FOREST GROVE, Ore. – Bryan Peterson passed for a career-high 354 yards and three touchdowns to lead Whitworth to a 28-25 win at Pacific University in the Northwest Conference football opener for both schools on Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Park Stadium.
The Pirates improved to 5-0 overall and 1-0 in the NWC, already surpassing their win total from the 2011 season. The Boxers fell to 1-3, 0-1 and had their Homecoming celebration damped by Whitworth for the second time in the last three years.
Whitworth led 7-0 after one quarter, but the score could easily have been much more in favor of the Pirates, who outgained Pacific 146-24 in the first period. But after Ronnie Thomas finished off a 50-yard drive that took only three plays with a one-yard touchdown plunge, Whitworth lost its next possession when Peterson fumbled while sacked deep in his own territory.
The Pirate defense stood up to the test and held Pacific on fourth down at the five yard line when Bryce Kershner was stopped for a loss of three yards by Paul Miller. Whitworth then went 89 yards, including a 79-yard pass from Peterson to tight end Wade Meyer, but this time the Pirates were held on fourth down at the Pacific three.
Whitworth finally made it 14-0 early in the second when Peterson lobbed a touchdown pass to Austin Ehlo from 13 yards out. It was Ehlo's first touchdown catch of the season and finished off a 44-yard drive.
The Pacific offense was opportunistic on Saturday. The Boxers only had four possessions that went anywhere, but they scored on all four of those. The first came when Bobby Ladiges ran in from 19 yards to finish off a 67-yard drive that included Pacific's first first-downs of the game.
Whitworth got to the Pacific 35 near the end of the half, but could not get any closer and the Pirates took a 14-7 lead into the locker rooms.
After forcing Whitworth to punt to open the second half, the Boxers scored on their first possession when Moses Villareal-Gomez kicked a 23-yard field goal that finished off a 40-yard drive to pull Pacific within 14-10.
But Whitworth answered when Peterson hit DeGooyer from seven yards for a touchdown that gave the Pirates a 21-10 lead. Whitworth went 61 yards on the drive, including a 38-yard completion from Peterson to DeGooyer to set up the touchdown.
Pacific came right back to pull within 21-17 with 40 seconds to play in the third quarter when P.J. Minaya connected with Kelson Kawai from five yards out to cap a 57-yard possession.
After an exchange of punts to start the fourth quarter, Whitworth made its way deep into Pacific territory again. And again the Boxers turned away the Pirates on fourth down when Thomas was stopped at the three yard line.
But the Whitworth defense did not allow a first down and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Pacific on the punt return set up the Pirates deep in Boxer territory. When Peterson connected with Connor Williams for a 15-yard touchdown with only 3:36 to play, it appeared that Whitworth was well in control with a 28-17 lead.
But the Boxers did not go away. Minaya found Caleb Roher for a 57-yard touchdown pass one minute later. Ladiges ran in a two-point conversion to pull Pacific within 28-25 with 2:29 to go.
Whitworth recovered the onsides kick at the Pacific 45 yard line. Three runs by Thomas brought up fourth down at the Pacific 36-yard line. A 35-yard pass to DeGooyer with 41 seconds left clinched the win. The Pirates downed the ball at the Pacific one on the final play of the game.
Peterson completed 17 of 25 passes for 354 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. DeGooyer caught eight passes for 144 yards, while Meyer had four grabs for 134 yards. Thomas finished with 134 yards rushing on 35 attempts with his eighth TD of the season. However, due to a pair of sacks and other tackles for loss, the Pirates were held to only 99 yards rushing as a team.
Minaya completed 18 of 25 passes for 213 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for Pacific. Anthony Blake caught six passes for 67 yards, while Roher had four grabs for 99 yards. Ladiges rushed for 54 yards on 15 carries.
Whitworth will return home to host unbeaten Willamette University (4-0) next Saturday as part of the Pirates' homecoming festivities.