PORTLAND, Ore. -- Carl Appleton's first catch as a Lewis & Clark football player was a 26-yard reception in the second quarter in the 2015 season opener at Griswold Stadium. On Saturday afternoon, Appleton, a senior tight end, and his quarterback classmate, Niko Fortino, played their final game for the Pioneers on the same field, losing to Whitworth, 53-20.
Appleton caught two touchdowns to help the Pios fight back after they gave up 29 straight points to start the game. His second score, an 8-yard reception in the early third quarter, was the final catch of his collegiate career.
With a lei around his neck and soreness aching his 30-plus-year-old body, Appleton smiled as he shared the most memorable moment of his two-year Lewis & Clark football career.
"My first catch," said Appleton. "It was amazing. Caught the ball, turned around, listened to the crowd. It was amazing."
Given that the crowd made it memorable, he surely was thrilled over-and-over on Saturday as Appleton pulled in a career-high nine catches and led all receivers with 130 yards. Six receptions came in the second quarter, four of which went for more than 10 yards. Of those, Appleton had receptions of 25, 19 and 13 yards, the last a touchdown, to help the Pios cut Whitworth's lead to 29-7 with less than 1:30 to go until halftime.
"I've been trying to tell them that that's what I can do," said Appleton with a smile about his eight first-half receptions. "I just appreciate being put in a position to succeed and help my team out."
Appleton's teammates appreciated that help, and leadership, from the Portland native throughout his two years, the first two with Jay Locey as the team's head coach.
"He's has made a huge impact on my life," said Fortino, who was 33 of 51 for 351 yards, both of which matched career highs. "He and I have been close since I stepped onto this campus. A lot of life lessons. A lot of things I'm going to take away from CJ. Really grateful."
"I'm going to miss those guys," said junior wide receiver Dennis Kamakana. "They were like big brothers to me. This junior class, we need to keep building and bring up our younger guys. We're only losing two guys, which is good for next year."
The Pioneers are focused on the future and the challenge of ending a school-record 32-game losing streak. Saturday's loss was Lewis & Clark's third 0-9 season in a row.
As good as Appleton was in the second quarter, his success came after Lewis & Clark allowed three touchdown passes from Whitworth quarterback Ian Kolste of 20-plus yards. On the second play of the opening drive, Kolste threw a 38-yard TD pass to Kevin Thomas, and then two plays after a Lewis & Clark fumble, found Chase Takaki for a 21-yarder. Garrett McKay's 21-yard reception capped off a 7-play drive that moved the Pirates ahead 22-0 less than five minutes into the game. This season, Whitworth set school records for total offense, points and passing yards.
The Pioneers slowed Whitworth, and started to find some success of their own, before the Pirates went up 29-0 on Duke DeGaetano's 5-yard touchdown reception. Kolste finished 32 of 41 for 350 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions on back-to-back drives, one to Randy Manewa and another by Pete Lahti, in the first quarter. Lewis & Clark didn't score, though, missing a 38-yard field goal try by Jordan Hendrickson and turning the ball over on downs at the Whitworth 17.
Overall, Lewis & Clark had three drives of seven plays or more end without points.
They never won a game with the Pioneers, but both Appleton and Fortino say they'll forever remember competing for Lewis & Clark and believe the team will have success soon.
"A heck of an experience. I never thought I would play football again and to be here is something I would have never asked for and it's been a blessing," said Appleton.
"We got the guys. We got a lot of talent and they're young. Each team we play, they're sending off 20 seniors and we're sending off two, so we have sophomores and juniors with as much experience as other teams' juniors and seniors."
"Growth, growth, growth. This program is on the rise," said Fortino. "Even if fans can't tell, we're on the rise and we're only losing two people so almost this whole team is coming back next year.
"I'm going to remember my teammates and coaches. I was talking with the team the other day and I told them that I'm not going to remember so much the plays, but the practice field, locker room and buses. There's nothing else like being part of a team."
Kamakana knows his class, the next group of seniors, will be critical to the Pios success.
"It's been a real growing process from the start of camp to the end of the season, it's been a process. The big thing for us is to trust the process."
Along with Kamakana, receivers Dejour Williams, Gage Bumgardner and Jantzen Shinmoto all finished the season with more than 20 catches. The Pios also return Eric Hawkins, the team's most-used running back, and quarterback Mike Machado, who has thrown over 150 passes in his first two seasons.
Lewis & Clark also loses no one from the defense, which on Saturday, started nine underclassmen. The Pioneers had the third-most fumble recoveries in the Northwest Conference this season, getting one by Charlie Whitesell against Whitworth after James Tostado forced Kolste from the ball in the late third quarter.
The loss leaves the Pioneers in last place in the NWC, and without Appleton and Fortino, Lewis & Clark will enter next fall seeking its first win in over three years.
Other Northwest Conference Scores - Saturday
George Fox 21, Willamette 7
Linfield 27, Pacific Lutheran 10
Pacific 39, Puget Sound 35