NEWBERG, Ore. -- Junior quarterback Niko Fortino scored three second half touchdowns and Lewis & Clark outscored George Fox 28-14 in the final two quarters, but it wasn't enough to rally from a 28-point halftime deficit, as the Pioneers lost 49-35 to the Bruins on Saturday afternoon at Stoffer Family Stadium.
After allowing George Fox scores on five of the Bruins' first six possessions, Lewis & Clark scored five of the final seven touchdowns in the game including the last one of the first half when Fortino hit freshman Daniel Dennis (pictured below right) for an 11-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left in the second quarter. It was the first score of Dennis' career and Fortino's third TD pass of the season.
Following a punt on its first second half possession, Lewis & Clark senior defensive end Alex Fitch recovered a fumble by George Fox running back John Shaffer, setting up the Pios with the ball at the Bruins' 42-yard line. Four plays into the drive, Fortino found Dejour Williams for a 19-yard TD pass, his second touchdown reception of the season, to get Lewis & Clark within 35-14.
"We got off to a slow start, absolute slow start," said head coach Jay Locey after returning to Portland. "After that, it seemed like we were waiting for something good to happen and we scored at the end of the first half and we carried that into the second half.
"It's a sign of maturity."
Even on non-scoring drives in the second half, Lewis & Clark moved the ball, piecing together a nine-play, 27-yard drive on its next possession before punting.
George Fox (3-2; 1-1 NWC) was held without points until the 2:05 mark of the third quarter when Shaffer scored from a yard out, his first of the game. The Bruins were setup with a short field after a 10-yard punt by Sifa Tonga combined with an illegal batting penalty to give George Fox possession at the Pioneers' 32-yard line.
The Bruins suffered a short punt themselves early in the fourth quarter when Lenan Meekisho's kick went only 12 yards. The Pioneers started from the George Fox 35-yard line and finished off a six-play, 35-yard drive with Fortino's 10-yard run, his first rushing touchdown of the season.
After holding George Fox to a three-and-out, Lewis & Clark regained possession down 42-21 with 10:23 remaining in the game. Fortino passed on all but one play of the drive, completing 6 of 10 including a 2-yard TD pass to Carl Appleton, his second touchdown reception this year, and the Bruins' lead was down to 42-28 with 6:55 left.
On the ensuing kickoff, George Fox recovered Lewis & Clark's onside attempt at the Pioneers' 39-yard line. Bruins quarterback Grant Schroeder scored on a 23-yard pass play to Tony Long, his third TD pass of the game, and George Fox was up again by 21 points, 49-28.
Freshman quarterback Mike Machado took over for Fortino on the Pioneers' final possession and threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Johnson with 1:14 remaining in the game. It was the first touchdown for both players in their careers.
George Fox was able to close out the game with two kneel downs to finalize the 14-point victory.
"Our passing game came around [today]," said Locey. "[Fortino] did a real good job of reading coverages and getting the ball out and being effective. Our kids made plays."
The Pios passed for more yardage than George Fox, 330-286, and total yards were nearly even with George Fox outgaining Lewis & Clark 478-415.
Eric Hawkins was Lewis & Clark's leading rusher with 49 yards on 15 carries, while Fortino had 17 yards rushing and the score to go along with his 29 of 44 passing day. He finished with 262 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, picked off by Rudy Hughes in the second quarter.
Williams had a career-high nine receptions and 81 yards to go with the touchdown and Dennis caught six passes for 76 yards in his second-ever game. Appleton had his fourth-straight game with a catch, hauling in six for 43 yards and a TD.
For George Fox, Schroder finished with three touchdown passes including the game's first TD, a 5-yard pass to Brad Lander. Schroder was 14 of 20 for the game for 252 yards. Shaffer had 82 yards to lead George Fox in rushing, but Meekisho had three touchdowns, all in the first half. Trevor Daniels caught Schroder's other TD pass, a 41-yard reception in the early second quarter.
"Defensively, we turned it up in the second half and that's where we got a little opposite from last week when we started off great, but this week we started off slow," said Locey. "We have to put together four quarters of football, and once we do that, it will be a great sign of maturity and growth for us."
Lewis & Clark (0-4; 0-2) has only given up one turnover in two of their first four games, and no more than two in one of the others. The Pios have forced turnovers in all four games.
The Pioneers celebrate Homecoming next week when defending Northwest Conference co-champion Pacific visits Griswold Stadium. Last year, Lewis & Clark lost 48-42 in overtime to the Boxers, which lost on Saturday to Linfield 77-10.
Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. with a special pre-game show on the Griswold sidelines at noon with some of the Lewis & Clark all-time great players returning to talk about the 70 seasons of Pioneer football. The game will be in conjunction with the rest of the Hall of Fame festivities including the 38th Annual Hall of Fame Dinner on Friday night at 5:30 p.m., women's soccer against Puget Sound at 10 a.m. on Saturday and the Pioneer Athletics Club Homecoming and 12th Annual Tailgate Extravaganza also at noon on Saturday. Lewis & Clark cross country also hosts the L&C Invite on Saturday morning.
Other Northwest Conference Scores - Saturday
Willamette 10, Pacific Lutheran 9
Whitworth 24, Puget Sound 7
Linfield 77, Pacific 10