With tenacity and talent, the University of Redlands football team persevered through the 2018 season to capture a share of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) title en route to an 8-2 overall record. This marked the ninth time in the program's history that Bulldog finished with at least eight wins in a season and the program's 31st conference championship. With 197 wins to his name, Head Coach Mike Maynard now ranks tied-for-eighth among active NCAA Division III football coaches for total victories. Finally, the team finished the campaign nationally ranked among the top 15 in six statistical categories.
The campaign began with a 20-12 victory over George Fox University (OR) in a total-team effort inside Ted Runner Stadium on September 1. Amidst the defensive battle, Redlands orchestrated a 10-point outburst in the second quarter to earn a lead that it would not relinquish. After blocking a GFU field-goal attempt, the Maroon and Gray quickly capitalized on that swing in momentum with a touchdown. Senior quarterback Levi Plante (Lake Arrowhead, CA) spearheaded an efficient 83-yard drive that included four completed passes, three of which stretched 10 or more yards. In addition, he connected with four different receivers, as highlighted by sophomore wide receiver Noah McFadden's (Puyallup, WA) first touchdown as a Bulldog, which came on a 12-yard strike for the home team's 10-0 lead. Redlands capped off the lucrative quarter with a 32-yard field goal by senior kicker Nathan Hierlihy (Redondo Beach, CA). Anchored by senior Joey Caffaro (Jackson Hole, WY), junior Will Soares (Gilroy, CA), senior Tommy Garcia (La Habra, CA), junior Brandyn Alvarez (Grand Terrace, CA), and senior Christian Godina (Phoenix, AZ), the offensive line played a huge role in creating opportunities for the Maroon and Gray.
Redlands carried its season-opening win to Tacoma, WA, where it faced an amped-up University of Puget Sound squad. In a tale of two halves, the Bulldogs prevailed in a 28-21 result. During the first half, the Redlands defense provided two huge stops by holding on fourth down inside the five-yard line to keep UPS off the board. Redlands forced the Loggers into a one-dimensional offense that resulted in 66 passes and minus-24 yards rushing. Five different players recorded a sack on the UPS quarterback, as highlighted by junior linebacker Justin Sykes' (Palm Desert, CA) knock-down for a loss of 16 yards. After a scoreless first half, the teams made the necessary adjustments to find the end zone, with Redlands putting up two touchdowns in each of the final quarters. Although Plante was credited with three of the Bulldogs' scores, it took a consistent and collective effort by multiple players. Through the air, junior wide receiver Mitchell Nickovich (Mission Viejo, CA) and junior tight end Blake Roy accounted for five catches and 70 yards, while senior running back Conner Kennedy (Olympia, WA) eclipsed 100 yards on the ground for the first of six times this season. Sophomore defensive back Carl Holmes (Fresno, CA) repeated his team-leading effort from the previous week, this time by making five solo stops.
Week three saw the Bulldogs make a return flight to the Pacific Northwest to face the then-No. 7 Linfield College (OR) Wildcats in another non-conference showdown. Despite giving up only 13 points, Redlands struggled to sustain drives against a formidable defense and suffered a tough loss. The resilient efforts of the Bulldogs' defense kept them in the game and resulted in four takeaways. First, Holmes snagged the Maroon and Gray's first interception of the season in the end zone to deny a likely score for the Wildcats. In addition, senior linebacker Nick Castro (La Verne, CA) forced a fumble that senior defensive lineman Tobias Leonardos (Half Moon Bay, CA) recovered to keep Linfield at bay. Redlands' secondary hauled in another interception late in the second quarter, when sophomore defensive back Brandon Heinel (Redlands, CA) made the grab. Finally, senior linebacker Peter Riccolo (Morris, IL) swatted the ball out of the Linfield running back's hand and sophomore linebacker Jacob Harrold (Lake Havasu, AZ) smothered it up for the Bulldogs.
With a desire to put their loss behind them, the Bulldogs used grit and determination to secure a hard-fought 15-13 win against Pomona-Pitzer Colleges on September 29. Trailing by a touchdown late in the first half, the Maroon and Gray became reenergized with a highlight-reel play to head into the locker room at the mid-game break. Junior defensive lineman Elias Hackney (Santa Monica, CA) found a way to block a Pomona-Pitzer field-goal attempt to keep it a one-score game. He went on to repeat this effort late in the third quarter to deny the Sagehens once again. His second block led to Plante's 40-yard jaunt into the end zone. Furthermore, sophomore defensive back Marvin Perkins Jr. hauled in a pair of interceptions, which eventually translated into a touchdown and a field goal for the Bulldogs. The first pick came immediately off of a junior Alexander Raya's (Jamul, CA) punt that pinned the Sagehens on their own two-yard line.
The Bulldogs took on SCIAC foe, Chapman University, in a highly-anticipated showdown on October 6. Redlands erupted for 517 yards of total offense en route to a 39-26 victory over the Panthers. Overall, the Maroon and Gray scored on six drives and forced Chapman to punt on seven occasions. Late in the first quarter, sophomore quarterback Nathan Martinez (Redlands, CA) stepped into the game and went on to record 257 passing yards, including a 74-yard strike to a wide-open junior wide receiver Steven Van Grouw (Exeter, CA) for the touchdown. Martinez also found Roy and sophomore wide receiver Jacob Huff (San Juan Capistrano, CA) in the end zone, while Kennedy heated up on the ground by tallying 150 yards on 33 carries for two touchdowns. Finally, in an unusual turn of events, senior defensive lineman Troy Kay (New York City, NY) recorded a defensive PAT to cap off Redlands' scoring late in the fourth quarter. After Chapman's bad snap on a two-point conversion, Kay scooped up the ball and sprinted downfield for two points.
Unfortunately, Redlands experienced a drop-off in the next game and fell to the Stags of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges in a tedious 10-20 loss. As the Bulldogs struggled to create an offensive rhythm, CMS managed to chew up the clock with consistent and methodical gains. After a Hierlihy field goal, the Maroon and Gray mustered a late touchdown on a Martinez-Roy combination, but Huff supplied the big-gain play of the final drive with a 35-yard reception on second and eight. Defensively, Hackney blocked the Stags' first PAT and then Redlands denied the two-point conversion on their subsequent score.
Despite the hiccup, the Bulldogs responded by rattling off four wins to complete the regular season. In addition to the victories, Redlands upped the ante on offense by averaging 45 points in the final four games of the season.
This run began on October 20 with a 35-17 triumph over the University of La Verne that included two 14-point quarters. Overall, Redlands converted 64% of its third downs and averaged 6.3 yards per play for 374 yards of total offense. The Bulldogs scored on their first two possessions but led by only four points at the start of the second half. Nonetheless, the team quickly made it 21-10 with an impressive kickoff return by junior defensive back Jeff Hector (Palos Verdes Peninsula, CA), who used his speed and vision of the field to cover 96 yards on his way to the end zone. Redlands also backed up its lead with a huge goal-line stand midway through the fourth quarter. At fourth and goal, the Leopards had to go for it, but Hackney came up with the big stop for the Bulldogs. By the end of the game, Plante had risen to the occasion with 11 completions for 152 yards and 15 carries for 129 yards.
With poise, persistence, and skill, the Bulldogs captured a 51-23 win over Cal Lutheran University to maintain the coveted Smudge Pot for the sixth consecutive year. After a slow start to the game, Redlands quickly grew a 24-9 lead by the end of the first half. The momentum continued into the second half, as the Bulldogs put up points on their final five drives, which included first-year running back Kai Thompson's (Murrieta, CA) first-career touchdown. Senior defensive lineman Joe Munroe (Costa Mesa, CA) started the fourth quarter off with a bang by hauling in an interception just past the line of scrimmage and sauntering 48 yards to set up one of Hierlihy's field goals. While utilizing a ton of its depth, the team amassed 459 yards of total offense, including 308 on the ground. Kennedy accounted for 180 of those rushing yards on 29 carries. Junior wide receiver David Molina (Laguna Hills, CA) put together his biggest game of the season by registering 155 all-purpose yards, including 89 receiving yards and 66 yards on returns.
Redlands began the month of November on the road at Whittier College, where the Bulldogs used a huge first half to prevail over the Poets by a score of 42-7. By the time the teams entered the locker rooms at halftime, the Maroon and Gray owned a 35-0 lead off of two touchdowns apiece from Van Grouw and Kennedy, and a six-yard scoring scamper by Plante. Defensively, Castro, Riccolo, Munroe, junior defensive back PJ Wilson (Modesto, CA), and sophomore linebacker Matthew Betancourt (San Bernardino, CA), among others, tallied key stops for the first-half shutout.
With only one blemish on their SCIAC record, the Bulldogs held out hope for a possible share of the title, knowing it needed to close out the season on a win and receive some help from Pomona-Pitzer. The Maroon and Gray controlled what it could control by dominating the Tigers of Occidental College in a 52-20 result, while the Sagehens stunned CMS to force the Stags into a tie for first place with Redlands. On the heels of Kennedy's milestone that led to 1,023 rushing yards in his career, the Bulldogs tallied 542 yards of total offense on 75 plays with an average gain of 7.2 yards. On the ground, Redlands pounded out 303 rushing yards, with Kennedy tallying 120 of them. The Maroon and Gray scored on eight of 12 drives, including the first seven possessions, to take a 49-0 lead through three quarters. Kennedy, Huff, senior running back Ryan Rieta (Olympia, WA), Thompson, and Martinez accounted for the team's seven touchdowns. Defensively, numerous Bulldogs recorded at least one tackle, with Virgil and senior linebacker Jared Emanuele (Norco, CA) each supplying five.
With the win, Redlands became SCIAC champions for the 31st time in the program's history and the 13th under Maynard.
Following the conclusion of the season, Redlands received word that 13 Bulldogs accounted for 14 All-SCIAC awards, including repeat honorees Garcia, Munroe, and Hierlihy. In addition, Godina captured his second Academic All-America award from the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) as an exemplary student and athlete. Finally, Roy and Hierlihy reeled in D3football.com All-West Region honors.
Overall, the Bulldogs ranked among the best in Division III in various categories. Among the highlights, the team converted more than 50% of its third downs to sit fifth while also earning the fifth-best net punting average of 37.22. Redlands sat seventh in blocked kicks with eight and also rushing defense at 65.6 yards allowed. Finally, the Maroon and Gray owned the 11th spot for passes intercepted with only five and punt return defense at 2.55.
With a conference title in hand, milestones met, and awards abound, the Redlands football team has much to celebrate from the most recent season. Although the contributions of the senior class will be missed, the Bulldogs maintain their commitment to excellence, as new faces continue to step into bigger roles for the betterment of the team. With this year's momentum and success motivating the returnees, Redlands football looks forward to accelerating toward the future with high expectations of making next-level achievements in the SCIAC and beyond.