YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Following the Leader

Cal Lutheran aims to dethrone Occidental in SCIAC, or at least earn playoff spot; big changes for other programs.

September 01, 2006|Ben Bolch | Times Staff Writer

It's a whole new ballgame, Charlie Brown.

At least that's what every football team besides Occidental is hoping will be the case in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, where the Tigers have won the conference title and advanced to the NCAA Division III playoffs the last two years.

Last season, Cal Lutheran won five conference games for the first time in school history, finished the regular season on a seven-game winning streak and outscored opponents by a nearly two-to-one ratio behind a high-powered offense featuring running back Charlie Brown.

Yet the Kingsmen were excluded from the postseason when the playoff selection committee continued its long-running tradition of taking only one team from the conference.

"We really thought we were going to keep playing," said Cal Lutheran Coach Scott Squires, whose team's only loss, 41-9, came to Occidental. "We were the only one-loss team in the country to get left out."

If it happens again, the Kingsmen might have an "in" this time around. Joining the playoff selection committee this season will be Squires, who acknowledges his desire to help place two deserving conference teams in the 32-team bracket.

But Cal Lutheran's playoff push will be complicated by the loss of Brown, who averaged 5.3 yards a carry, as well as six defensive linemen and junior quarterback Danny Jones' three favorite targets. Squires will rely on junior running back Louis Montano, a part-time starter his first two seasons, and the prolific Jones, who last season passed for 2,108 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Even bigger changes are afoot at conference rivals Pomona-Pitzer and Whittier, programs trying to rebound from losing seasons under the guidance of new coaches, and National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics power Azusa Pacific, where former Cougars defensive coordinator Victor Santa Cruz has taken over.

Azusa Pacific will play games in six states spanning more than 7,500 miles. It opens tonight at San Diego, the top-ranked Division I-AA mid-major team, and will also play at Wisconsin-Whitewater, the 2005 Division III runner-up.

"I'm teaching our guys that no matter what the circumstances are, you have to compete," said Santa Cruz, whose program has struggled to find local competitors because, unlike Division III schools, it can provide some scholarship money.

The most extreme transformation among local small-college teams may be at Division III independent Chapman. The Panthers have a new coach, a new offensive philosophy and a new artificial-turf playing surface, Wilson Field.

After a 2-7 season that equaled the worst in school history, Coach Bob Owens is implementing a pass-oriented spread attack in hopes of reviving an offense that averaged only 18.3 points last season. "The great thing about it for the players is everybody has a chance to brush the sand off and start over," said Owens, a former Whittier coach.

There's no need for a shake-up at Occidental, especially with senior quarterback Andy Collins and nine defensive starters returning. Tigers Coach Dale Widolff called Collins, a two-time conference offensive player of the year, "the best player to play in this league in a long time."

Collins features more than the cannon arm that passed for 2,942 yards and 31 touchdowns last season as Occidental won its first nine games before losing to Linfield (Ore.) in the playoffs for a second consecutive season.

"He's stronger than most linebackers and [defensive backs] on the field," Widolff said. "The ones he can't run away from, he can run over."

That mentality should be an asset in a conference in which everyone wants to topple the leader.



Quick Facts


* Occidental No. 9 by, No. 11 by Sports Weekly and No. 17 by Lindy's and Street & Smith's. Azusa Pacific No. 11 in NAIA coaches' poll.


* Occidental No. 8 by and No. 15 by American Football Coaches Assn. Azusa Pacific No. 12 in NAIA coaches' poll.


* Andy Collins, Sr., QB, Occidental -- Transfer from Oregon ranked ninth in Division III in pass efficiency last season and has attracted a host of NFL scouts to practices. Connor Pearce, So., PK, Cal Lutheran -- Made a 53-yard field goal last season against Occidental and has exhibited even longer range in practice. Keith Ornelas, Sr., OT, Azusa Pacific -- NAIA All-American honorable mention could draw interest with a monster season.


* Jordan Farrell, Jr., WR, Azusa Pacific -- Made 11 catches for 136 yards in two seasons at Sacramento State. Dustin Willingham, Jr., QB, Cal Lutheran -- Played free safety for Southwest Baptist (Mo.) in 2005 after spending the previous season as a quarterback for Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College. Jamiel Van Over, Jr., LB, Redlands -- UNLV transfer drops into spot where he can have an immediate effect.


* Scott Ellis, Sr., LB, Azusa Pacific -- Preseason All-American second-team selection made 92 tackles and forced a fumble last season. Chase Twedell, Sr., RB, Chapman -- Needs 131 yards to set the school rushing record. Matt Sagraves, Sr., S, Cal Lutheran -- Made a team-high four interceptions last season. Brad Smith, Sr., S, Redlands -- Led team with five interceptions, two fumble recoveries and six pass breakups in 2005. DeAndre Valencia, Sr., LB, La Verne -- Second-team All-SCIAC selection made a team-high 68 tackles last season. Mark Thom, Sr., OL, Redlands -- Preseason second-team All-American is also team captain.


* Occidental's rivalry with Pomona-Pitzer dates to 1895 and is the oldest in college football on the West Coast. Occidental retained possession of "The Drum" with a 41-34 victory in 2005 and has won the last two meetings. Occidental holds a 58-46-3 record against Pomona-Pitzer going into the 108th meeting on Oct. 21 at Occidental.

-- Ben Bolch

Los Angeles Times Articles