Photo by Jasmine Golden-Sea

Routed in pursuit of the Wagon Wheel

Football falls to Willamette University in rivalry game

By John Trupin /// Staff Writer

In the latest installment of the Wagon Wheel Rivalry football game between the Pioneers (0-6 overall record, 0-4 conference) and the Willamette University Bearcats (4-1, 2-1), the Pios were unable to sustain their strong early play and were defeated 45-7 on Oct. 18, at McCulloch Stadium. The trophy, created in 1948, will again return to Willamette until next year’s matchup. The players were disappointed at the loss, but optimistic about the future after holding their own for much of the game before being overwhelmed by the more numerous Willamette squad.

LC came out strong and held a 7-0 lead for most of the first quarter after an 89-yard drive ended with a four-yard touchdown run by Jake Costantino (’15), but the Pios were unable to overcome turnovers and fatigue. Quarterback Cody Rochon (’18) fought through an ankle injury (sustained in last week’s game against Pacific Lutheran University) to start, but the team was stifled offensively after the first drive, and four Pio turnovers gave the Bearcats repeated opportunities to drive on a short field and wear down Coach Eric Jackson’s defense.

Entering the game with around 45 players healthy enough for play, LC faced an uphill battle matching Willamette, whose roster lists 96 eligible players.

Having a smaller roster puts players in positions where they have fewer chances for rest and are more susceptible to fatigue and declining performance. Deion Mock (’16) led the Pios in tackles with 13, after shifting his position to fill holes created by injury.

Combining all of their games so far this season, LC has been outscored 45-20 in the first quarter. While this is not necessarily an inspiring total, it points to a competitive team in a strong conference. When both teams have fresh starters, in five of their six games the Pios have played their opponents to a tie or one-score game by the end of the first quarter (the lone exception was a 14-0 start against 18-ranked Pacific Lutheran.) In the second quarter, however, when many teams begin to rotate substitutes and provide starters with a chance to remain fresh, LC has suffered due to on-field injuries.

In the final three quarters of their games, the Pios have been outscored by a combined 204-35, and 79-0 in the fourth quarter alone. When the Pios have been rested and matched against an opponent that is equally rested, LC has met them with equal skill, and faded only under severe fatigue. While this is cause for optimism in the talent of these Pios, their remaining conference opponents will continue to outnumber them by a dramatic margin.

With the victory, Willamette retains the Wagon Wheel trophy for another year. The loss was the Pioneers’ twentieth in the last twenty-one tilts, and the thirteenth straight victory for Willamette in the rivalry, with LC most recently earning the Wagon Wheel trophy in 2000. The Pios have their second home game of the season this weekend and will be tested against Linfield College, currently ranked fifth in the nation for Division III. The game will be held at 1 p.m. on Oct. 25 at Griswold Stadium.

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