Whitworth University will host 11th-ranked Linfield College on Saturday in the Pine Bowl in the Northwest Conference opener for both 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 12:45 am (PDT).
Whitworth (2-0) is coming off a 31-28 win over Chapman while the Wildcats defeated visiting Redlands 13-0 to improve to 1-1. Both games were on September 15th and each is coming off of a bye.
Live Links for Saturday's game:
Whitworth (2-0, 0-0 NWC)
Linfield (1-1, 0-0 NWC)
Saturday - Sept. 29
The Pirates: Whitworth built a 24-7 lead in the third quarter, but had to hold off a spirited Chapman comeback for a 31-28 win over the Panthers that gave the Bucs their seventh win in the ten-game series on September 15th in the Pine Bowl. Chapman finished with an advantage in most statistical categories, including total offense (520 – 424) and time of possession (34:15 – 25:45). However, Whitworth finished with a 4-1 advantage in turnovers, intercepting Panther QB Ian Fieber four times.
The interceptions proved crucial to the Pirates' victory. Shai Pulawa and Jaylen Gonzales had two apiece and each had one in the fourth quarter in Whitworth territory to turn away Chapman scoring opportunities. Chad Wilburg finished with two sacks and three total tackles for loss (-16 yards) as the Bucs reached double figures in tackles for loss for the second straight contest. Jayden Jira had 16 tackles in the game, while Zach Hillman had ten stops.
Leif Ericksen completed 26 of 42 passes for 324 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also ran for a touchdown in his best statistical game as a Pirate. Garrett McKay caught seven of the passes for 132 yards, establishing 2018 season-highs in both categories. Taylor Kolste had five grabs for 49 yards in the first half before leaving with an injury. Mason Elms ran for 73 yards on 13 carries. His 46-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter gave Whitworth some breathing room. Back up QB Connor Johnson ran 16 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter on fourth and one.
Kevin Ramsey mad his only field goal attempt and all four of his extra points. He also averaged 33.2 yards per punt. Cody McDonald averaged 63 yards per kick off, including one touchback. Brett Moser averaged 22.7 yards on three kickoff returns.
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.
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 will be selected on a week-by-week basis. The 2018 special teams captains have been:
Sept. 1 – Andrew Knox
Sept. 15 – Taylor Hall
Defensive Leaders: Early on in the 2018 football schedule, Whitworth has a pair of players making a significant statistical mark on defense. Shai Pulawa currently leads the Northwest Conference with three interceptions. Chad Wilburg is second in the NWC with 5.5 tackles for loss (-21 yards).
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 runs. 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.
Great Hands Garrett: Garrett McKay comes into the season as one of the most prolific pass-catchers in Whitworth history. The two-time first team All-Northwest Conference honoree has caught 195 passes for 2,303 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 had caught at least one pass in 32 straight games until the 2017 season finale.
National rankings: Whitworth is listed among "others receiving votes" with six points in the current (Sept. 9) D3football.com poll. The Pirates are also listed among "others receiving votes" in the AFCA Division III poll with 21 points.
NWC Poll: Whitworth finished third in the NWC coaches poll with 39 points behind Linfield (49) and George Fox (40). Linfield, aiming for a tenth straight title, picked up seven of eight first place votes. Whitworth received the only other first place vote.
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 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 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: the Homecoming game against Pacific Lutheran (Oct. 13), 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 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 Wildcats: Linfield College comes into Saturday's game looking to begin defense of a Northwest Conference title the team has claimed nine years in a row. The Wildcats have 41 league titles overall. Linfield also holds the all-time college football record (regardless of division or affiliation) for consecutive winning seasons with 62 and counting. Last year the Wildcats finished 9-2 and fell to eventual NCAA Division III runner-up Mary Hardin-Baylor in the second round of the playoffs. So far in 2018 Linfield is 1-1 after suffering a 21-14 loss at NAIA power Carroll (Mont.) on September 8th and a 13-0 win over Redlands on September 15th.
Despite heavy losses to graduation on the defensive side of the ball following 2017, the Wildcats have the NWC's best statistical defense so far in 2018. The Wildcats lead the league in yards allowed per game (251.5) and they have allowed only 10.5 points per contest. Senior SS Duke Mackle, a second team All-NWC honoree in 2017, is the lone returning starter on defense and he has 15 tackles and two interceptions so far this season. Sophomore defensive end Travis Swanson has 4.5 tackles for loss (-19 yards).
Linfield is averaging 360.5 yards and 13.5 points per game on offense. Sophomore QB Wyatt Smith has completed 53.7% of his passes for 525 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions. Senior WR JD Lasswell, a first team All-NWC honoree in 2017, has been banged up but should be at full strength against Whitworth. Junior RB Chidubem Nnoli, another 2017 first teamer, has averaged 89 yards on the ground this season.
Linfield's defense dominated Redlands in the 13-0 victory on September 15th in Oregon. The Wildcats held the Bulldogs to 199 total yards while the offense finished with 339 yards. Mackle led the defensive effort with six tackles and an interception. Smith completed 19 of 28 passes for 246 yards with two interceptions and a touchdown. Nnoli ran for 99 yards.
The Series: Linfield College leads the overall series 37-5-2 and the Wildcats have won the last 11 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 Meeting: Whitworth could not overcome its own mistakes in a 38-9 loss at Linfield last season. The Pirate offense committed five turnovers and had two interceptions returned for touchdowns. The defense gave up several big plays, including TD passes of 63 and 37 yards, and a 55-yard run.
The Whitworth offense was able to move the ball effectively between the 20s, finishing with 365 yards of total offense and 25 first downs. However, the Bucs turned the ball over five times and were sacked three times. Mackle returned an interception 56 yards for a touchdown less than two minutes into the game to give Linfield a quick lead. Another interception deep in Pirate territory was taken back six yards for a score. Two other Whitworth turnovers occurred deep in the Wildcats' half of the field, preventing TD opportunities. Garrett McKay caught seven passes for 65 yards, while Mason Elms and Tariq Ellis combined for 69 rushing yards on 11 carries.
Linfield gained 379 yards of offense against the Whitworth defense. Over half of those yards came on just four plays, which the Wildcats took advantage of to score two touchdowns and kick two field goals. Lasswell had two long touchdown receptions and Nnoli ran for 137 yards. Chad Wilburg had seven solo tackles for the Pirates, including three for losses of 17 yards. One of those was a sack. Shai Pulawa added six tackles and picked off a pass. Kale Wong also had six tackles.
Coming up next: Whitworth will play its first road game of the 2018 season when the Pirates travel to Newberg, Oregon to take on George Fox University on Saturday, October 6th. The game will begin at 1:30 pm.