NEWBERG, Ore. -- The Lewis & Clark Pioneers forced two fumbles and visited the red zone five times, but big plays and settling for field goals hampered their efforts in a 42-15 loss to the George Fox Bruins on Saturday at Stoffer Family Stadium.
Andrew Werst and Tawayne Malone forced fumbles that were recovered by the Pioneers. Malone took the ball away from George Fox running back Wesley Riddle on the game's second play, which resulted in the first of three Obed Eriza field goals, including two from a career-long 34 yards out.
"It was huge," said senior defensive lineman Blake Garrison about the first takeaway. "It definitely set the pace for the rest of the game. It also gives the offense confidence to go out and do what they need to do. I think the defense has developed tremendously over the last few weeks."
The Pioneers had seven combined takeaways in their first three games this season in which they started 2-1. In three-straight losses entering Saturday, Lewis & Clark had only two.
Lewis & Clark (2-5, 1-4 Northwest Conference) scored four times on five red zone trips, an area where the Pios have led the conference in red zone touchdowns. On Saturday, however, Lewis & Clark only had one touchdown, a 16-yard reception by Dallas Garreaud, to go with the three field goals.
George Fox forced two interceptions by Lewis & Clark quarterback Sawyer May, who finished 13 of 25 for 164 yards. Bruins quarterback Grant Schroeder threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns, and had 89 yards rushing with a score. George Fox (6-2, 4-1 NWC) had three touchdown passes of 35 yards or more, including Schroder's 50-yard TD pass to Brad Lander on the drive's third play following Eriza's first field goal.
Special teams played a big role for the Pioneers as returners Bryce Johnson and Xavier Tharpe averaged a combined 33 yards per return. Following George Fox's first touchdown drive of the third quarter, which gave the Bruins a 21-9 lead, Johnson returned the ball 36 yards to the Lewis & Clark 45. The Pios didn't have a return of fewer than 30 yards the rest of the game and averaged a starting field position of their own 36 compared to the George Fox 29 for the Bruins.
"I believe a lot in momentum, so being a returner, it's my job and our special teams' job to fly down and make plays and give us that momentum back," said Johnson, who is third in the NWC in return yards per game.
George Fox, which was ranked 24th in the latest AFCA Coaches Poll, used touchdown passes of 36 yards to Lane Hadley and 51 yards to Kenny May to distance itself from the Pioneers. Lewis & Clark was outgained 475-291 and failed to gain 100 yards rushing for the second time in three games. The Bruins were penalized eight times for 105 yards, while the Pios had six for 60 yards. Remington Campbell and Werst led the Pioneers with seven tackles apiece. The Pios finished without sacking Schroeder.
In games against ranked teams this season, the Pioneers have a combined deficit of 63-29 in the fourth quarter compared to losses of 59-7 to Linfield and 52-13 to George Fox in 2016, respectively. Lewis & Clark's other loss last week, 17-7 to Pacific, was a far cry from the 55-0 defeat from the season before against the Boxers.
"It's been a huge change," said Garrison. "The coaching change alone has changed the atmosphere of the team. Everybody has to buy in. There are bits and pieces that people aren't super confident about, and I think everyone needs to buy in, and with that mentality, it'll have a major impact."
Lewis & Clark is in its third season under national championship-winning head coach Jay Locey.
The Pios were good on third down early, converting seven of their first nine attempts before finishing successfully on only three of their final 10 tries. Michael Abraham had 47 yards rushing, 43 of which came in the first half. Dejour Williams had 53 yards on three receptions including a 21-yard completion in the second quarter.
Lewis & Clark wraps up its home schedule by hosting Whitworth on Nov. 4 at 1 p.m.