LA VERNE, Calif. — Jonathan Lilly had another big game catching the ball but Occidental wide receiver Samuel Stekol one-upped the La Verne star as the Tigers beat La Verne, 33-27, on Saturday night at Ortmayer Stadium.
How it happened: After going down 17-0, the Leopards rallied to get as close as 26-20 on an August Buoncuoure field goal with 8:35 left in the fourth quarter.
On the next drive, however, Oxy quarterback Bryan Scott led an 81-yard drive on six consecutive completions and Stekol finished it off with a jumping 8-yard grab in the back corner of the end zone to give the Tigers a little breathing room.
Stekol finished with 13 catches for 245 yards and three touchdowns.
La Verne looked to answer with just over six minutes remaining but Oxy locked down defensively and forced the Leopards to punt on two consecutive drives to effectively seal the victory.
Justin Gomez, who had filled in at quarterback after William Livingston suffered an injury, scrambled into the end zone with seven seconds remaining to give La Verne a sliver of hope, but the Leopards could not recover the ensuing onside kick.
Sparks punched into the pay dirt on a three-yard run on La Verne's first possession in the second half after gaining 38 yards from scrimmage on the drive to trim the deficit to 17-7.
La Verne further cut into the deficit on a clever trick play that led to a 28-yard touchdown grab by tight end Bryan Okereke. Gomez handed it off to Dallas Parent who feinted a step forward then slung it to streaking Okereke.
Turnovers prove costly: The Leopards came within a couple yards of getting on the board in the first quarter. On La Verne's second possession of the game, running back Travis Sparks and Livingston rushed for combined 52 yards to get to the Oxy 11-yard line. On the next play, Livingston targeted the end zone, but Oxy's Casey Dudley picked off the pass at the one-yard line to stop the drive just short.
Pinned inside its own five-yard line in the third quarter, Gomez threw a swing pass to the flat, but Oxy's Shay Mueller jumped it, picked the ball and fell into the end zone to put Oxy up 23-7.
Players of the game: Travis Sparks topped 100 rushing yards for the second time in three games. The junior finished the game with 104 rushing yards and added 52 more through the air.
Lilly continued to be the most reliable target for La Verne. The senior followed up his record-breaking performance against Whitworth with an eight-catch, 117-yard performance.
Gomez filled in admirably for Livingston. The senior signal caller passed for 227 yards and gave the Leopards a shot to win the game.
Seniors step up on defense: Linebacker Anthony Arguello anchored the defense with eight total tackles and a sack. He filled in holes well and seemed to be in on every play.
Nik Gutierrez notched five tackles and a forced fumble on a sack. Through the first three games of the season, he has three sacks and two forced fumbles.
Special teams stepping up: Buoncuore was perfect on the night with two field goals and three extra points. The two field goals were crucial in cutting the deficit to six points in fourth quarter.
Punter Eric Acosta averaged 44.7 yards on three punts and got two of those inside the 20.
From head coach Chris Krich:
On game plan: "We wanted to stop the run, run the football and eliminate our turnovers. We did the first two well but the turnovers were the difference. We have to eliminate mistakes."
On improving pass defense: "We have to mix up some more coverages. We left some guys on an island but we have to learn to be able to handle those situations."
On Gomez filling in for Livingston: "We have two guys that can play. Billy took us through some of the new looks Oxy was giving us and we were able to make adjustments."
Up next: The Leopards travel to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Oct. 11. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.Follow La Verne Athletics on Twitter @ULV_Athletics Like La Verne Athletics on Facebook Follow La Verne Athletics on Instagram @ULV_Athletics Sign up for our newsletter