LA VERNE, Calif. – Whitworth returned a kickoff and two interceptions for touchdowns on a night when the offense sputtered at times in a 45-20 win over La Verne in the Leopards' home and season opener.
Whitworth improved to 3-0, beginning the season with three road victories for the first time since 1955.
After ULV scored a touchdown late in the second quarter to take its only lead of the game (10-7), Danny Welstad returned the ensuing kickoff 61 yards for a score after the Leopards kicked high and short trying to eliminate a long return.
De' Hall gave the Bucs a 24-13 lead with his 33-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter. Nic Brockhoff closed the deal with his own return of 37 yards late in the game for the contest's final score.
Jake DeGooyer, who had a career-game last week at Whittier, got the Pirates on the board first with a three-yard touchdown catch from Bryan Peterson to complete Whitworth's second possession of the game.
The Leopards got on the scoreboard midway through the second quarter after Travis Carter relieved starting QB Drew Podrebarac after Alex Miller kicked a 34-yard field with 7:09 to go in the half. La Verne took its only lead on the next possession when Matthew Biggers ran in from three-yards out with 3:19 to go in the second quarter.
But that's when Welstad made his big play. ULV could not have known it was kicking to a high school all-star running back in addition to a Pirate defensive end. After Welstad made his move to get through the initial line of defenders, he ran away from the rest of the Leopards for the 61-yard score.
Miller's second field goal of the game, this time from 36 yards, drew ULV within 14-13 early in the third quarter. But Robert Thullen answered for the Bucs from 26 yards with 7:31 to go in the third, extending the lead back to 17-13.
Less than a minute later Whitworth pressured Conway into an overthrow on a screen pass and Hall returned the interception for a score that gave the Pirates their first double-digit lead (24-13).
Special teams played a big role early in the fourth quarter when Whitworth tackled La Verne punter Jeremy Brown at the Leopard six yard line. Three plays later Austin Ehlo laid out to catch an eight-yard pass from Peterson in the back corner of the endzone, giving the Pirates a 31-13 lead.
The Leopards answered with a quick 65-yard drive, culminated by Carter's one-yard lob pass to John Lilly on third down, pulling ULV to within 31-20 with just under ten minutes to play.
ULV forced Whitworth to punt twice by stacking the box against the run. But the Pirate defense was up to the task and forced the Leopards to punt two times in answer.
Finally on third and one at the Whitworth 25-yard-line, Ronnie Thomas broke free for a 75-yard touchdown run down the Pirate sideline to extend the lead back to 38-20. That single run accounted for most of Thomas' 135 yards in the game.
Two plays after the kickoff Brockhoff picked off third-string QB Garry Hedlund and returned the interception 37 yards for the final score of the game.
La Verne outgained Whitworth 390-252 in the game. Peterson completed 12 of 31 passes for 154 yards and the two touchdowns. Thomas totaled 135 yards on 27 carries. DeGooyer finished with seven catches for 93 yards, while Ehlo caught his first two passes of the season for 38 yards.
Carter completed 20 of 36 passes for 229 yards with one interception and one touchdown. He also ran for 52 yards on 13 carries. Biggers totaled 69 yards on 17 attempts. David Kain and John Lilly had four catches each.
John Bresser led the Pirate defense with 12 tackles in his first start at safety.
After flying more than 6,200 miles on three trips to start the season, Whitworth will finally get to play at home next Saturday when the Pirates host Chapman at 1:00 p.m. in the Pine Bowl.