REDLANDS, Calif. — With 1:41 left and control of the SCIAC hanging in the balance, Travis Sparks-Jackson grinded his way into the end zone, giving the University of La Verne football team a 49-42 win over Redlands on Saturday night at Ted Runner Stadium.
It is La Verne's first victory over Redlands since 1995, which happens to be the last time the Leopards won the SCIAC. La Verne improves to 4-0 in the SCIAC (5-1 overall) and maintains sole possession of first place in the conference standings. Redlands falls to 2-4 overall and 2-2 in SCIAC play.
A gutsy 4th-and-2 call with just less than two minutes left in the game proved the ultimate difference. With just six yards to go to the end zone, La Verne head coach Chris Krich elected to go for the first down and possibly a touchdown rather than giving Redlands a chance to execute its two-minute drill.
Sparks-Jackson and the offensive line answered the call. Sparks-Jackson gained four yards on the next play to give the Leopards a first down while chewing some more clock and hit the pay dirt on the next play with just 57 seconds left.
The Bulldogs got a break as the ensuing kickoff bounced out, but La Verne's defense, as it has done all season, stood tall when it mattered the most as it shut down all deep lanes and collapsed the pocket on every play. The Bulldogs managed to get to the La Verne 37-yard line but lost too much time as quarterback Kevin Russell was forced to run around to make plays. La Verne forced incompletions on the final two plays to end the game.
La Verne jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead on a pair of touchdown runs by Dallas Parent but Redlands climbed back with a 21-point second quarter. Russell connected with Kevin Johnson early in the second quarter for a 13-yard touchdown to get the Bulldogs on the board. David Appleton ran for a six-yard touchdown and Russell found Alex Andrighetto with just three seconds remaining in the first half. Fortunately for La Verne, quarterback William Livingston kept pace with a pair of strikes to Alex Villalobos and Bryan Okereke.
The Bulldogs carried the momentum into the second half and took their first lead of the game when Curtis Tanquary ran in for a five-yard score with five minutes left to go in the third quarter.
A Sean Murray field goal padded Redlands' lead to 34-28 but the Leopards went back to what they do best on the ensuing possession. After a three-yard completion to Alex Arellano on the first play of the drive, La Verne called 11 consecutive running plays for 62 yards punctuated by a Sparks-Jackson touchdown to grab a 35-34 lead.
Redlands, however, immediately took the lead back as Appleton returned the ensuing kickoff for 70 yards and Russell scored two plays later.
The Leopards stuck to the game plan and ran 10 times out of 11 plays capped off by a Parent touchdown on the next drive to beat down Redlands' defense and forced a rare three-and-out to set up the game-winning drive.
Sparks-Jackson and Parent combined for 245 yards and five touchdowns on 46 carries. Parent added 141 yards on kickoff and punt returns.
Livingston was 13-for-28 with two touchdowns for La Verne. Alex Arellano led the receiving corps with 57 yards.
Although the Leopards still have defending SCIAC champion Chapman and perennial powerhouse Cal Lutheran left on the schedule, they have played as well as anyone in the SCIAC this season and are in the driver's seat for the first SCIAC Championship in 20 years.
The Leopards host Chapman on Halloween at 1 p.m.