HAYWARD, Calif. — It could have been worse for Cal Lutheran. Northern California could have slid into the Pacific Ocean.
By the Kingsmen's way of thinking, what transpired on the football field during their 29-17 loss to Cal State Hayward on Saturday boiled down to a string of disasters that cost them not only this game, but could affect the whole season.
Cal Lutheran turned over the ball six times on four interceptions and two fumbles. The defense blew numerous coverages, two that resulted in touchdowns. But Coach Bob Shoup singled out the play of his kicking unit as the worst of all. "It was bad," he said. "Our worst errors were in our kicking game."
And in this slop of a contest, that was saying something.
Kent Sullivan averaged 30 yards in eight punts. Two traveled fewer than 20 yards, including one that wobbled end over end and bounced out of bounds for a net of 11 yards.
In fairness to Sullivan, the snap from Sean Demmon was wide, and Sullivan had to rush his kick. Minutes later, with Sullivan standing near the CLU 10, Demmon rifled a snap 10 feet over Sullivan's head and out of the end zone. The Pioneers were awarded a safety and led, 2-0.
"From that point on, the momentum changed," Shoup said.
Passes were dropped, flags flew and chaos took over.
Embarrassments aside, the worst news of an already dismal day came early in the third quarter. Quarterback Tom Bonds was forced out after his right knee was twisted in a collision with a Pioneer defender's helmet. Bonds tried to continue, his team leading, 10-8, but after one play he limped off the field.
"We don't know if it's a sprain or a tear," Shoup said. "We'll wait 48 hours and see. If it's too loose, we'll operate. I don't want to risk his career."
Said Bonds, "All I know is, I can't walk."
Bonds took a seat on the bench, his propped-up leg--and the game--on ice.
The Kingsmen (2-1) tried backup quarterback Shane Hawkins. He completed 1 of 6 passes for minus-3 yards and 1 interception.
Then, Shoup brought in freshman Jeff Chalmers, who completed 8 of 20 passes for 63 yards and 1 touchdown. He also threw two interceptions.
"In the games ahead, if Bonds can't go, we'll have to change our offense," Shoup said. "We don't have a lot of experience in our backup quarterbacks."
Lack of experience notwithstanding, the greater question is whether Hawkins or Chalmers have the talent Shoup needs to keep the Kingsmen's passing attack afloat. Despite the two interceptions, Chalmers played relatively well against a defense that knew he would throw and, accordingly, used deeper coverage. He led the offense on a 70-yard drive in 8 plays. With 5:45 left in the fourth quarter, Chalmer hit wide receiver Joe Fuca for a 24-yard touchdown.
That made the score respectable at 29-17 but did little to lift the Kingsmen's spirits. After the game, as Bonds hobbled out of the locker room on crutches, the place went silent.
Fuca, who last week predicted his team would not lose a game this season, talked in hushed tones.
"It seemed like when Tom went out, we lost control," he said. "We thought we would dominate. Early on we were ready to break it open, but it just faded away. It was frustrating."
CLU jumped to 10-8 lead in the first half. It appeared as if the Kingsmen, in spite of themselves, were handling the Pioneers. But Hayward wore down the Lutheran defense in the third quarter, scoring with 3:33 left. The Pioneers (2-1) scored again early in the fourth, and without Bonds, CLU was unable to come back.
The Kingsmen defense, which in two previous games had allowed an average of 46 yards rushing, gave up 216 yards on the ground. Hayward running back Fredrick Simmons gained 138 yards on 17 carries.
"Their defense was tough," Simmons said. "They attack the ball. But as the game went on, we were moving people out. Our offensive line pushed them back, and we just broke through the holes."
Pioneer wide receiver Jeff Nedved, who caught five passes, said once the offensive linemen started opening holes, everything else fell into place. "It was easy," he said with a grin.
For Cal Lutheran, though, nothing was easy in this game, and no one was smiling.