The Whitworth University football team will hit the road for an important Northwest Conference contest at the University of Puget Sound on Saturday. The 18th/21st-ranked Pirates take on a Loggers team only one game back in the league standings. The game can be heard live in Spokane on KSBN 1230am and on the internet at KSBN.net. The radio broadcast will begin at 12:45 pm (PDT).
Whitworth (5-0, 3-0 NWC) is coming off a 55-13 Homecoming Game win over Pacific Lutheran. Puget Sound (4-2, 2-1 NWC) dropped its first league game of the season, 23-22 at home to Pacific (Ore.).
Live Links for Saturday's game:
Whitworth (5-0, 3-0 NWC)
Puget Sound (4-2, 2-1 NWC)
Saturday - Oct. 20
The Pirates: Once Whitworth got going, the Bucs were unstoppable in the 55-13 Homecoming victory over visiting Pacific Lutheran last Saturday. The Pirates opened a 42-13 lead at halftime and scored on six consecutive possessions spanning the second and third quarters. They outgained PLU 624-146, had a 35-7 edge in first downs, and a 41:02 – 18:58 advantage in time of possession. Whitworth also finished with a 3-0 advantage in turnovers.
The offense was not necessarily explosive, but it just continued to stay on the field and pile up yards and points. Whitworth ran a season-high 106 plays in the game. The 35 first downs was also a high-water mark this year. The Bucs threw for 367 yards and ran for 257. Whitworth converted 50% of its third downs into first downs, while holding PLU to only 23% (3-13).
Leif Ericksen completed 31 of 40 passes for 303 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. He only played two and a half quarters. Garrett McKay caught 10 of the passes for 112 yards with one touchdown. Isain Wong-Lonzanida had a career-high seven receptions for 30 yards and a score. Noah Alejado had a breakout game. He not only caught his first career pass, it was a 44-yard touchdown in the first quarter. He added another touchdown reception in the second period. In all, 14 different receivers caught a pass. Mason Elms led the rushing attack with 109 yards and a touchdown on only 15 carries (7.3 yards per run). Tariq Ellis picked up 77 yards and one TD on 13 attempts. Brayden Corona and Brad Mills combined to run for 80 yards on 19 carries in the final quarter.
Colten Chelin led the Whitworth defense with six tackles, including one for loss, and an interception he returned 19 yards. Iain Black and Jaylen Gonzales each had four stops. P-Jay Solomon had two of Whitworth's four sacks in his first action back from an injury. The Pirates once again reached double figures in tackles for loss with 11.
Cody McDonald made all seven of his extra points and kicked a 31-yard field goal for ten total points. He also averaged 62.3 yards per kickoff to help Whitworth win the field position battle. Kevin Ramsey averaged 32 yards per punt and made a 40-yard field goal.
Pair of Pirates Honored: The Northwest Conference selected Leif Ericksen as the Offensive Student-Athlete of the Week for football, while Colten Chelin was chosen on defense. Ericksen played only two and a half quarters and led the Pirates to a 52-13 lead at that point. He completed 77.5% of his passes (31-40) for 303 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Chelin led the Pirate defense with six tackles (five solo), including one tackle for loss. He intercepted a pass and forced a fumble.
Ericksen and Chelin are the first Pirate players selected for an NWC weekly award in football this season.
National rankings: Whitworth moved up one spot in both NCAA Division III polls this week. The Pirates are 18th, up from 19th, in the D3football.com top-25 poll. They are 21st (up from 22nd) in the AFCA Division III Coaches Poll.
Swarming Defense: Whitworth ranks first in all of NCAA Division III in team tackles for loss this season. The Pirates are averaging 11.8 tackles for loss per game. They had 11 tackles for 32 yards in losses in the win over PLU. Chad Wilburg leads the Pirates, and ranks third in the NWC in sacks, with 6.0 for 36 yards. He is also fourth in the NWC with 9.5 tackles for loss (-44 yards). Shai Pulawa is tied for the lead in the NWC with three interceptions.
Red Zone Excellence: Whitworth leads the Northwest Conference in the red zone this season, both offensively and defensively. The Pirates have scored 22 of the 25 times they have entered the red zone this season (88%). They have scored touchdowns 17 of those times (68%). Both percentages lead the NWC. Opponents have scored against Whitworth only five of the 12 times they have entered the red zone (41.7%), which also leads the conference and ranks 3rd in Division III.
Winning on Third Down: The Pirates lead the Northwest Conference in third down conversion percentage, both offensively and defensively. Whitworth has converted 44% of its offensive third downs this season. Lewis & Clark is in second place at 40%. Pirate opponents have only converted 28% of their third downs into first downs, which ranks as the 22nd-best percentage in Division III.
Mr. McKay: Garrett McKay is concluding his Pirate career in a big way. He leads the NWC in all-purpose yards, receiving yards and punt return average this season. McKay is averaging 162.6 all-purpose yards per game and 113.2 receiving yards per game. He is also averaging 11.6 yards per punt return. He has 44 pass receptions for 566 yards in 2018. He is second in the NWC in receptions per game (8.8).
McKay is one of the most prolific pass-catchers in Whitworth history. The two-time first team All-Northwest Conference honoree has caught 226 passes for 2,663 yards in his career. He is within reach of Whitworth's career records for receptions (248, Wayne Ralph, 1983-86) and receiving yards (3,042, Dwayne Tawney, 2000-03). McKay has at least one reception in 37 of the 38 games he has played as a Pirate.
NWC Sweep: September 15th featured an eight-game slate of matchups between the Northwest Conference and the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference (SCIAC). The NWC swept to victory in all eight contests. Four were played in California and four were in the Northwest. Whitworth defeated defending SCIAC champion Chapman 31-28 at home. Puget Sound rolled to a 56-28 win at La Verne.
Team Captains: The Pirate team captains in 2018 are Garrett McKay and Tyler Adamson from the offense and Chad Wilburg and Kale Wong from the defense. A special teams captain is selected on a week-by-week basis. The 2018 special teams captains have been:
Sept. 1 – Andrew Knox
Sept. 15 – Taylor Hall
Sept. 29 – Kyle Ditter
Oct. 6 – Cade Foisset
Oct. 13 – Shai Pulawa
Puryear Field: Whitworth dedicated its new Fieldturf facility in honor of Ron and Georgia Lee Puryear at halftime of the season opener. Whitworth alumnus Jim Puryear ('91) and his wife Bobbie were the primary donors for the new football field and it was named in honor of his parents. Now the Pirate football teams play at Puryear Field in the Whitworth Pine Bowl.
Full Home Slate: Whitworth will play six home games in 2018. It is the first time the Pirates have six home football games since 2013. Whitworth is also only playing a nine-game schedule for the first time since 2005.
Two Long Records: A pair of Pirate returnees set school records in 2017 with long touchdown plays. Mason Elms ran 96 yards for a touchdown in a 48-7 win at Lewis & Clark on November 4th, breaking the old record of 92 yards set by Vern Tucker in 1948. Garrett McKay broke the school record for longest punt return when he raced 82 yards for a score in Whitworth's 30-20 victory at Pacific (Ore.) on October 28th. Darryl Russell set the old record of 64 yards in 1959.
Looking Back at 2017: Back-to-back subpar performances in the middle of the season were bookended by strong play to open and close the schedule. The Pirates finished 8-2 overall and 5-2 (tie for second) in the NWC. Whitworth won the first three games by a combined score of 148-23. The Bucs suffered a letdown in losses at Linfield (38-9) and at home to George Fox (43-23) the next two weeks. Whitworth responded with five straight victories to end the season, including a key victory at Pacific Lutheran without starting quarterback Ian Kolste.
On the Air Again: Whitworth's games are once again be carried live this season on KSBN 1230am in Spokane. The relationship between Pirate athletics and KSBN goes back to 1994, a span of 24 years. Bud Nameck, familiar to listeners in Spokane as the host of the KXLY 920am Morning News, is in his third season as the voice of the Pirates in 2018. He was the voice of Washington State University men's basketball for 22 years, and spent that same amount of time on the Cougar football broadcasts – the final three on play by play. He is a longtime resident of the Inland Northwest who began his career as the Sports Information Director and radio voice of Gonzaga University basketball and baseball in the 1980s.
Two SWX Broadcasts: Local cable station SWX will carry two of Whitworth's games this season: last week's Homecoming game against Pacific Lutheran, and the October 27 game against Pacific (Ore.). SWX stands for Sports & Weather Right Now and is owned by local NBC affiliate KHQ channel 6. SWX can be seen both over-the-air and through some cable services in the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene, Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, and Yakima viewership areas. In the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene area, SWX is found on digital channel 6.2, on Comcast channel 112 in Spokane and Time Warner channel 306 in North Idaho.
The Head Coach: Rod Sandberg has had a huge impact on the Pirate program in his first four years as head coach, posting a 31-10 record and leading the Bucs to the NCAA playoffs in year number two. He has had 39 players earn All-Northwest Conference recognition since 2015. Whitworth's three-year record (25-6) from 2015-17 is the second-best three-year stretch in school history. Sandberg spent 19 seasons on the defensive staff at Wheaton College (Ill.), including the last 11 as defensive coordinator. Wheaton made the NCAA Division III playoffs five times during Sandberg's tenure as defensive coordinator. The team never lost a first round playoff game and reached the Division III semifinals in 2008 and quarterfinals in 2003. Sandberg's 2007 and 2013 squads led the Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, regarded as one of the strongest football leagues at the Division III level, in scoring defense. The Thunder were second in the league in scoring defense five other times.
The Loggers: The University of Puget Sound won four of its first five games to get off to its best start in several seasons. The Loggers hope to improve on their finish from 2015 when they went 6-3 overall and 5-2 in the NWC (third place). Last weekend Puget Sound suffered its first conference loss of the season, 23-22, to visiting Pacific (Ore.) to fall to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the NWC.
Jeff Thomas is in his ninth season as head coach at Puget Sound. His overall record is 23-55, but the Loggers are 20-22 under Thomas since the beginning of 2014. Thomas previously served several roles on the staff at Redlands, his alma mater, from 2003-09.
Puget Sound brings the most potent passing offense in the NWC into Saturday's game. The Loggers are averaging 369.7 yards passing per game, which ranks second in all of NCAA Division III. Puget Sound has passed for a league-best 25 touchdowns in six games. The Loggers have also been strong in pass defense, with 11 interceptions and 24 sacks in 2018. Sophomore Murdock Rutledge and senior Nick Bernhardt have split time at quarterback this season. Rutledge has thrown twice as many passes, however. Rutledge has completed 58.3% of his passes for 1,452 yards with 16 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Bernhardt has completed 61.1% of his throws for 611 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions. Junior WR Alvin Johnson has 53 receptions for 591 yards and five touchdowns, while senior Cole Heimbach has 47 catches for 615 yards and seven scores. Junior wideout Jewell Day leads the NWC in touchdown receptions (9) and averages 14.8 yards per catch. The Puget Sound running game has averaged only 50.7 yards per game and 1.9 yards per carry. On defense, Matt Ahnin and Jason Clayton have three interceptions apiece. Senior defensive lineman Todd Blakely leads the NWC in sacks (9.5 for 64 yards) and tackles for loss (13.5 for 69 yards).
Puget Sound won the statistical battle, but turned the ball over six times in its 23-22 loss at home to Pacific (Ore.) on Saturday. The Loggers outgained the Boxers 389-269 and had a chance to tie the game with 6:45 to play, but missed an extra point. Puget Sound got the ball back a final time with 1:42 to play, but threw an interception. Rutledge completed 17 of 41 passes for 191 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, while Bernhardt went 8-20 for 94 yards with one TD and three interceptions. Day caught nine passes, including two touchdowns. Heimbach had seven grabs for 120 yards (17.1 ypc). Blakely had two sacks and three total tackles for loss among his six tackles. Keanu Songcuan led the UPS defense with ten tackles.
The Series: Puget Sound is Whitworth's oldest and longest running football rival. Whitworth's first official collegiate game was a 6-0 victory over the College of Puget Sound in 1904 (when Whitworth was located near Tacoma, Washington). The teams have played each other 69 times since then. The Pirates hold a 43-25-1 edge in the series with the Loggers and Whitworth has won the last 22 meetings. The biggest Pirate win in the series was 70-11 in 2012. The biggest Logger win (41-0) came in 1967. Puget Sound last defeated Whitworth in 1995 by a score of 48-35 in Tacoma. The Loggers' last win in Spokane was in 1994 (18-7).
Last Meeting: Whitworth took a 31-7 halftime lead on the way to a 38-23 win over Puget Sound in the Pine Bowl in 2017. Garrett McKay caught a touchdown pass, while Tariq Ellis burst through the middle for a 50-yard touchdown run. Mason Elms had a big day, racing 52 yards on Whitworth's first play from scrimmage and finishing with 144 rushing yards on 18 attempts. McKay ended up with five catches for 67 yards. Leif Ericksen and Connor Johnson split time at QB in the second half. Johnson ran a touchdown, while Ericksen completed two of his five passes for 14 yards as Whitworth focused on the running game after halftime.
Fifteen different players finished with at least three tackles in the game. Kale Wong made six stops, two of which were behind the line of scrimmage. Shai Pulawa had five solo tackles and recovered a fumble.
Coming up next: Whitworth will return home to host Pacific University (Ore.) in the Pine Bowl on October 27th. The game will start at 1:00 pm.