Tanner Mendoza powered for a 13-yard touchdown run in the third overtime to lift Chapman to a thrilling, 68-65 victory over Linfield in the opening round of the 2019 NCAA Division III Football Championship at Chapman Stadium in Orange, Calif.
With the win, Chapman improves to 10-0 on the season and will take on St. John's (Minn.) in second round action on Saturday, November 30. Linfield concludes its season 8-2 overall. The last time a SCIAC team earned a first round victory in the NCAA Postseason was 2004 when Occidental defeated Willamette, 28-14.
Saturday's tilt featured a back-and-forth contest that began with a 28-point first quarter. On Linfield's opening drive of the first quarter, David Aarhus sacked Wildcats' quarterback Wyatt Smith who fumbled the ball on the play. Chapman's Dillon Keefe picked up the loose ball and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown to give the Panthers an early 7-0 lead with 12:02 to play in the first stanza.
Chapman extended its advantage to 14-0 when Mendoza carried the ball three yards into the endzone with 4:16 to play in the opening frame to cap off a seven-play, 38-yard drive that chewed up 3:04.
Linfield answered with an eight-play, 54-yard scoring drive that culminated in a 15-yard pass from Smith to Keegan Weiss to make it 14-7. The Panthers regained the two-score lead just moments later when Mendoza picked up his second score on a two-yard burst to make it 21-7 at the end of the first period.
Starting with good field position in Chapman territory early in the second quarter, Smith connected with Colton Smith for a 22-yard scoring strike as Linfield needed just two plays to go 24 yards to make it 21-14. Again, the Panthers responded as Jonston MacIntyre found Nico Ragas for a 60-yard touchdown with 9:51 to play in the second quarter to make it 28-14.
This time, it was the Wildcats' turn to answer as Wyatt Smith and Colton Smith teammed up for another touchdown through the air, this time of 51 yards, as Linfield pulled to within eight after failing on the extra-point attempt. The Wildcats closed to within one on their next possession as Artie Johnson found paydirt from four yards out to make it 28-27 at halftime.
For the first time in the game, Linfield took the lead when it scored courtesy of a 47-yard rumble up the middle by Johnson to make it 34-28 early in the third quarter. Playing on offense, Keefe logged his second touchdown of the game when he took a handoff and ran 10 yards to the endzone to cap an eight-play, 68-yard drive in 3:04. The Panthers missed the extra point to make the score level at 34-34 with 5:19 to play in the third stanza.
With the score still tied at 34-34 early in the final period, MacIntyre put Chapman ahead when he executed a designed quarterback keeper that went for 23 yards and score to make it 41-34 to finish off a nine-play, 77-yard drive with 9:03 to play. Continuing with the back-and-forth trend, Linfield answered with a sustained drive of its own as Johnson ploughed ahead for a two-yard score to close out a 14-play, 75-yard drive that evened the game at 41-41.
Wyatt Hardin gave the Panthers a 48-41 advantage when he corralled a 10-yard pass from MacIntyre with 1:15 to play in the fourth.
With little time remaining in the game, Linfield orchesetrated another comeback drive that included a critical 32-yard fourth-down reception to Jacob Calo to keep the drive alive. The drive completed with a 12-yard rush by Johnson up the middle with just four seconds left on the clock to send the game to overtime, tied 48-48.
In the first session of overtime the Wildcats took the opening possession and used a one-yard TD run by Smith to stake a 55-48 advantage. Chapman responded with a 17-yard from Vettel to Hardin to tie it at 55-55.
With the Panthers getting the ball first in the second overtime, Spencer Corona caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Keefe to make it 62-55. Linfield replied in kind when Smith found Weiss for a 25-yard score to once again knot the game at 62-62.
The Wildcats received the ball first in the third stanza of extra time and took a 65-62 edge with a 26-yard field goal by Andrew Starkel. From there, Chapman sealed the win when Mendoza broke free for a 13-yard touchdown score to clinch the 68-65 win.
Vettell finished 14-for-19 through the air for 175 yards and a touchdown, while MacIntyre was 9-of-16 for 141 yards and a pair of TDs. Mendoza collected 173 yards rushing and three scores, while MacIntyre and Keefe added a rushing touchdown each. Corona was the Panthers' leading receiver with 180 yards and eight catches with one score, while Hardin pulled in seven receptions for 54 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Defensively, Keefe picked up 10 total tackles, added a sack of six yards, and picked up a fumble and returned it 21 yards for a touchdown.
Smith finished 34-for-60 for 410 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception in the losing effort for Linfield. Johnson chipped in 158 yards on the ground and scored four times, while Weiss and Colton Smith added two receiving touchdowns apiece and combined for 270 receiving yards. Tyler Sitton was the Wildcats' leader on defense with 10 total tackles.