Pomona-Pitzer Reaches NCAA Playoffs for 1st Time After Historic SCIAC Title in Rivalry Game

Pomona-Pitzer celebrates Sixth Street Rivalry, shared SCIAC title

As students readied to rush the field after Pomona-Pitzer’s Sixth Street Rivalry win for the first SCIAC title and NCAA playoff berth in program history, a few of them already had bottles of bubbly ready to spray in celebration.

Figuratively speaking, the champagne had been on ice for 67 years. Pomona had not won a SCIAC football title since 1955—so long ago that Pitzer College had not yet been founded and Pomona and Claremont played together on a combined team.

“It means the world. You imagine this, and now it’s a reality. Nothing beats it,” says defensive back Vaish Siddapureddy ’22, one of the Sagehens’ fifth-year seniors already taking classes at Claremont Graduate University while playing their final seasons after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 season.

They’re leaving their mark with an 8-2 regular-season record—the most wins in program history—with the only losses in overtime.

Emotion was flowing along with champagne spray after a hard-fought 28-14 victory over CMS (7-2) on November 12. Officially, the two teams tied for the SCIAC title with one conference loss each, but the Sagehens earned the automatic NCAA berth and bragging rights by virtue of their head-to-head win over the Stags. (UPDATE: Pomona-Pitzer lost to undefeated Linfield in the first round of the 32-team NCAA Division III Football Championship playoffs on November 19 in McMinnville, Oregon.)

“It’s a lot of hard work that coaches, players and staff have put into this, and we finally did it. We finally did it,” says John Walsh, head football coach and assistant professor of physical education. “We play at least another week of football. More time with these guys—the players and coaches—is special.”

It has been a long climb. When Walsh arrived at Pomona-Pitzer in 2013 as defensive coordinator and associate head coach, the Sagehens had won only two games over the past three years, making them one of the least successful programs in the country.

“It needed to be rebuilt,” Walsh says. “We took some time and solidified the infrastructure and then brought in the right coaches and the right players. That’s how you do it.”

Since Walsh took over as head coach before the 2017 season, the Sagehens have had only one losing record.

“When I first came into this program, Coach Walsh had only been here for a few years,” says offensive lineman Michael Collins ’22, who graduated with a degree in economics in May and will earn an MBA from Claremont Graduate University’s Drucker School of Management in the spring. “He made a real point to change the culture here. This was a team that hadn’t won games in a long time. It had been 60 years at that point since Pomona had won a league championship. I really was inspired by the people he recruited to come in.”

Against CMS, the Sagehens broke open a tight game in the fourth quarter with two big plays, one a blocked punt that Michael Ryan ’25 returned 38 yards for a two-touchdown lead, and the other a 33-yard touchdown pass from Skylar Noble PZ ’23 to Quenten Wimmer PZ ’24. That gave the Sagehens a 28-7 lead with less than six minutes to play. Wimmer had a hand in three touchdowns, two on receptions and a third on a trick play when he caught a lateral pass and threw a 22-yard pass to fellow receiver Will Radice ’22 in the corner of the end zone for a 7-7 tie.

“We added that play this week,” Radice says with a grin. “He made a great throw.”

Pomona-Pitzer’s defense held a CMS team that had scored more than 40 points in four of the last five games to one touchdown until late in the game, when the outcome was all but decided.

The game was played in front of an overflow crowd at Merritt Field, with spectators leaning on the fences outside the stadium after the stands filled.

“When I came in, I had no clue how big a rivalry this really was,” says Collins. “It means a lot because this rivalry between the two teams has been a huge part of my time here. As much as you want to beat the other guys, the reality is, it makes both teams better. Both these teams, Claremont McKenna and ourselves, have pushed each other in these tight rivalry games.

“I think it’s a real testament to not only what Pomona and Pitzer have going on, but all the 5Cs.”