Whitworth University heads to McMinnville, Oregon on Saturday for a Northwest Conference football game against Linfield College. Kick off for the match-up of teams ranked among the NCAA Division III top-25 is scheduled for 1:30 pm. Both teams are coming off of a bye week and it is the conference opener for both as well. The game will be heard in Spokane on KSBN 1230am and on the world wide web at KSBN.net. The radio broadcast will begin at 1:15 pm.
The #14/#19 Pirates (3-0) earned a 53-0 win over La Verne on September 16th in their most recent game. The #8/#14 Wildcats (1-1) are celebrating Homecoming on Saturday and have been picked to win their ninth straight Northwest Conference title.
Live Links for Saturday's game:
Whitworth (3-0, 0-0 NWC)
Linfield (1-1, 0-0 NWC)
Saturday - Sept. 30
The Pirates: Whitworth earned a third straight runaway victory in 2017 with the 53-0 win over La Verne on September 16th in the Pine Bowl. The Pirates jumped out to a 43-0 lead at halftime and cruised to victory in the second half. Whitworth finished with a 587-224 advantage in total offense and a 31-10 lead in first downs.
Ian Kolste was the NWC's Offensive Player of the Week despite the fact that he only played two quarters of the game. He completed 29 of 36 passes (80.5%) for 302 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. Leif Ericksen played well in his third straight game with extended backup minutes at QB. He completed 7 of 11 passes for 28 yards and a touchdown. Garrett McKay, Michael McKeown and Kevin Thomas all caught six passes. McKay had two touchdown receptions while Thomas had one and Nick Kiourkas had one. Chase Takaki also had a touchdown reception. Whitworth ran for a season-high 244 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry. Tariq Ellis broke free for a 72-yard touchdown run. Mason Elms also ran for a TD.
The Pirates went deep into the bench at several positions on defense, yet still maintained the shutout. Patch Kulp was all over the field in the first half and finished with ten tackles. Backup defenders Iain Black, Thomas Wilkie and Weston Kroes played extensively in the second half and combined for 16 tackles, including four for losses of ten yards. Jarin Manuel had a big game in the secondary, picking off a pair of passes to go along with two tackles. The Whitworth defense limited the Leopards to only 3 of 17 third down conversions.
Special teams played well again. Rehn Reiley went 6-6 on extra points and he is now 17 of 17 this season. He had four more touchbacks on kickoffs and averaged 44.5 yards on two punts. Whitworth only fielded one kickoff, the opening kick of the game, and Takaki returned it 36 yards. Meanwhile the Pirates limited La Verne to an average of 19.2 yards per returnable kickoff return. Kevin Ramsay kicked his first career field goal in the fourth quarter.
Click here for a photo album of the La Verne game provided by Richard Thomas.
Panama '18: The Whitworth football team will go to Panama in May of 2018. The trip will include a game against the Panama national football team, a service project in the rainforest, and several sightseeing opportunities including the Panama Canal. The NCAA allows teams to make an international trip in the off-season once every four years. Click here for more information.
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. The 2017 Special Teams captains have been:
Sept. 2 – John-Robert Woolley
Sept. 9 – Casey Bond
Sept. 16 – Kevin Thomas
Gunslinger: QB Ian Kolste has broken several career records at Whitworth. In the first half against La Verne he surpassed Joel Clark's career records for passing yards (8,513) and touchdown passes (71). Kolste has passed for 8,669 yards and 72 touchdowns as a Pirate. Kolste also holds the Pirates' career record for completions (800) and total passes (1,192). Kolste is also within range of Clark's career record for total offense (9,656). Kolste has 9,006 total yards through the third game of 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 34 games of his Pirate career to this point. The senior corner back has been a stalwart for the Whitworth defense. He has 135 tackles, seven interceptions and 36 passes defended over his three-plus seasons. Roelofs has been named second team All-Northwest Conference twice, as a sophomore and junior.
Going Streaking: Senior Nick Kiourkas has caught a pass in 34 straight games. He has caught at least one pass in every game of his Pirate career dating back to 2014, a remarkable streak of ability and consistency. Similarly, redshirt junior Garrett McKay has at least one catch in every game of his Whitworth career, which is 26 straight games and also dates back to the first game of 2014. McKay was injured in the second game of the 2014 season and was granted a medical hardship waiver by the NCAA.
Redzone Efficiency: The Pirates have converted 20 of their 23 trips (87%) to the redzone in 2017. Seventeen of those 23 trips (74%) inside the opponents' 20 yard line have ended up in Whitworth touchdowns. Those numbers have helped the Pirates average 52.7 points per game in 2017, which currently leads the NWC and ranks fourth in NCAA DIII.
Staying on the Field: In three games Whitworth has converted 57.8% (26-45) of its third downs into first downs, keeping the offense on the field. The percentage ranks first in the NWC and third in NCAA Division III. Meanwhile the Pirate defense has allowed opponents to convert only 18.8% (9/48) of their third downs, which currently ranks 4th in Division III.
Spreading the Wealth: Whitworth has a deep and capable receiving corps once again in 2017. Sixteen different Pirates have caught at least one pass so far this season, and 13 players have three catches or more. Nine different Pirates have caught a touchdown this season. Kevin Thomas currently has the team lead with 18 receptions and 232 yards. Both Thomas and Garrett McKay have three TD catches each.
Looking Back at 2016: Whitworth bounced back from a season-opening 50-49 overtime loss 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.
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 are once again 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 George Fox (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 Wildcats: Linfield College has been the standard-bearer for the Northwest Conference in football for the better part of a decade, and going back even further. The Wildcats have won eight NWC crowns in a row, going 47-1 against league opponents that stretch. They have 40 league titles overall. Linfield holds the all-time college football record (regardless of division or affiliation) for consecutive winning seasons with 61 and counting. Last year the Wildcats finished 9-2 and fell to eventual NCAA Division III champion Mary Hardin-Baylor in the second round of the playoffs.
Linfield was hit hard by graduation in 2017, especially on offense. The Wildcats return three starters, all on the offensive line. All-American QB Sam Riddle, along with all of a talented group of starting receivers and running backs graduated. The Wildcats bring back six starters on the defensive side of the ball, all along the front seven. Linfield opened the season with a 27-12 win at Chapman (Calif.), then fell at home to #1-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor 24-3 on September 16th.
The Wildcats average 268.5 yards per game so far in 2017, 125.5 on the ground and 143.0 through the air. Junior Troy Fowler has taken the majority of snaps at QB and has completed 63.4% of his throws for 269 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Junior J.D. Lasswell has caught both of the touchdowns. Freshman running back Dawson Ruhl leads the team in rushing yards (118) and in receiving (10 catches for 51 yards).
Linfield's opponents have averaged 297.0 yards per game, 134.5 rushing and 162.5 passing. Senior LB Jason Farlow was a first team All-NWC honoree in 2016 and he leads the Wildcats in tackles in 2017 with 14 (10 solo). Fellow senior LB Jake Reimer was also first team All-NWC in 2016, while senior Mitchell Kekel has 13 tackles and two pass deflections this season. That trio forms one of the best sets of linebackers in all of NCAA Division III.
The Series: Linfield leads the overall series 36-5-2 and the Wildcats have won the last ten games. The first meeting was a 13-13 tie in 1952. Linfield's largest margin of victory was 61-0 in 1966, while Whitworth's largest win was 41-13 in 1954. The Wildcats once had a 14 game winning streak in the series. Whitworth's last win against the Wildcats was a 10-6 victory in Spokane in 2007 and the Pirates' last win in McMinnville came in 2006 (17-13).
Last Year: In last season's 45-31 loss to Linfield, Whitworth fell behind 21-3 and trailed 28-10 at halftime. The Wildcats eventually built a 45-17 lead before the Pirates scored twice in the fourth quarter to trim the final margin.
The two things that had gone so right for the Whitworth offense in 2016 were taken away by the Linfield defense. The Pirates came into the game converting better than 56% of their third down conversions, but were only 4 of 18 against the Wildcats. Whitworth also led the league in fewest tackles for loss allowed (3.6 per game), but Linfield finished the game with 13 tackles for loss, including five sacks for 45 yards. Ian Kolste completed 25 of 48 passes for 293 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Nick Kiourkas caught five passes for 86 yards and both touchdowns. Garrett McKay also caught five passes for 74 yards and Kevin Thomas had four grabs for 61 yards.
The Pirate defense struggled to limit Linfield's big plays. The Wildcats converted several second or third down and long plays and finished with 664 yards of total offense. Linfield QB Sam Riddle threw five touchdown passes and ran for another. John-Robert Woolley led the Bucs with nine tackles and added a pass breakup. Dalin McDonnell, now a Whitworth assistant coach, finished with eight tackles, including an 11-yard sack, and recovered a fumble.
Rehn Reiley handled all the kicking duties against Linfield. He made a 41-yard field goal on the Pirates' opening possession, which was set-up by Jordan Pride's 62-yard kickoff return. Reiley also made all four of his PATs and averaged 63.2 yards per kickoff with two touchbacks. He also punted nine times for an average of 38.9 yards.
Coming up next: Whitworth will host George Fox University on October 7th in the Pine Bowl. That is Homecoming weekend for the Pirates and the school will celebrate the induction of the class of 2017 class into the Heritage Gallery Hall of Fame. The game will begin at 1:00 pm.