Whitworth University opens the 2017 football season at 1:00 pm (CDT) on Saturday at Central College in Pella, Iowa. It is the season opener for both teams and the second-ever meeting between the schools. The game will be heard live in Spokane on KSBN 1230am and on the internet at KSBN.net. The radio broadcast will begin at 10:45 am (PDT).
Whitworth is coming off of an 8-2 record in 2016, the second straight strong season under head coach Rod Sandberg. The Pirates went 6-1 in the Northwest Conference to finish in second place. Central also went 8-2 overall last season, finishing tied for second in the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletics Conference (IIAC) with a 6-2 record.
Click here for this week's official game notes (PDF).
Live Links for Saturday's game:
Whitworth (0-0, 0-0 NWC)
Central (0-0, 0-0 IIAC)
Saturday - Sept. 2
The Pirates: Whitworth returns eight starters on offense and five starters on defense from 2016, as well as its kickers and top return men.
The Bucs broke several team records on offense last season and they return many of the weapons that generated that offense. Ian Kolste (Sr., Oak Harbor, Wash.) set school records for passing yards (3,790), passing completions (351), pass attempts (488) and touchdown passes (29 – tying Joel Clark). His average of 35.1 completions per game set an NCAA Division III record. His top passing targets are also back. Garrett McKay (Jr., Tacoma, Wash.) caught 72 of Kolste's passes for 1,024 yards (14.2 ypc) and eight touchdowns. Kevin Thomas (Sr., Spokane, Wash.) had 51 catches for 689 yards (13.5 ypc) and six scores. Nick Kiourkas (Sr., Spokane, Wash.) caught 38 passes for 537 yards (14.1 ypc) and seven TDs. Michael McKeown (Sr., Post Falls, Idaho) gives Kolste four returning starting receivers.
The primary question mark is at running back after the graduation of Duke DeGaetano (1,001 yards and 21 rushing touchdowns last season). Three players emerged during training camp. Griffin Hare (Sr., Spokane, Wash.), Mason Elms (Jr., Sedro-Woolley, Wash.) and Tariq Ellis (So., Tacoma, Wash.) will all split time at tailback, according to offensive coordinator Alan Stanfield.
The offensive line includes three returning starters, led by First Team All-NWC left tackle Tyler Adamson (Jr., Oak Harbor). Vince Porporato (Sr., Aptos, Calif.) is in his third season as a starter at right tackle and Jacob Hubbard (Jr., Eugene, Ore.) is back as the starting center. Tanner Conroy (Sr., Spokane, Wash.) and Nick Little (So., Kennewick, Wash.) have been tabbed to take over at left and right guard, respectively.
The Pirate defense is experienced in the secondary. While not as experienced up front, Whitworth has some young talent that has waited in the wings.
The defensive line is brand new. Chad Wilburg (Jr., Sedro-Woolley, Wash.) and Andrew McCoy (So., Snohomish, Wash.) will take over as defensive ends. P-Jay Solomon (Jr., Kalihi, Wash.) and Jack McLeod (So., Seattle, Wash.) will move into the tackle spots.
Patch Kulp (Sr., Santa Clarita, Calif.), Whitworth's leading tackler over the last two seasons, returns as a starter at inside linebacker. Kale Wong (So., Gig Harbor, Wash.), who saw significant playing time as a freshman before a season-ending knee injury, will start at one outside LB spot, while Brian Lee (Sr., Sherwood, Ore.) becomes a starter at the other outside backer position.
Taylor Roloefs (Sr., Tacoma, Wash.) and LJ Benson (Sr., Spokane Valley, Wash.) head into the opening game as the returning starters at corner back. Roloefs is a four-year starter who has broken up 34 passes in his career, earning Second Team All-NWC as a sophomore and junior. Ben Stockdale (Jr., Vantage, Wash.) returns from an injury-plagued 2016 season as the starting rover back. Shai Pulawa (Jr., Wahiawa, Hawaii), a key contributor last year, will be the starting free safety.
Whitworth has an important weapon on the special teams in Rehn Reiley (Jr., Moses Lake, Wash.). Reiley made 22 of his 37 field goals in 2015 and 2016, including four of 45 yards or longer. He also had 53 touchbacks on kickoffs. Reiley will also continue the punting duties this fall after averaging 40.9 yards per kick in 2016. Vernon Parker (So., Yelm, Wash.) was a solid back up place kicker last season and has game experience kicking extra points and booting kickoffs.
Garrett McKay was Whitworth's primary punt returner last season and also had 14 kickoff returns.
Team Captains: The Pirate team captains in 2017 are Ian Kolste and Garrett McKay from the offense and Patch Kulp and Taylor Roelofs from the defense. A special teams captain will be selected on a week-by-week basis.
Gunslinger: QB Ian Kolste is poised to break several career records at Whitworth. In fact, he already holds the Pirates' career record for completions with 710. Barring any unforeseen injuries, he will break several more records this season. He has thrown 1,076 passes and only needs six more to break Bryan Peterson's record of 1,081 (2011-14). Kolste has thrown for 7,641 yards, only 872 yards shy of Joel Clark's record of 8,513 (2003-06). Kolste is also within range of Clark's career records for touchdown passes (71) and total offense (9,656). Kolste has 59 TD passes and 7,952 total yards heading into the 2017 season.
Kolste earned first team All-NWC and second team All-West Region (D3football.com) following the 2016 season. He was tabbed as a second team preseason All-American by Hero Sports heading into 2017.
I am Ironman: Taylor Roelofs has started all 31 games of his Pirate career to this point. The senior corner back has been a stalwart for the Whitworth defense. He has 130 tackles, seven interceptions and 34 passes defended over his first three seasons. Roelofs has been named second team All-Northwest Conference twice, as a sophomore and junior.
Looking Back at 2016: Whitworth bounced back from a season-opening 50-49 loss in overtime to Central to finish 8-2 overall and 6-1 in the NWC. The victory total included comeback wins at La Verne and Pacific Lutheran when the Bucs trailed by double digits in the fourth quarters of both games. Whitworth surpassed 50 points four times last season and set a school record for scoring average (45.9 points per game). The Pirates also set school records for passing yards (3,944) and total yards (5,262) in one year. Whitworth's only other loss came to nationally-ranked Linfield by a score of 45-31.
Preseason rankings: Whitworth was listed third among "others receiving votes" in the D3football.com preseason poll.
NWC Poll: Whitworth finished second in the NWC coaches poll with 42 points and one first place vote (coaches are not allowed to vote for their own school). Eight-time defending champion Linfield finished first in the poll with seven first place votes and 56 points. George Fox was third with 37 points. Link to NWC Football Coaches Poll.
On the Air Again: Whitworth's games will 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 23 years. Bud Nameck, familiar to listeners in Spokane as the host of the KXLY 920am Morning News, is in his second season as the voice of the Pirates in 2017. 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: the Homecoming game against Central College (Oct. 7), and the October 21 game against Puget Sound. Sam Adams and Mike Peterson will provide play by play and color analysis. 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. Click here for a complete list of station numbers throughout the Eastern Washington/North Idaho region.
The Head Coach: Rod Sandberg has had a huge impact on the Pirate program in his first three years as head coach, posting a 23-8 record and leading the Bucs to the NCAA playoffs in year number two. He had 28 players earn All-Northwest Conference recognition in 2015 and 2016. 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 Dutch: Central College, located in Pella, Iowa, is a member of the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletics Conference. The college is affiliated with the Reformed Church in America (RCA). The Central sports teams were once known as the Flying Dutchmen, but the mascot was later changed to the gender-neutral Dutch. Pella, Iowa was founded by Dutch settlers in 1847 and the college was founded shortly thereafter (1853).
Head coach Jeff McMartin, a Central graduate (`90), is 102-35 in 13 years leading the Dutch football team.
Central, a traditional power in the Division III football ranks with 20 playoff appearances, is coming off of an 8-2 season and a second place finish in the IIAC with a 6-2 mark. The Dutch return six starters on offense and five on defense. Central features a balanced offensive attack that averaged 39.7 points and 535.3 yards per game in 2016. The Dutch defense allowed 25.9 points per contest 441.5 yards per game.
Nate Boland, a junior, is the new starting QB. He saw some action in 2016 and completed 64.2% of his passes for 592 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Kohle Helle (Sr.) is a starting WR who can also slide over to take snaps. Pirate fans will bitterly remember it was Helle who sprinted for the winning two-point conversion in last season's 50-49 shootout. Whomever lines up behind center will have a huge weapon in senior WR Sam Markham. He has 174 pass receptions for 2195 yards with 19 touchdowns over the last two seasons, twice earning first team All-IIAC honors. He set the NCAA Division III record for receptions per game (10.5) last season, becoming a D3football.com All-American. The defense is led by senior inside linebacker Sam Norgaard, who led the team in tackles last season with 91 stops, earning second team All-IIAC recognition.
The Series: Central is the Pirates' first opponent ever from the IIAC and the Dutch lead the series 1-0.
Last Year: 2016's 50-49 overtime loss to Central was heartbreaking, frustrating, and exhilarating all in one. Fans were treated to a well-played contest that featured nearly 1,200 yards of total offense and more than 200 combined plays from scrimmage, yet only one turnover (on a punt) and only ten total penalties. The visiting Dutch pulled off the upset in overtime by barely converting a two-point conversion on a close play at the corner of the endzone.
The Pirate offense was productive for most of the afternoon. Ian Kolste established new career highs (to that point) for completions (40), pass attempts (58) and passing yards (474). He threw three touchdowns and no interceptions and ran for a score. Duke DeGaetano ran for 74 yards (4.2 ypc.) and two touchdowns. He also caught a career-high 12 passes for 59 yards. Garrett McKay had six receptions for 163 yards, including an 83-yard TD. Kevin Thomas and Nick Kiourkas also caught touchdown passes. The offensive line was solid, allowing only two sacks and no tackles for loss on called running plays. The only other plays that went for negative yardage were a mishandled snap on a punt and a kneel down at the end of the first half. Yet the offense also had a chance to secure a win in regulation, but the final two possessions gained no points and only one first down.
The Whitworth defense struggled against the Central offense, allowing 602 total yards. Two Dutch QBs combined to complete 38 of 56 passes for 406 yards with five touchdowns, including Boland who was 17 of 21 for 149 yards and two scores. Central also picked up 196 net rushing yards and two running TDs. Donny Groezinger rank for 117 of those yards with one touchdown. Whitworth was unable to come up with a single turnover in the game. Cornerback Taylor Roelofs had six tackles and broke up three passes.
Whitworth's special teams also had mixed results. Rehn Reiley made both of his field goal attempts and all five of his PATs. He also averaged 42.2 yards on four punts, and 63.4 yards per kickoff with two touchbacks. However, Central averaged 23.5 yards per kickoff return, while the Pirates averaged only 13.3 yards per return on kickoffs and only 2.0 yards per punt return.
Coming up next: Whitworth will host Whittier (Calif.) in its home opener on Saturday, Sept. 9th. It will mark the first game on the new FieldTurf surface and there will be a brief ceremony prior to kickoff. The game will begin at 11:00 am to accommodate Whittier's travel plans back to California.