The University of Redlands football team traveled to Thousand Oaks on Saturday to square off against the Cal Lutheran University Kingsmen in the annual Smudge-Pot showdown. After trailing by eight at halftime, the Bulldogs made the necessary adjustments to overtake the lead while shutting out the Kingsmen in the final two-and-a-half quarters to snag a hard-fought, 21-17 win, and maintain the Smudge Pot for the fifth-consecutive season.
The Kingsmen jumped on the board with an immediate touchdown, which forced the Maroon and Gray to play catch-up from its opening drive. The Bulldogs answered with a nine-play, 47-yard possession that culminated in a 21-yard field goal by junior kicker Nathan Hierlihy (Redondo Beach, CA).
The first half continued to slightly favor Cal Lutheran, which managed another touchdown and a field goal for a 17-3 advantage with 5:50 remaining in the second quarter.
However, the Redlands defense successfully held the Kingsmen scoreless for the rest of the game, as the entire visiting team relentlessly pursued the victory until the final whistle. The Bulldogs' secondary minimized CLU's chances to air it out with great pass coverage from the likes of senior defensive back Daniel Gonzalez (Mentone, CA), freshman defensive back Spencer Conley (La Quinta, CA), and senior defensive back Michael Stallone (Redlands, CA), among others.
Although the Bulldog offense struggled to break into the end zone, Redlands stayed the course and continued to score with four more Hierlihy field goals, including a 50-yarder to close out the first half. Redlands put points on the board in all but one of its drives through the 13:35-mark of the fourth quarter.
Now trailing by only two points at 15-17, the Maroon and Gray orchestrated the most critical scoring drive of the game, which included six plays for 70 yards. Among the essential gains, junior quarterback Levi Plante (Lake Arrowhead, CA) found senior tight end Bryce Broadwell (Henderson, NV) on a 14-yard strike before senior wide receiver Cole Blackburn (Sammamish, WA) completed the reverse with Plante on a 30-yard reception. Plante and Blackburn returned to their regular roles on the subsequent play for a 23-yard catch to set up first-and-goal on the three-yard line. Plante eventually carried this one to the house for the Bulldogs' final score of the game to make it 21-17.
Now leading for the first time in the contest, Redlands stepped up with an amazing defensive effort on the Kingsmen's ensuing drive. After CLU completed a 20-yard pass, the Bulldogs gained their first take-away of the day on an interception by senior defensive lineman Tristan Corwin (Wildomar, CA), who returned it eight yards to give the ball back to Redlands on the CLU 34-yard line late in the game. This upped the Bulldogs' season total to 19 picks in nine games.
Although Cal Lutheran earned one more offensive opportunity, the Maroon and Gray shut it down with intense coverage and big stops. Senior defensive back Dustin Nascimento (Aiea, HI), senior linebacker Curren Lapes (Ladera Ranch, CA), and sophomore defensive lineman Elias Hackney (Santa Monica, CA) were among the Bulldogs who played an integral role in foiling the Kingsmen's final push.
With 3:18 remaining in the game, Redlands was forced to eat up the clock while making first downs, which came off the churning legs of junior running back Josiah Alvira (Danville, CA). He rushed for 21 yards on the Maroon and Gray's final drive, which included four yards on third-and-one in a pivotal play.
Overall, the Bulldogs racked up 23 first downs, as compared to CLU's 15. Redlands also recorded 280 yards of rushing, with Alvira accounting for 147 of them. The Maroon and Gray defense held the Kingsmen to only 33 yards on the ground, with Hackney, senior linebacker Mitch Shepherd (Seattle, WA), and senior defensive lineman Michael Burnette Jr. (Oxnard, CA) providing key tackles for a loss at the line of scrimmage.
Redlands finishes the 2017 season with a 7-2 overall record and a 5-1 mark in conference.