is smiling down on his Cardinal and Gray.
A dream 20-years in the making – since Chapman University brought football back to campus in 1994 after a 62-year hiatus – became reality this season as the Panthers reached the grand stage of the Division III football world.
An historic run by the
Chapman football team
came to an end on Saturday as the
Panthers fell to Linfield College, 55-24,
in the first round of the
NCAA Division III
playoffs in McMinnville, Ore. It was a bitter ending to an otherwise spectacular season that saw
Head Coach Bob Owens
and his team climb into the national top 20, earn their first
championship and appear in the postseason for the first time in school history.
But the Panthers were not an overnight sensation. The 2014 season was the product of years of preparation and building by Owens, the architect of this football program. Following ups and downs over his first seven years at the helm, Chapman’s coming out party was more than 12 months earlier when the Panthers
tied a school record by winning eight games
during their 2013 campaign. However, the not-yet-ready for primetime team fell just shy of the SCIAC crown.
With expectations at an all-time high going into this year, Chapman proved it was ready for the big stage by hosting perennial national power Linfield to begin the season. Behind a rabid home crowd, the Panthers took an early lead and held on at halftime before falling behind in the second half and
losing by a touchdown, 21-14
The Panthers took the loss in stride and went on to win their next eight games, including a perfect 7-0 record within the SCIAC. One of the many highlights the Panthers provided during the season was a
58-0 shutout over Pomona-Pitzer
during Homecoming weekend on Oct. 11 in front of a record crowd of 5,620 at Ernie Chapman Stadium.
Four weeks later. with the conference title on the line, Chapman went on the road to Redlands on Nov. 8 and used a second-half rally to
unseat the reigning conference champs, 31-27,
and capture its first crown in school history.
That set up a rematch with Linfield in the first round of the NCAA playoffs, this time on the road where the Panthers had won nine straight games dating back to the start of the 2013 season. No longer the David to Linfield’s Goliath, Chapman (which began the season unranked) had climbed to No. 17 in the
Once again though, Linfield got the best of Chapman, eliminating the Panthers from the postseason. The Wildcats were the only team to defeat them in 2014, and they did so twice.
There were several outstanding individual performances by Owens’ players this season. Junior running back Jeremiah McKibbins returned from a knee injury that caused him to miss the entire 2013 season to rush for over 900 yards and a SCIAC-leading 16 touchdowns. He became just the second rusher in school history to eclipse the 2,000-yard plateau in his career (2,164) and broke the Chapman record for career rushing touchdowns (27).
And senior quarterback Michael Lahey, the reigning SCIAC Offensive Athlete of the Year, was once again one of the most efficient passers in Division III, with 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions, ranking in the top 10 in the country in completion percentage and top 30 in QB rating. He also became the third CU quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards in his career (4,075).
Ironically enough, the Panthers will begin the 2015 season in McMinnville against Linfield once again. And so will begin Chapman’s SCIAC title defense and hopes of repeating and returning to the NCAA playoffs once again and for years to come.