SPOKANE, Wash. – Ronnie Thomas ran for 251 yards and three touchdowns to lead Whitworth to a 37-20 season-ending come-from-behind win over Lewis & Clark on a cold Saturday afternoon in the Pine Bowl.
The Pirates finish the season 7-3 overall and 3-3 (4th place) in the NWC. Whitworth finished with three more wins in 2012 than in 2011. The Pioneers end the year 4-5 (1-5) after a 4-0 start.
Thomas did much of the damage on a 68-yard game-opening drive for the Pirates, including a 23-yard run on the first play of the game. But it was DJ Tripioli who finished out the drive with a 19-yard scoring run down the right sideline.
L&C answered with a 68-yard drive of its own, culminated by Curtis Shirey's one-yard touchdown run. The extra point was unsuccessful and Whitworth led 7-6.
The Pirates extended the lead to 10-6 when Robert Thullen connected on a 20-yard field goal after Whitworth had first and goal at the L&C five yard line.
The Pioneers responded quickly with an 80-yard drive, scoring on QB Keith Welch's 23-yard run. L&C was stopped while trying to go for a two-point conversion and had to settle for a 12-10 lead with 11:14 to play in the second quarter.
That lead would hold until halftime, despite three Whitworth trips deep into Pioneer territory. One ended on a missed 36-yard field goal and two others ended when Pirate QB Bryan Peterson was intercepted near the L&C goal line. Joe Kopp had the first pick, while Clay Isrealson had the second interception.
Whitworth trailed at the half despite outgaining L&C 271-201 and holding a 16-11 advantage in first downs.
The momentum turned the Pirates' way early in the second half. After quickly forcing an L&C punt, Whitworth went 72 yards in 13 plays to go ahead 17-12 when Thomas scored his first touchdown of the game from two yards away.
The score remained 17-12 until just under seven minutes were left in the game. Thomas scored again from six yards out to cap a 50-yard possession. The kick was wide left and Whitworth led 23-12.
De' Hall appeared to ice the game for the Pirates when he returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown less than a minute later to give Whitworth a 30-12 lead with 5:46 to play. It was Hall's second interception return for a touchdown of the season.
However, L&C responded quickly with its best offensive possession of the second half. It took the Pioneers only three plays to go 50 yards for the score. Welch threw a 10-yard fade pass to Nico Ohland for the touchdown, then hit Ohland for a two-point conversion to cut the lead to 30-20 with 5:18 to play.
Whitworth recovered the onsides kick and then proceeded to grind out yards and time off of the clock. Thomas broke free from 17 yards out for his third touchdown of the game with 1:19 to go.
Welch's last-ditch pass as time expired was intercepted by Jesse Bresser in the endzone.
Whitworth finished with a significant statistical advantage, thanks largely to the big day by Thomas. The Pirates ended with a 504-370 edge in total offense, outrushing L&C 345-114. Whitworth had 32 first downs to 19 for the Pioneers and finished with a 41:26 – 18:34 edge in time of possession.
Thomas carried the ball 44 times for his 251 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Peterson completed 14 of 27 passes for 159 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He did plenty of damage with his legs as well, running for 96 yards on 17 attempts. Jake DeGooyer ended his career with eight catches for 98 yards.
Welch completed 24 of 37 for 256 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 79 yards on 16 carries. Evan Stanbro caught seven passes for 86 yards, while Shirey also caught seven passes out of the backfield for 39 yards.
Andrew Traver had 16 tackles for Lewis & Clark, while Kopp was in on 14.
Thomas finished the season with 1,239 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. It is the third highest single-season rushing total in Whitworth history, trailing only the 1,293 yard record set by Damian Putney in 1999 and the 1,259 yards from Adam Anderson in 2008. DeGooyer finished the season with 73 receptions for 1,015 yards.