Leopards lose home opener 44-0

University of La Verne football coach Andy Ankeny wanted to challenge his team. So instead of scheduling a cream puff or two for nonconference games, he thought big.

The Leopards lost their opener two weeks ago to Northwest Conference champion Whitworth (Wash.). Saturday they faced No. 25 Willamette, another team from that conference. The result was a 44-0 loss Saturday afternoon at Ortmayer Stadium.

The second-year coach doesn’t regret that strategy, even though his team is coming off a 1-8 showing in 2007.

“I want to see where we are as a program,” he said. “It’s not about where we are Monday when we’re getting ready for Redlands. It’s about what we want our program to look like long term.”

The game got away from the Leopards (0-2) in the third quarter. They only trailed 14-0 at the half with an interception by La Verne’s Taylor Hart in the end zone on the last play of the half preventing another Bearcats score.

But the Leopards got off to a slow start and were forced to punt from deep in their own territory on their first possession in the second half. Jason Carpenter’s punt was blocked by Harmon Bruno and went out of the end zone for a safety, making it 16-0.

The Bearcats (4-0) set up at the 41 after Jose Green returned the free kick. The visitors capitalized on the next play as Deon Horne raced the distance for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage to extend the lead to 23-0.

The Leopards were not in striking distance again.

Willliamette, located in Salem, Ore., put up 21 more points in the final quarter. It was headed for more with the ball in the closing minute at the La Verne 16 but coach Mark Speckman had his quarterback take a knee.

Willamette tallied 506 yards offense, 329 of that coming on the ground. Horne rushed for 129 to lead that effort.

La Verne managed 216 with 149 of that coming through the air. The Leopards rushed for only 67 yards on 39 tries. Their running game struggled last week as well.

Special teams were also a problem with two punts blocked.

Hart led the derfense with nine tackles, the interceptions and a pass breakup. Carpenter had six tackles .

It won’t get any easier next week as Redlands (2-0), ranked in three national polls the highest being a No. 19, comes in for a 1 p.m. game that will be the first in SCIAC play for both.

“I believe we’re a better team than what we showed today,” Ankeny said. “They outperformed us in every area and played with a greater sense of urgency. I really don’t want to have that many more of these teaching moments.”