SAINT PAUL, Minn. — The University of La Verne football team's magical 2015 run came to an end as it fell, 57-14 at No. 3 St. Thomas (Minn.) in the first round of the NCAA Championship on Saturday at O'Shaughnessy Stadium.
The Leopards hung tough against one of the title favorites despite losing both its starting quarterback William Livingston and backup Zachary Tomlinson in the first half to injuries, but the losses proved too much to overcome.
"When you lose a guy like Livingston who is our first starting quarterback to return for us as a senior, you obviously have to change your game plan a little bit," La Verne head coach Chris Krich said. "But it had nothing to do with the outcome of the game and our coaches did a great job of getting our players prepared. When you play a team like St. Thomas, you have to be clicking on all cylinders."
Livingston was knocked out on the opening drive of the game and Tomlinson was forced out late in the first half as the Tommies got out to a 21-0 lead.
That thrust freshman Josh Evans, who had never played in a game before today, into one of the biggest games in La Verne history.
The Martinez, Calif., native showed no stage fright. After Anthony Penalber intercepted a John Gould pass on the opening drive of the second half, Evans drove the Leopards into the red zone and found Ezra Broadus on a back-shoulder throw to put the Leopards on the board, cutting the deficit to 21-7.
"I was a little nervous, but as the game goes on you get a good feel about it," Josh Evans said of taking his first collegiate snaps. "We moved the ball but I could've played a little better. Seniors did a good job of helping me out."
Evans passed for 76 yards and a touchdown.
"Josh did a great job stepping in for us," Krich said. "Thank goodness he's a good understudy. He took a lot of mental reps this week to be able to manage the game and move the football."
St. Thomas, whose starting offensive line averaged 6-foot-4, 308 pounds to a man, wore down La Verne's defensive front in the second half. The Tommies scored two unanswered touchdowns to get out to a 43-7 lead and scored five rushing touchdowns on 145 yards in the second half.
Travis Sparks-Jackson scored an eight-yard touchdown with 11:30 left in the third quarter get the Leopards within 43-14 and that was all the Leopards would get.
La Verne executed its game plan on offense and racked up 200 rushing yards on a St. Thomas defense who came into the postseason allowing seventh-fewest rushing yards (70.1) in the nation. But the Leopards also lost two fumbles in the first half and that allowed the Tommies to get out to a lead.
Sparks-Jackson finished with 155 rushing yards on 34 carries.
Jordan Roberts, who came into the game tied for first in the nation in rushing touchdowns with 24, had 75 yards and a touchdown on the round and added a 36-yard receiving touchdown.