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COLLEGE FOOTBALL REVIEW : CAL LUTHERAN : CLU Moves Toward Respect--Almost : Bonds and Bentancourt Led the Kingsmen Through a Season of Ups and Downs

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

It might be more fun--and, for that matter, factual--to get right to the negatives, but look the other way just for a minute, and take a last look at the almost-positive aspects of Cal Lutheran’s 1987 football season. And a few guesses at what might happen next season.

THE RECORD

The Kingsmen were 1-5 in the Western Football Conference, 5-6 overall. Before this is forthrightly dismissed as being awful, examine it more, but, please, not too closely. For the first time in two years, CLU won a conference game--a glorious 23-7 rout over defending WFC champion Cal State Sacramento. And throw out two losses, one to Southern Utah State (23-18) and the other to UC Santa Barbara (16-15). Cal Lutheran had Southern Utah beaten until a last-minute 63-yard bomb resulted in a Thunderbird touchdown. As for Santa Barbara, the Kingsman defense was pooped on that last game-winning drive that ended with a Gaucho field goal with five seconds left, depriving CLU of the win.

The 5-6 record coulda’, woulda’, shoulda’ been 7-4. Certainly, Coach Bob Shoup was satisfied, saying: “I wouldn’t phrase it as a disappointing season. We’re adjusting to this kind of schedule and in our ability to play against these teams. I see this season as a reasonable step toward being competitive in the future. Sure, we were distressed at times, but we could have won seven of 11 games.”

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As for next year, the coach, in the spirit of positiveness, said, “We might be competitive in nine of 11.”

THE DEFENSE

Does it matter, really, that the Kingsmen finished second to last in rushing defense and that they gave up 35 more points than any other defense in the conference in league games and 144 more points than WFC champion Portland State?

Under new defensive coordinator Gary Patterson, Cal Lutheran did manage to finish first in passing defense among WFC teams, allowing 141.4 yards a game. In addition, the Kingsmen gave up a mere 35 points over the last four games--against Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Azusa Pacific and St. Mary’s.

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“Once we got by Portland,” Shoup said, “the defense had a better concept. Before the season, we changed our defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3. We made good strides through a major modification in our defense and I think they played well.”

Best of all, was the play of defensive end Earl Bentancourt, who set the school single-season and single-game records for sacks. The 5-10, 200-pound senior had a total of 23, including seven against St. Mary’s. He also led the WFC in tackles with 135. “Bentancourt,” the coach said, “is one of the most magnificent football players I have ever known.”

Conversely, his graduation will leave one of the most magnificent holes in the defensive line that Shoup has known. “We can’t ever replace him,” he said.

THE OFFENSE

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It wasn’t a pro-set or the veer or an I-formation, it was the Tom Bonds high-five-if-you-can-survive offense. Going into his senior season, Bonds had passed for more yardage than anyone in school history, but the 5-9 quarterback also had been whacked around a lot, suffering annual injuries.

This year, Bonds basically was injury-free, but he wound up having a slightly sub-par year, at least by his standards. He completed 184 of 323 passes for 1,990 yards and 17 touchdowns. Nevertheless, he was the dominant figure when the Kingsmen had the ball.

To Bonds’ advantage, he had two receivers who ranked among the best in the WFC, Joe Monarrez and John Bankhead. Monarrez, a senior, led the WFC in catches with 54 and Bankhead, a junior, caught 37 passes for 787 yards and 5 touchdowns. His yards-per-catch average was 21.3.

Perhaps the most positive, printable word for the Kingsmen’s running attack is--dismal. CLU averaged 98 yards a game rushing, last in the WFC. The Kingsmen scored six rushing touchdowns all year and averaged 2.7 yards a carry.

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Looking ahead, Shoup seemingly contradicted himself when he first said, “We’ll try to build an offense in the future not tied to one player,” and then, after being asked who would replace Bonds, added, “The offense is an unknown quality because what you do on offense depends heavily on who is playing quarterback.”

Whichever is most believable, the Kingsmen will cry for someone like Bonds next season.

So far, the competition includes this year’s backup Jim Bees, and three others. In describing Bees, Shoup said, “He’s a good athlete. Other than that, it’s hard to say what he is.”

THE STATE OF MIND

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Despite Shoup’s current gleeful front, negativism was one of the team’s problem areas in 1987. While the two narrow losses to Southern Utah and UC Santa Barbara easily could have been wins, they ultimately were demoralizing defeats that left the Kingsmen wondering aloud what it took to win. Even the optimistic Bonds took to muttering.

One CLU official called the last-second defeats “devastating.” But Shoup dismisses such talk. “We were disappointed, but never psychologically defeated,” he said. “They really hung in there.”

Mark it down, then, as the year the Kingsmen hung in there. They got slapped around by conference opponents, improved their record by beating mediocre teams and were defeated by a Division III team. Nonetheless, there were some strong individual performances, the end of two exceptional careers--Bonds’ and Bentancourt’s--and the aforementioned conference win.

A less-than-paradisiacal appraisal of the season was put forth by Bonds, who called it “difficult and frustrating.” Of such, in Shoup’s mind at least, are steppingstone seasons made.

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