QB Keith Welch accounts for four TDs as Pioneers lead from start to finish against Pomona-Pitzer

by: MICHAEL WORKMAN - Quarterback Keith Welch evades the Pomona-Pitzer defense as the Lewis & Clark Pioneers win their home opener 31-13 Saturday at Griswold Stadium.The Lewis & Clark Pioneers have picked up where they left off.

The Pioneers beat Pomona-Pitzer 31-13 Saturday afternoon at Griswold Stadium, giving themselves a 2-0 start to the nonconference season and nine wins in their last 11 games.

The Pios have transformed the school's football program in recent years from a near-demise to Northwest Conference contender status. This year's home opener showed a sun-drenched crowd of 1,127 a team with flash, defense and some depth.

"We started finding our rhythm as the game went on," said junior quarterback Keith Welch, the returning NWC offensive player of the year.

The Pios had opened with a 27-24 road victory over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps last week. On Saturday, they seized an early lead and were in control all the way.

Welch, as he usually does, led the way. He had a solid day, completing 11 of 18 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. He also ran for two scores and, on 14 carries, finished with 69 yards — which was eight yards more than Pomona-Pitzer's team rushing total on 22 attempts against a Pioneers defense with nine senior starters.

"Our defense is going to keep playing better," Welch said.

Pios coach Chris Sulages especially liked that his team committed only one turnover.

"Turnover ratio is a big key to any season," he said.

He praised Welch's decision-making but also the approach of the entire team, even the hogs up front on offense.

"Our offensive line checks off stuff without most people even knowing," he said.

by: MICHAEL WORKMAN - Lewis & Clark College quarterback Keith Welch celebrates a touchdown against Pomona-Pitzer.Lewis & Clark went 61 yards in nine plays on its first possession to lead 7-0. The 6-0, 190-pound Welch found a big hole up the middle on a quarterback draw and scored from 14 yards.

Simon Monley extended the lead to 10-0 with a 29-yard field goal at the 4:35 mark of the second quarter, but the backbreaker for Pomona-Pitzer (0-2) came in the final minute of the half.

L&C free safety Lamar Curry picked off a pass and returned the ball 14 yards to the Sagehens' 48-yard line with 52 seconds remaining. In three plays, Welch had the Pios in the end zone again. He hit an open John Constantino from 20 yards for the score with 19 seconds left and a 17-0 lead.

The Pioneers came out strong in the third quarter. Welch found Evan Stanbro from 18 yards for a touchdown on the home team's first drive. The play capped a seven-play, 76-yard march.

A few minutes later, Welch ran 3 yards for another TD, completing a 67-yard drive in six plays.

The Pioneers lost the shutout with 14 minutes to go, and Pomona-Pitzer scored again with 6:55 left, but the result for Lewis & Clark was much better than in the teams' meeting a year ago, won by L&C in more of a tussle, 48-39.

L&C returns to Fred Wilson Field next Saturday for a 1 p.m. date with Macalester of St. Paul, Minn. The Pioneers won last year's matchup 37-28 in Minnesota. Macalester was 2-0 going into a Saturday night home game with Maranatha Baptist.

The Macalester game will be the Pios' final tuneup for the conference run. The six-game NWC slate beings Sept. 29 at Puget Sound. Home games are on the schedule Oct. 6 versus Pacific Lutheran, Oct. 20 with defending league champion Linfield and Oct. 27 (homecoming) against Pacific.

Last year, the Pioneers were a Cinderella-like 7-0 going into their final two games, but they lost 57-28 to Willamette and then 47-14 to Linfield.

Still, it was a 7-2 season, one of the best in many years for the school.

Welch and Sulages both said it remains to be seen if this year's team can be as good, or possibly even better. Welch isn't counting out his team, however.

"We believe we can beat anybody," he said.

Sulages, who is in his seventh year as head coach and 10th year at Lewis & Clark, said the coaching staff isn't approaching this year any differently, even though the Pios are in new territory — coming off such a good season.

"Obviously, there are higher expectations," he said, "but that's what you want, that's a position you want to be in. But we're going at it the same way we always have. My first year here. when we only had 33 players, we prepared the same way — to win every game."

The competition will get tougher as the 2012 season goes on — a key road game is Oct. 13 at Willamette.

"We have the potential to be better (than last year)," senior cornerback Logan Kotzian said, "but it depends on our work ethic. It's in our hands. We still have a lot of things to do, things we need to fix."

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