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Chapman’s historic football season comes to a halt in loss to St. John’s (Minn.)

Chapman players Wyatt Hardin (83), James Kistner (88) and Alex Baur (75) celebrate Tanner Mendoza’s (28) game-winning touchdown against Linfield on Nov. 23 in Orange.
Chapman players Wyatt Hardin (83), James Kistner (88) and Alex Baur (75) celebrate Tanner Mendoza’s (28) game-winning touchdown against Linfield on Nov. 23 in Orange.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Chapman University linebacker Dillon Keefe exchanged handshakes, hugs, helmet taps — and, though the situation didn’t seem to warrant it — a few smiles and laughs with teammates on his sideline.

An undefeated season that included the first NCAA playoff victory in school history came to a crashing halt on Saturday when the Panthers were bounced unceremoniously from the Division III playoffs in a 55-26 loss to Saint John’s of Minnesota before 1,724 in Wilson Field.

But that couldn’t put a damper on a season in which Chapman won its first 10 games, a conference title and a 68-65 triple overtime thriller over Linfield in the first round of the playoffs.

Chapman’s playoff victory — a 68-65 triple-overtime triumph over Linfield — was a perfect antidote to the sour aspects of big-time college football.

“You can never not celebrate your accomplishments — otherwise, you just focus on the losses,” said Keefe, a junior from Orange El Modena High School. “Yeah, this is a bummer that we lost, but we just have to keep in perspective. We did a lot this year, and we should give ourselves a pat on the back for that.”

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The Johnnies, who won four national titles under legendary coach John Gagliardi, advanced to the national quarterfinals against Wheaton (Ill.) College behind senior quarterback Jackson Erdmann, who overcame a rocky start to complete 24 of 41 passes for 458 yards and five touchdowns.

T.J. Hodge caught nine passes for 164 yards and two scores, Ravi Alston, a former Vista Murrieta High standout, caught seven passes for 104 yards and a score, and running back Henry Trost had 154 all-purpose yards and three scores.

The Johnnies’ first three possessions of the game ended with a lost fumble, an interception and a blocked field-goal attempt, and Chapman trailed 7-6 with 6 ½ minutes left in the first half.

Erdmann threw scoring passes to Jake Kemper (18 yards) and Hodge (22 yards) in the final 3 ½ minutes of the first half, and Trost capped a seven-play, 78-yard drive with a five-yard scoring run for a 28-6 lead early in the third quarter.

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J.K. Dobbins ran for four touchdowns and Justin Fields threw four TD passes in No. 2 Ohio State’s 56-27 victory over No. 10 Michigan.

Chapman pulled to within 28-13 on Jonston MacIntyre’s 29-yard touchdown pass to Spencer Corona. Chapman rushed seven defenders on the next play. Erdmann beat the blitz by throwing a short screen pass to Trost, who raced 70 yards for a touchdown and a 34-13 lead.

“We knew they like to blitz a lot, especially when we go empty [formation] and five wide,” Erdmann said. “They were showing blitz. Perfect. [Trost] came hot. I dumped it. Easy money.”

The Panthers lost a fumble on a bad snap on their next possession — their third botched center-to-quarterback exchange of the game. Saint John’s recovered and sealed the win on Erdmann’s 18-yard scoring pass to Hodge for a 41-13 lead with 1:57 left in the third.


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