegas, NV), senior defensive lineman Daniel Kane (Covina, CA), senior linebacker Justin Butler (Poway, CA), and junior defensive back DJ Dawson Jr. (Vallejo, CA), resulting in ULV's turnover on downs.

The Redlands defense also held La Verne's highly-touted running back to just 74 yards.  Tootle and senior defensive lineman Sean Woods(Victorville, CA) spearheaded this effort by recording 10 tackles each on the night.

This exciting finish propelled the Bulldogs into what turned out to be the conference championship game, as they battled it out with Chapman University in a showdown of the SCIAC's unbeaten teams on October 26.  While holding the Panthers to their lowest scoring effort of the season, Redlands fired off 14 unanswered points during the second half to secure a 21-17 victory. 

After the Bulldogs faced a 10-point deficit going into the final quarter, Russell and the Redlands offense elevated their game to the next level, marching the ball into the end zone on 12 plays for 79 yards.  Russell connected on seven of eight passes with three receivers each recording big catches of 10 or more yards, beginning with a 19-yard strike to senior wide receiver Aaron Atkins (Fallbrook, CA) and ending with a 13-yard toss to Irwin.

Down by three with plenty of time left, the Maroon and Gray continued its fierce defense by forcing a three-and-out showing on Chapman's ensuing possession.   This effort was repeated by the Bulldogs, before Tanquary ran in the eventual winning touchdown after sophomore wide receiverSteven Herber (Rancho Cucamonga, CA) hauled in a 47-yard strike to breach the Panther red zone. 

But with 4:43 remaining, the game was far from over.  The Bulldog defense stepped up once again, making important plays, especially on fourth-and-seven, when Hoffman picked off the Chapman quarterback to deny any chance of a Panther comeback.

With the table set for the SCIAC championship, Redlands took care of business down the stretch by recording wins over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges, Pomona-Pitzer Colleges, and Whittier College.  During the team's 34-6 triumph over CMS, Irwin recorded three touchdowns and 155 receiving yards in the first half alone to highlight the game.  Redlands then shut out the Sagehens for the second year in a row, earning a 49-0 decision at home on November 9.  Dawson, senior defensive back Stephen Reyes (Kingsburg, CA), and junior defensive back Curran Fudge(Oklahoma, OK) all snagged interceptions that led to Redlands touchdowns, with Fudge capping off the impressive rout with a pick-six play.  Finally, the Maroon and Gray secured complete ownership of the 2013 conference title with a 70-16 pummeling of the Whittier College Poets on Senior Day.  Redlands poured on 28 points in each of the opening quarters before utilizing much of its roster for a total-team effort in the regular-season finale.  Among the many highlights, senior wide receiver Sam Angelo (Woodinville, WA) and senior tight end Will King (Scottsdale, AZ) recorded touchdowns in their final game at Ted Runner Stadium.

Finally, with the automatic qualifier in hand, the Redlands football team awaited its first-round destination of the NCAA Division III Championships.  The announcement came with a familiar foe in No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor (TX), allowing the opportunity for the Bulldogs to avenge their season-opening loss to the Crusaders.   

After making the trek to Belton, Texas, the Bulldogs battled it out with the home team but fell short of the upset in a 7-35 decision.  The team's scoring play came off of an interception by senior defensive back Brandon Morris (Mission Viejo, CA), who nabbed his second pick of the season and then returned it 53 yards to the UMHB 32-yard line. From here, it took Russell and the Bulldogs only two plays to find a wide-open Atkins, thanks to the relentless work of the offensive line that included All-SCIAC honorees junior Aaron Hinkle (Lodi, CA) and senior Jorge Cervantes (Indio, CA).  Atkins hauled in a 29-yard strike into the far corner of the end zone to put the Bulldogs on the board late in the third frame.

Another highlight of the game included the team's 125 yards on the ground against the nation's then-top-ranked rush defense, which previously had allowed less than 53 yards per game.

Upon conclusion of the season, Redlands learned that 10 players earned All-SCIAC honors for their contributions during the team's undefeated run through the conference.   Locke headlined the list with his recognition as the 2013 SCIAC Defensive Player of the Year.   He became the third Bulldog in four years to collect this honor.  In addition, Kane, Woods, Tootle, and Morris also represented the defense with their First-Team nods, while senior defensive back Nick Kido (Honolulu, HI) landed among the Second Teamers.  On offense, Russell and Hinkle received First-Team recognition, with Atkins and Cervantes garnering a spot on the Second Team.

Finally, as of December 5, the Bulldogs led all of NCAA Division III in red-zone defense (47.2%) and fourth-down conversion percentage (75.0%).  In addition, Redlands' kickoff return average of 25.77 yards places it fourth in the nation.

Following an outstanding season in 2013, the University of Redlands football celebrates new milestones that include an undefeated SCIAC showing en route to the program's 29th championship.  Beyond saying goodbye to its 31 seniors, the Bulldogs hold high hopes for additional success in the seasons to come.

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