Photo by: Tony Leon/ActionWestPhotography.com
WHITTIER, Calif. – The Whittier College Football team picked up their first home victory since 2014 this past Saturday as they held off Luther College 38-26 at Memorial Stadium.
"Today was a great team effort with all three phases of our team working together," explained Head Coach Mike Neale. "As we broke training camp, we set a goal of turning all of our efforts towards winning the opener. The guys prepared all week, and this win helps us accomplish that goal."
Coming off of a 1-8 season, the Purple & Gold got their 2019 slate started in impressive fashion led by junior quarterback Miguel Avina (Indio, Calif.) who returned to the field after sitting out the second half of 2018 with a knee injury.
Avina provided the fireworks totaling five touchdowns with three coming in the air and two on the ground as he combined for 238 yards of offense. Last year in 2018 he opened up the season in a similar fashion combining for six touchdowns in a match-up with Arizona Christian University. Avina was 16-for-22 for 178 yards with a long being for 51 yards. He also ran the ball 16 times for 60 yards averaging 3.8 yards per carry.
The lone score in the first quarter came on a hook-up from Avina to Hakim Williams Jr. (Covina, Calif.) down the sideline for a 51-yard catch and run. This put the Poets on top 6-0. Midway through the second Whittier added to their lead as Avina capped off an 18-play drive that covered 97-yards ending in a five-yard rushing score. He also converted the two-point conversion that moved the score to 14-0.
On Luther's next series they were finally able to get on the scoreboard as they too went the length of the field with their quarterback Ian Kuykendall scoring from three yards out. But their ensuing extra point though would get blocked as Zurie Clark (Upland, Calif.) would make a great defensive play.
With 3:23 to play in the half the Poets were forced to go 68-yards and they would convert thanks to a 28-yard catch from Moises Gonzalez (Long Beach, Calif.) capped off with a 23-yard touchdown grab by Williams Jr. over his shoulder that gave WC a 21-6 lead at the break. Out of the half the Poets capitalized on a botched 4th Down punt by the Norse, which gave them the ball at the 10-yard line. Two plays later Avina would take it six yards to the house that extended the lead 28-13.
Whittier started with the ball to open the 4th quarter and they held it for 8:05 as Avina would march the Purple & Gold down the field with a 14-play drive that covered 64 yards. Alex Retana (Whittier, Calif.) rushed five times for 22 yards and Gonzalez would end the drive with a six-yard catch that put the game out of reach.
Luther provided some pushback over the final 6:33 though putting up 13 points. They had great field position following a 41-yard return by Quon Lambert, which ended in a Parker Kizer rushing score 24-yards out. The Poets were able to answer on their next series as Joshua Shields (San Diego, Calif.) would get the rock five times, which included a long of 36. This brought the ball down to the Luther 3-yard line but WC couldn't punch it in as Noah Handel (Laguna Beach, Calif.) would come away with the 20-yard field goal.
Under three minutes to play the Norse created one final push with another big return from Lambert this time going 56-yards. Tre Jensen would end this run with a six-yard run that made it a 12-point game.
The story of the game was time of possession with Whittier holding the ball for 36:28 compared to Luther's 23:32. Whittier totaled 356 yards of offense and was at an 81% clip on third down (13-of-16). They ran for 178 yards and passed for 178 yards.
Williams Jr. finished with two touchdowns on the game on four receptions for 87 yards. He averaged 21.8 yards per catch. Gonzalez caught nine passes for 68 yards and a score. On the ground Shields ran it 10 times totaling 68 yards and Retana saw it 17 times for 60 yards.
On defense, the Poets were led by Sean Hamilton (Henderson, NV) and Enrique Santana (Inglewood, Calif.) who each recorded 10 tackles. Santana also had a tackle for a three-yard loss. Oscar Aliaga (Las Vegas, NV) added seven tackles with four being solo and Andy Pascual (Holtville, Calif.) ended with seven tackles, a sack and 2.5 tackles for losses. Clark was also an asset for the Purple & Gold finishing with six tackles along with a pass break-up and a block. He also returned two kick-offs for 41 yards averaging 20.5 yards per return.
"We played with tremendous effort today and the team prepared well both mentally and physically all week," Neale stated. "Saturday we're 1-0. We'll wake up 0-0 Sunday and we'll need to have another great week of preparation on and off the field."
Whittier remains at home this Saturday, September 14 when they host Lewis & Clark Valley State beginning at 5:00pm.