The mystery of the ages around Cal Lutheran in these troubled times is: What in the blessed name of Martin Luther will it take for the Kingsmen to win a Western Football Conference game? Not since the dawn of the Reformation itself has a group of Lutherans been so perplexed--or frustrated.
Moments after Saturday night's latest indignity, a 36-14 loss to Cal State Northridge, CLU quarterback Tom Bonds drooped as he stood on the field looking as if he'd lost both the game and all faith in the football gods. This was the Kingsmen's ninth straight conference defeat and the 13th in 14 games since CLU joined the WFC flock in 1985.
By Bonds' way of thinking, maybe there are no football gods.
The quarterback, who is his team's spiritual leader, said all the losing is causing him a hellish kind of pain. "I can't describe it," he said. "It's a disappointment. I waited four years for this and they blow us off the field. They jumped on us right away. What can I say?
"Now it's a matter of pride. Those of us who want to carry on, I'm sure will. We just have to keep sucking it up."
Even worse, the pounding by CSUN came on the heels of--and, according to Bonds, may have been at least partially caused by--last week's deflating, final-minute loss to another WFC opponent, Southern Utah State. Said Bonds: "That took its toll on us. It seems no matter how we play, we're always on the short end of the stick. There wasn't a player on our team who didn't give his all in that game. When we weren't the winners, we just stood there thinking, 'What do we have to do?"'
Anybody out there have any answers? If so, CLU Coach Bob Shoup is all ears.
"We were hoping our defense could hang on," said Shoup, looking every bit the part of a man who had just sent his underlings out to play on the freeway. "We can play against teams with average running backs, but not backs like these.
"We did not tackle well."
The game was all Cal Lutheran for two minutes. Moments after CSUN running back Lance Harper fumbled and CLU recovered at the Northridge 24, Bonds hit Mark Jones with a four-yard touchdown pass at 13:11 of the first quarter.
Cal Lutheran's highlight package after that consisted of a meaningless fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Bonds to Shane Hawkins long after the game was decided, Kent Sullivan's long-bomb punting and a 48-yard pass from Bonds to Hawkins late in the third quarter. Bad news awaited even on that play when Hawkins, who had no Northridge defenders between him and the end zone, fell to his knees for no apparent reason at the 20. The drive subsequently stalled.
Meanwhile Albert Fann, Richard Brown and Lance Harper, CSUN's clone-like running backs, repeatedly trampled on a Kingsmen defense that couldn't keep up.
The Matadors, who average more than 230 yards a game rushing, surpassed that in the first half. Particularly harmful to the Kingsmen's self-esteem was an 81-yard touchdown burst by Fann early in the second quarter. That made the score 20-7, and turned the remainder of the game into a matter of survival for CLU.
Until the second quarter, at least, both teams agreed that CLU players thought they could finally get an elusive conference win at Northridge.
"Sure, they thought they could beat us," CSUN defensive back Kip Dukes said. "There were a lot of negative things said before the game. We just wanted to go out and go nose to nose."
Said Kingsmen wide receiver Joe Monarrez: "When we got the first score, we really thought we'd win. There weren't any doubts. But then they came back. A loss like this hurts." CLU defensive end Earl Bentancourt concurred, saying: "It wasn't adjustment errors or anything. We just didn't want to hit tonight. It's depressing. But we have not seen a lot of teams like this before."
Except, of course, in the WFC.