SAN FRANCISCO — Cal Lutheran opened its football season Saturday with a convincing, sorrier-than-it-sounds 23-13 win. But before the dancing begins in Thousand Oaks, it should be noted that the Kingsmen beat up on a school with perhaps the worst football program in the NCAA's Division II--San Francisco State.
The Gators have not had a winning season since Richard Nixon was in the White House. A year ago, they rolled up a record of 2-9, and one of the victories was a forfeit by Azusa Pacific, which used an ineligible player.
There are numerous explanations for all the futility and fumbling at SFSU, the most interesting of which comes from Sam Goldman, the school's sports information director.
"It's because of all the protesting that went on here back in the late '60s," he said. "We used to do all right before that. But then a lot of students, football players, stayed away because of the reputation we had as a radical school. The protest years caused it.
"Ever since, we've been searching for a so-called winning season."
Ironically, on the same afternoon CLU was pushing San Francisco State around, many of the former flower children who supposedly ruined the Gators' football program were gathering at a nearby park for the 20th-anniversary celebration of the "Summer of Love"--an idyllic time when the hippies and the peace movement took precedence over stingy defense and sophisticated passing.
Peace, however, was the last thing on the Kingsmen's minds. They were anxious to get off to a fast start in their opening game--and they did. CLU scored its first points midway through the first quarter when quarterback Tom Bonds avoided a heavy rush, then lobbed a 39-yard touchdown pass to John Bankhead.
Less than a minute later, after linebacker Torii Lehr recovered a Gator fumble at the CLU 46-yard line, Bonds completed passes to Tracy Downs and Joe Monarrez. Then halfback Noel Chesnut broke free for a 24-yard dash to the end zone.
Before you could say "Get out of Vietnam," it was 14-0.
Outside of a few sparkling plays by Bonds, the remainder of the game took on the look of a scrimmage. CLU worked on its short-range passing game as well as its heretofore lethargic running attack. San Francisco, meanwhile, searched for solutions to a bevy of problems.
"We staggered a little," Kingsmen Coach Bob Shoup said. "We're disappointed we didn't get more from our running backs and tight ends. We missed some assignments, but Bonds improvises so well. The last touchdown was completely improvised."
With CLU ahead, 16-7, and the ball on the SFSU 9-yard line early in the fourth quarter, Bonds first evaded blitzing linebackers, then spotted Bankhead in the end zone. The nimble-footed quarterback, who is closing in on the Division II career passing record, lofted a pass almost out of Bankhead's reach, but the receiver managed to hang on for a 23-7 lead.
Cal Lutheran's defense got mixed reviews from coaches and players. Shoup said the defense played "extremely well." Linebacker Terry Rowe said, "We messed up some, but it's a new defense that we're still learning."
CLU's 4-3 defense played well enough to frequently put the offense in decent field position. Two of the Kingsmen's points could be directly attributed to defenders Earl Bentancourt and David Moore, who nailed Gator running back Gary Simon in the end zone for a safety midway through the third quarter.
San Francisco had a brief moment of glory late in the game, when defensive back Harry Alderson intercepted backup quarterback Jeff Chalmers' pass and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown.
"Yeah, our defense played good, except for some bad mistakes," said SFSU Coach Vic Rowen, who has been through bad afternoons before.
"I think they didn't win this game as much as we gave it to them."
Just another San Francisco flower-power gesture of good will.