Football shows grit in game against Austin

Matthew Park

SPORTS EDITOR

Following a devastating 60-0 blowout loss to Whitworth University last week, it was easy to assume that the story of this year’s football team was going to be a familiar one.  However, while the team was unable to come away with a win during their second game of the season, there were some positive takeaways.

After trailing early in the contest, the Poets were able to dig deep and fight back to make it a three point game going into the 4th quarter.  Despite being unable to pull off the victory, the silver lining is that the Poets were able to showcase their mental toughness on the road against a very tough opponent.  

After dropping their home opener to Whitworth last week, the Poets would travel to Texas to take on the ‘Roos of Austin College.  This game marks the only time that the Poets traveled a significant distance to an opposing stadium, as they flew to Dallas early Friday morning to prepare for kickoff at noon the following day.  

Although the road contest against Austin College wouldn’t qualify as a conference game, this matchup was still an important game on the schedule as it provided the team an opportunity to bounce back after being shutout at home the previous week.

The ‘Roos opened the game by scoring points on each of their first three possessions while the Poets went three-and-out on their first two possessions.  Going into the second quarter, the Poets found themselves down 17-0 not the ideal start for a football team who was just routed 60-0 at home.  

However, the team quickly responded as the offense was able to efficiently work the ball down the field where junior kicker Eric Voss put up the first points of the season for the Poets on a 34-yard field goal.  

Following a successful offensive series, the defensive unit of Whittier College responded by forcing the ‘Roos into a three-and-out series.  This defensive stand was completed when senior Poet linebacker Austin Brasher dropped ‘Roo quarterback Cooper Woodyard for a 7-yard sack.  

One of the more impressive showings all season for the Poet defense was rewarded on the next drive as the Poet offense scored their first touchdown of the season.  Capitalizing off of penalties committed by the Austin College defense, sophomore quarterback Matthew Valencia connected with junior wide receiver Steven Short on a 27-yard strike to make the score 17-10 going into halftime.

Coming into the second half only down a score, the Poets started the half with a renewed sense of energy.  Defensive coordinator Ryan Jirgl made some key adjustments at halftime, and his unitonly surrendered three points in the third quarter, which also included a key stop in the red zone.

The offense led by Offensive Coordinator Mark Mejia, also responded well to their halftime adjustments as they created big plays and sustained drives at a consistent pace in the third quarter.  Valencia threw for his second touchdown of the day, connecting with senior running back Joey Willm on a 4-yard passing play making the score 20-17.  

On the ensuing drive, the Poets came up with another stop in the red zone, holding the ‘Roos to 3 in the fourth quarter.  At this point, the Poet offense had the chance to score a touchdown to take the lead with around nine minutes left in the game.  However, the offense was unable to gain any momentum as they started the drive by allowing a sack on Valencia.

After being forced into a quick three-and-out, the ‘Roos offense put together a sustained drive, eating up time on the clock, and finally iced the game as ‘Roo quarterback Woodyard took off for a 21-yard touchdown run.

“It’s certainly a positive thing to come back from that deficit, but we did have a slow start, which is something that we’re not excited about,” Head coach Mike Neale said following the game.  “But to our guy’s credit, the team hung in there, kept fighting and showed that there’s a lot of time in a football game and that one quarter doesn’t make or break you.”

Neale also highlighted a few positives that he and the coaching staff took away from this game.  “We moved the ball very well and we were able to create some explosive plays, which were huge for us,” Neale explained.  “Defensively, we were able to shut our opponent out throughout most of the second and third quarters, but we still need to be more consistent with that.”

Despite the positives that came out of this game, the team still stands at a record of 0-2 on the season.  Not the ideal start to the season, but what is important after facing off with tough non-conference opponents is that Poet football has shown their resilience, both mentally and physically.  

This resilience is something that they will need as they prepare for the SCIAC opener in two weeks on the road against Claremont Mudd-Scripps (CMS).