Late comeback fall short at Whitworth

Trevor Vill celebrates a touchdown.
Trevor Vill (photo by Larry Newman)

SPOKANE, Wash. – The Chapman University football team scored 21 points in the fourth quarter but its comeback attempt ran out of time as the Panthers fell 31-28 at Whitworth. The Panthers' offense gained over 500 yards in the loss.

Chapman's offense, particularly in the passing game, put another set of big numbers in its second game of the season Senior quarterback Ian Fieber shattered the previous school records for completions and attempts and racked up the second-most yards in school history. Fieber was 43-of-64 for 460 yards and three touchdowns. Fieber also threw four interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter that ended back-to-back Chapman drives.

Senior Dominic Vaccher and junior Trevor Vill both hauled in over 100 yards receiving for the second straight game. Vaccher caught 13 passes for 133 yards while Vill caught 12 passes for 157 yards. Vill caught a pair of TDs while Vaccher hauled in one score.

Fieber and Vaccher opened the scoring on the Panthers' second drive with a long, 52-yard TD strike. However, that would be the only Panthers' score of the half. All the momentum seemed to be going the Panthers' way as senior Matt Layton sacked Whitworth QB Leif Eriksen on 2nd-and-10 on the very next series and then picked off Eriksen two plays later.

Whitworth returned the favor three plays later when Shai Pulawa picked off Fieber on a long pass attempt. Neither team could sustain a drive over the next several minutes. As the Chapman offense stalled, junior punter Elias Deeb continued to put the defense in the best position with back-to-back 40-plus yard punts that pinned Whitworth inside its own 10 yard line.

On their final drive of the opening quarter, Eriksen marched the Pirates down the field by completing eight consecutive passes before rushing in from four yards out to even the score at 7-7. The Panthers responded with a long drive of their own but Whitworth blocked a field goal attempt to end the drive and marched back down the field to take a 14-7 lead. A field goal just before time expired in the half made it 17-7 at halftime.

Whtitworth was the only team to score in the third quarter with a Connor Jonston 16-yard touchdown run to make it 24-7. The Panthers sustained a long drive late in the third and scored on the first play of the fourth quarter when Fieber found Vill for a three-yard score to make it 24-13.

The Panthers forced a three-and-out on the next drive with junior Jonathan Bunnel getting a key tackle for loss – one of 11 in the game for the Panthers. Chapman continued to seize the momentum with another long the was capped with a three-yard TD run from Fieber that was set up by a 28-yard pass to Vaccher. Vaccher ran in a two-point conversion to make it 24-21.

A costly penalty on the ensuing kickoff put Whitworth near midfield to start its next drive and Mason Elms took off for a 46-yard TD run three plays later to put the Pirates back up 10. The Chapman defense held strong in the fourth but the Whitworth defense abruptly ended the next two Chapman drives with crucial interceptions in the Pirates own territory.

The defense continued to limit the Pirates in the fourth. Sophomore Dillon Keefe tallied up 10 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Sal Ochoa III also had 10 tackles and Layton eight tackles, including a sack, to go along with his interception.

The Panthers offense took over with 3:42 to go and used the next minute and 42 seconds to go 62 yards to pull back within three. Fieber hit Vill for a 40-yard pass on third-and-three and found Jacob Chobanian on the next play for 13 yards to help set up a a six-yard TD toss to Vill.

The onside kick fell to Whitworth but Chapman forced a three-and-out to give the offense 21 seconds to find a last-minute miracle. Fieber found Vill for 24 yards on the first play to bring the Panthers up to their own 41. After an incomplete pass that stopped the clock with eight seconds left, the Panthers approached the line for one last play. With Fieber looking down the field, he was brought down in the backfield for a game-ending sack.

The game featured 942 yards of offense with Chapman gaining 520 behind the huge passing day for Fieber. Junior Derek Bauerle ran for 46 yards on 17 carries. Eriksen ended the day 26-of-42 for 324 yards through the air to lead the Pirates. Both Pulawa and Jayden Gonzales picked off Fieber twice.

The Panthers go back into a bye week next week before beginning the SCIAC schedule at Whittier on Sep. 29.