The Chapman football team's fixation on the playoffs is now merely a painful memory, but the Panthers aren't finished yet.
Tonight, Chapman plays at Occidental in the first of three remaining games in the 1996 season. If ever a team needed a fresh start, this one does.
Consider the Panthers' midseason hell week:
* They learned tailback Darnell Morgan and corner back Malcolm King were playing their fifth year of college football.
* They lost to La Verne, 22-19, Saturday, ending their 13-game winning streak and essentially eliminating any hope of postseason play.
* Tuesday, a week after Morgan was found to be ineligible, they were told that the university was voluntarily forfeiting their five victories because of the use of ineligible players.
So what's left for Chapman? The Panthers will try to answer that against Occidental, St. Mary's and Azusa Pacific--in three road games to close out the season.
"We really want to win these three games to prove that what happened before is over and done with," said Robert Nicholl, a senior defensive tackle. "We want to prove we're a tough team."
Chapman isn't quite the same team that outscored its opponents by 36 points in the first five games. Chapman Coach Ken Visser said Morgan and King were the Panthers' two fastest players.
Morgan was an especially spectacular player--he averaged more than 10 yards every time he touched the ball during the last two seasons. Visser said Morgan's replacements, Ramsey Byrd and Ralph Langston, are solid but not as explosive.
"The seven-yard gain or the five-yard gain that Darnell could turn into a 50-yarder is probably going to be a five-yard gain now," Visser said.
The Panthers will have to sustain more drives instead of relying so much on big plays, Visser said. However, the Panthers still have several threats. Quarterback Curtis Robinson has passed for 830 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for 197 yards. Receiver Martrice Stephens has caught 17 passes for 570 yards and seven touchdowns.
Chapman is definitely still a formidable team but not the invincible one it was earlier in the season as La Verne showed Saturday.
Visser said he blames himself for the Panthers "not playing to the best of their ability" against La Verne, saying they were affected by 'emotional roller-coaster" of the last week.
"We've got to get them back on an even keel," he said. "We got to get them poised and focused and then get back to work."
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CHAPMAN VS. OCCIDENTAL
When: 7 tonight.
Where: Patterson Field, Eagle Rock.
Records: Chapman 5-1; Occidental 0-6.
Noteworthy: Although Chapman voluntarily forfeited the five games it played with two ineligible players, the Panthers retain the victories on its record, according to an NCAA official. The Panthers are a bit banged up: offensive lineman David Tangitau (ankle injury), linebacker Freddy Brown (shoulder) and Malcolm Hunt (leg) probably won't play. Linebacker Allen Jones hasn't practiced because of sickness and punt returner/receiver Darnell Rubin will miss the game because he missed two practices because of a family commitment. Even short-handed, the Panthers shouldn't have much trouble with Occidental, which ranks last in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in total offense and second to last in defense.