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Leopards Win Thriller on Homecoming

Leopards Win Thriller on Homecoming

Photo by Shane Rodrigues


Story by Billy Lopez, Sports Information Graduate Assistant

LA VERNE, CA — The University of La Verne football team made it a Homecoming night to remember. A late score, a two-point conversion to take the lead, and a blocked field to seal a 38-37 win, and that was just the final 24 seconds.

La Verne got the ball with 3:55 left in the game trailing the Sagehens 37-30 and Miguel Aguero led the Leopards down the field to the nine-yard line with just 24 seconds remaining in the game. On fourth down, with Aguerro in shotgun with three receivers wide to his left and two to the right including Nathaniel Sagastume in the slot, the quarterback took a quick step back, saw Sagastume cut to the corner, and fired a pass between two defenders for the touchdown. The catch was reminiscent of Sagastume's late-game heroics in 2019 when he hauled in the game-winning touchdown grab in overtime on the same end of the field against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.

The score cut the Leopards' deficit to 37-36 and head coach Chris Krich initially sent out his PAT unit to tie the game but after calling a timeout to think it over he sent his offense back on the field to go for the two-point conversion and the win. Abel Cueva lined up in the backfield next to Aguero, ran out to the flat uncovered, and hauled in the pass to put the Leopards up 38-37 with only 19 seconds remaining in the game.

But the Leopards weren't out of danger yet. The Sagehens marched down the field on three quick passes including a hook and lateral to set up a potential game-winning 46-yard field goal attempt by Kyler Parris with one second on the clock. 

The Leopards had some heroics left. Khary Sanders broke through the line and got a hand on the ball to block the kick and send Ortmayer Stadium into a frenzy.

Sanders had one of the best nights of his career. Along with the victory-sealing blocked kick, the senior defensive lineman surprised Pomona-Pitzer when he dropped back into coverage early in the second quarter and intercepted Evan Flitz's pass. The pick led to a Tyrone Williams Jr. touchdown pass to Makena Ramos Kamaka less than a minute later to put La Verne up 21-7. Sanders finished with three tackles.

Williams finished with a pair of touchdowns and 156 yards through the air. He even added a touchdown reception when the Leopards showed some trickery in the second quarter when on a reverse pass Andre Maldonado found him open in the end zone. Aguero added 107 yards with his touchdown and two-point conversion throws. Sagastume led La Verne with six receptions and 71 receiving yards. Cueva rushed for 41 yards and a rushing touchdown.

The La Verne defense had a big night to give the Leopards a shot to win late. Midway through the second quarter and the Sagehens threatening at La Verne's 26-yard line, linebacker Derek Guzman jumped in front of a Flitz passed, picked it off, and returned it 62 yards to the Sagehens' 12-yard line. The change of possession led to a 27-yard field goal by Kapena Kamakawiwoole. Guzman added three tackles and Kamakawiwoole made all three of his extra-point attempts.

Ben Sullivan made a huge play for the Leopards late in the third quarter when on first and goal from the four-yard line he stripped the ball loose from Flitz and Ben Sullivan pounced on it to end the threat. Philip Conner added another big play when he forced and recovered a fumble to help protect La Verne's lead.

La Verne came out strong offensively scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions. Williams on 4th down and 20 connected with Mehki Hines for the opening touchdown that gave the Leopards a 7-0 lead. The Sagehens responded quickly, scoring on their first drive to knot the game up at 7-7 after a Cole Berry five-yard rushing touchdown. 

The Sagehens scored at the tail end of the first half to bring them within 10 points at 24-14 after Evan Flitz connected with Win Hunter on a 22-yard touchdown pass. 

La Verne had a 24-14 lead to start the second half but Pomona-Pitzer scored on the opening drive of the third quarter and connected on a two-point conversion, making the score 24-22 in favor of La Verne. The Sagehens would not stop there as they converted on their next possession to take their first lead of the game at 29-24. 

The Leopards finally responded in the fourth quarter and snapped 22 unanswered points by the Sagehens when Cueva found the endzone on a 3 yard rush with 8:25 left in the game to give the Leopards a 30-29 lead. The Leopards failed on a two-point conversion that would have given them a three-point lead. 

Pomona-Pitzer as they did all game long responded yet again and scored a go-ahead touchdown with 3:55 left in the game that set the stage for the outstanding plays from Aguero, Sagastume, and Sanders. 

The Leopards' 38-37 win improves their record to 3-5 overall and 2-3 in the SCIAC. The Sagehens fall to 3-5 and 1-3.

La Verne plays its final game of the season next Saturday at home when they host Chapman at 1 p.m.

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