Claremont, Calif. - The Pomona-Pitzer Football team will open its 2012 season when it hosts Menlo College on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Merritt Field.
Pomona-Pitzer will be looking to get the program moving forward again after an injury-plagued 2011 campaign. The Sagehens spent much of last year with only 30-35 healthy players, and begins 2012 with a deeper 55-man roster, led by the reigning rushing champion in all of Division III football in senior running back Luke Sweeney (Broken Arrow, Calif.), who averaged 177.4 yards per game last year.
Helping the numbers game is the fact that Pomona-Pitzer lost only five seniors off of last year's team, although they were all starters, including two offensive lineman (Tim Stapenhorst, James Lambert) and a fullback (Zach Tannous) who helped pave the way for Sweeney. Defensive back Andre Shepley was also the team's leading tackler, while Kareem Smedley was a key part of the team's receiving corps.
This year's team, though, returns Sweeney, senior quarterback Luke Ferguson (Silverton, Ore.), junior wide receiver Ryan Randle (Compton, Calif.), and still has three of its offensive linemen returning in sophomore Jack Horstmann (Fresno, Calif.), senior Kevin Ludlum (Mission Viejo, Calif.), and junior Garret Bell (Fullerton, Calif.). Defensively, the Sagehens return almost everyone, giving the team plenty of reason for optimism.
Sweeney set a new Pomona-Pitzer record last year with 1,419 yards in eight games played, and also set another school record with his 265 rushing yards against Occidental, just beating out the previous record of 262 set by Jeremy Lim against Oberlin in 1999. Sweeney won the Division III rushing title by 16 yards per game over the second-place finisher, Shawn Morris of Birmingham Southern (161.0 ypg) and was the second-leading rusher in all of college football (all divisions), behind only Jonas Randolph of Division II Mars Hill.
Sweeney enters the new year with 2,319 career rushing yards, well within reach of the school record of 2,767 set by Jim Regan from 1995-98. Sweeney currently ranks fourth all time at Pomona-Pitzer in rushing, behind Regan, Jonathan Samples (2,479 yards - 2000-03) and Robert Hicks (2,323 yards - 1991-94).
Randle also developed into a key part of the Pomona-Pitzer offense last year. In fact, while Sweeney was setting multiple program records, Randle also quietly matched the Pomona-Pitzer mark for touchdown receptions in a game with three against Occidental. The third scoring grab in that contest was a spectacular diving catch over the shoulder to give the Sagehens the lead with just over two minutes left in the game. Randle finished with 10 catches for 101 yards against Occidental, and also had 11 catches for 145 yards vs. Chapman. Senior Yoshi Rothman (La Jolla, Calif.) also played defensive back last year and is converting to wide reciever this fall to give the Sagehen passing attack another key weapon.
Pomona-Pitzer closed out the 2011 season with its best defensive effort of the season in a 24-14 loss to CMS. The Sagehens held CMS to three-and-out on its first five possessions of the second half, allowing only one field goal after halftime. Pomona-Pitzer returns nine starters from the unit, led by senior linebacker Jake Rollins (Simi Valley, Calif. - 74 tackles), while senior captain Duncan Hussey (Seattle, Wash.) returns to the defensive backfield after missing last year with an injury to provide even more experience.
Senior nose tackle Colin Mitchell (Shrewsbury, N.J.) is also back after missing almost all of last season with an injury to give some size and strength to the defensive line, while junior safety Nick Sbardellati (Nuevo, Calif.) also had a strong season a year ago, ranking third on the Sagehens with 63 tackles.
Menlo has gotten an early head start on the Sagehens with two games already this year, defeating British Columbia 28-13 and falling to West region power Linfield 30-9. Quarterback Matthias Pelsasa has been a two-way threat for the Oaks, throwing for 118 yards and carrying the ball 27 times in the Linfield loss. Michael Alexander rushed 12 times for 84 yards against British Columbia, and had five catches for 76 yards against Linfield.
After facing Menlo, the Sagehens play their final non-league game of the year when they travel to Lewis & Clark on Saturday for a 12 noon contest. Pomona-Pitzer will not be back at home until Oct. 13, when it hosts Whittier in a 7 p.m. contest (its only night game of the year).
Admission to the game is free. Live stats, video and audio (audio courtesy of the Claremont Sports Connection) will be provided on www.sagehens.com. The landing page for all Pomona-Pitzer live events is at the following link: