LA VERNE, Calif. – The No. 13 Chapman University football team made history with a 28-17 victory over La Verne on Saturday. The Panthers became the first team in program history to finish a season undefeated, claiming Chapman's third SCIAC title in the last six years.
The Panthers finished the season 9-0 overall and a perfect 7-0 in the SCIAC. With nine wins this season and a season-ending win over La Verne a year ago. The Panthers have won 10 straight games heading into the NCAA Tournament next week.
The Panthers entered the season ranked No.2 in the NCAA West Region rankings and will find out their first round matchup tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. when the selection show is aired on NCAA.com.
Chapman completed its undefeated season despite six turnovers at La Verne, including four interceptions. The defense held strong in limiting La Verne to just three points off the six turnovers.
The Panthers found themselves in an early hole to start the game. A fake punt and a 57-yard touchdown pass put La Verne on the board first. After the Leopards' first interception ended Chapman's first drive, they converted it into a 19-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead.
The double digit lead didn't last long as junior Nico Ragas took the next kickoff 93 yards to the end zone for his second return TD in as many weeks. With the momentum swung toward the Chapman sideline, the Panthers erased the lead by the end of the first quarter.
Interceptions became the name of the game over the second quarter as the teams traded picks over the next four drives. Senior Sal Ochoa III and junior Franky Narez each grabbed INTs for the Panthers but La Verne returned the favors with two picks of their own.
Neither offense could quite get going until the end of the second as both teams turned it over on downs and gave up fumbles before the next score. After a punt pinned Chapman inside their own 20 with less than four minutes to go, the Panthers marched down the field to add to their lead.
Mendoza ended an 11-play, 82-yard drive when he took a screen pass 35 yards into the end zone with nine seconds remaining. The Panthers took the 21-10 lead into halftime.
Mendoza ran the ball 35 times for 133 yards and caught the one pass for 35 yards. Sophomore Spencer Corona had a career day, catching eight passes for 135 yards. Mendoza added another TD in the third quarter with another three-yard run to make it 28-10.
Raymond Moronez led the La Verne secondary with three of the four Leopard picks. Junior Jonston MacIntyre and sophomore Reed Vettel split the interceptions at QB but MacIntyre completed 17-of-20 passes for 246 yards while also running for 55 yards on 13 carries.
La Verne cut the lead down to two scores with a touchdown on fourth down to start the fourth quarter. After an interception ended the Panthers' next drive on La Verne's three yard line, the defense forced a three-and-out to get the ball right back. However, the punt was fumbled near midfield and La Verne recovered 7:53 left in the game.
After the drive stalled, the Leopards set up a 41-yard field goal but it sailed wide left. The Panthers drove 71 yards over eight plays to get inside the Leopards' 10 and take the clock inside the final minute. Chapman was unable to punch the ball in for a game-sealing touchdown but the clock ran out before La Verne had a chance to make the comeback.
The Panthers celebrated their third SCIAC title in six years and will find out their tournament pairing tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. when the selection show airs on NCAA.com.