Conference football championship aside, there was little reason for celebration in Tigertown last season.
Sure, Occidental won the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title, but hey, what else is new? The Tigers finishing in first is pretty much a rite of fall.
But making it to the NCAA Division III playoffs, now that would be an accomplishment. And to that end, the Tigers failed.
"We came close, but we didn't get it done on the field," said Dale Widolff, Occidental's coach of seven seasons. "To get to the playoffs you have to be 8-1 or 9-0 and we lost two games and we didn't deserve to be in the playoffs."
Officially, Occidental was, indeed, 8-1, but one of its victories came by forfeit when Menlo College used an ineligible player.
This season, the Tigers' goal is simple: Win them all, and win by a lot.
Getting passed over at playoff time "has given us an extra incentive to treat every game like it is the season," said Adam Daner, the Tigers' junior center. "We know we have to go undefeated and dominate every team."
Certainly, it is a tall order. But it also is a possibility. The Tigers have 15 starters returning, including senior quarterback Tony Werbelow, one of the top-rated passers in Division III.
Werbelow, an all-conference selection last season, completed 103 of 149 passes for 1,135 yards and eight touchdowns with only two interceptions. And Widolff is expecting even better numbers this time around.
"He was very good last year and he has good leadership abilities," Widolff said, "so I'd be disappointed if he didn't play better this year."
Werbelow's supporting cast is a strong one. In the same backfield will be Kevin Vegas, who had 455 yards and seven touchdowns in 84 carries last season. Other key players include Roger Laubengayer, a lineman who made one publication's All-American team, and receiver Rick Freeman, who led Oxy in receptions with 30, three for touchdowns.
"Offensively we should be high caliber," Werbelow said. "I have my receiving corps returning and we have four really strong offensive linemen."
The Tigers return nine defensive starters off a squad that posted two shutouts and allowed an average of only 11.3 points a game. Standouts include linebacker David Hodges, a 6-4, 215-pound senior whom Bill Dobson, an Occidental assistant, calls the best defensive player in the league.
FAMILIAR ROLE--Occidental, which has won or shared five of the last six titles, is the overwhelming favorite again to win the SCIAC championship. Page 13