CLAREMONT, Calif. — The wait is over.
The University of La Verne football team beat Pomona-Pitzer, 49-35, on Saturday at Merritt Field to clinch at least a share of the 2015 SCIAC Football Championship and the SCIAC's automatic berth to the NCAA National Championship.
"It feels great for us to have at least a share of the title," La Verne head coach Chris Krich said. "We're still in an uncharted territory and we don't know how to react, but our guys are excited."
It is La Verne's first SCIAC championship since 1995 and its first NCAA National Championship appearance since 1994.
"To know that this is only the second time we've been able to go the NCAA playoffs is special feeling." Krich added. "This team worked hard all offseason and to do a job we've been preparing for since the end of the season is a special feeling. I'm just so proud of our guys."
Linebackers Matt Canlas and Anthony Penalber were all over the field, combining for 16 tackles, including two for loss. Canlas also had at 66-yard pick six in the first half to help the Leopards take early control.
The Leopards were efficient on offense. Despite running 32 fewer plays than Pomona-Pitzer, the Leopards averaged 7.1 yards per play and scored five touchdowns.
Travis Sparks-Jackson ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns in just 12 carries to lead the Leopards.
William Livingston passed 137 yards and two touchdowns and added a five-yard score on the ground.
La Verne jumped on Pomona-Pitzer early. Sparks-Jackson busted loose for a 59-yard touchdown run on the game's third play from scrimmage. Livingston added a five-yard touchdown score and then with the first quarter winding down, Michael Shepherd recovered a fumble at the La Verne 34-yard line and returned it all the way to give the Leopards a 21-0 lead.
The onslaught continued in the second quarter. After the defense forced a three-and-out to start the second, Livingston capped off a 50-yard drive with an 11-yard strike to Alex Arellano and Canlas picked off Tyler Mensik on the ensuing Pomona-Pitzer possession and returned it all the way to put the Leopards up, 35-0.
The Sagehens came alive in the second half with four touchdowns but the Leopards kept pace with two scores of their own to seal the win. Pomona-Pitzer made a strong late push with three unanswered touchdowns in the fourth but ran out of time.
The Leopards return to action next Saturday against Cal Lutheran for a chance to win the SCIAC outright.