Some things about the improved University of Puget Sound football team are plainly obvious.
Over the course of an offseason, coach Jeff Thomas’ group has gotten bigger and stronger. The Loggers look more the part when they take the field against some of the better programs on the West Coast – like Chapman University, which they hosted Saturday.
And yet the scoreboard remains virtually unchanged, as it has over the past 20 games. UPS lost its season opener, 57-14, to the Panthers at Baker Stadium.
That is 20 losses in a row for UPS, dating to the end of the 2010 season.
“Oh, man, it’s just the worst,” UPS quarterback Braden Foley said. “I would do basically anything to get a win right now. We’re starving. Everybody in the locker room wants a win.”
Everyone also wants to gauge progress. Last season, the Loggers lost to this same team – the runner-up in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC), which nearly made the NCAA Division III playoffs – 55-35 in California in the second week of the season.
That score was a bit misleading – the Panthers took a 28-0 lead in the first 13 minutes, ripping UPS for one big play after another.
Chapman got the football first Saturday and drove 84 yards in 13 plays. It was put to the test early, converting a third-and-11 play early on the drive, and a fourth-and-2 to stay alive.
And the Panthers eventually scored on Kyle White’s 3-yard run to grab a 6-0 lead with 8 minutes, 49 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
That would be the prevailing theme most of the afternoon – sustaining long drives.
The Loggers’ first drive of 2013? A quick three-and-out.
“Three-and-outs,” Foley said, “are the worst thing you can do.”
Yet trailing 13-0 in the first quarter, UPS got a turnover on freshman safety Jacob Wuesthoff’s over-the-shoulder interception at the Loggers’ 43.
Thomas immediately called for a deep pass. Foley got good protection and delivered a perfect pass down the right sideline in the direction of wide receiver Bryson Calma, who had a defender beat for a touchdown.
And the pass went right through Calma’s hands for an incompletion.
“Big miss,” Thomas said. “There are about five plays … that can turn a game, and I think we went 0-for-5 today on those big plays.”
Just trying to get something jump-started, Thomas gambled and went for it on fourth-and-3 from midfield. Foley’s pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage.
Chapman took six plays – all runs – to cover 50 yards. Terrell Dolberry’s 1-yard scoring plunge gave the Panthers a 20-0 lead.
Afterward, still disappointed, Thomas stuck to his original preseason outlook for his team.
“We are way better than last year,” Thomas said.
Added Foley: “It’s (the) first game of season. It will come together … with time, and reps and trust in your players.”
Pacific Lutheran 31, at California Lutheran 24: Leading much of the game in Thousand Oaks, Calif., the 12th-ranked Lutes saw the No. 18 Kingsmen rally to tie the game at 24 on Sean Bellotti’s 42-yard field goal with 9:19 to go.
That is when PLU coach Scott Westering got his offense huddled to deliver a message.
“We told them, ‘Early in the season we have a chance for a character drive,’ and we just went out there with the mindset that we were going to take this thing (83) yards and do this,” Westering said.
Indeed, the Lutes did just that. To do it, they got two big third-down plays from quarterback Dalton Ritchey.
The first was a 21-yard scramble on third-and-3 early in the drive. And, facing a third-and-7 from the CLU 29, Westering called for a delayed quarterback draw, which Ritchey turned into an 11-yard gain.
“That is the threat he will give us all year long,” Westering said.
Two plays later, Ritchey threw the winning 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Lucas Sontra with 3:48 remaining.