The Whitworth University football team will face many challenges when the #22/#24 Pirates take on George Fox University in Newberg on Saturday. It is Whitworth's first road game of the season. It is the Bruins' Homecoming game. And the Bucs are facing a team with the best defensive and rushing statistics in the NWC. The game will be heard live in Spokane on KSBN 1230am and on the internet at KSBN.net. The radio broadcast will begin at 1:15 pm (PDT).
Whitworth (3-0, 1-0 NWC) is coming off a 19-14 victory over previously 11th-ranked Linfield last Saturday. George Fox (2-2, 0-1) opened NWC play with a 19-13 overtime loss at Pacific (Ore.).
Live Links for Saturday's game:
Whitworth (3-0, 1-0 NWC)
George Fox (2-2, 0-1 NWC)
Saturday - Oct. 6
The Pirates: Whitworth scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to defeat visiting Linfield 19-14 on Saturday. The Pirates earned their first win over the Wildcats since 2007 and ended Linfield's 23-game NWC winning streak. Whitworth overcame a 3-1 deficit in turnovers by holding the visitors to a net of three rushing yards.
Several Pirates stepped up big on defense. Jaylen Gonzales, Jayden Jira and Iain Black all had seven tackles apiece. The Bucs had four sacks for -41 yards. Black, Charlie Ball and Jack McLeod all had an important sack, while Andrew McCoy and Chad Wilburg shared another. Black led the team with 2.5 tackles for loss (-17 yards). Kale Wong forced a fumble that Wilburg recovered immediately after Linfield had intercepted a pass near midfield in the third quarter. The defense was especially tough in the second half, when the Pirates held the Wildcats without a first down on six of their eight possessions. Linfield managed a total of 73 yards after halftime.
After squandering some good scoring opportunities in the first half, Whitworth scored on three straight possessions in the third quarter to take a 19-7 lead. Leif Ericksen, who completed 23 of 35 passes for 241 yards, ran 22 yards for a TD to get the Bucs on the board. He then hit Garrett McKay with a 31-yard TD pass. Mason Elms scored the final TD with a one-yard run. McKay finished with 240 all-purpose yards. He caught 12 passes for 122 yards and added 118 yards in punt and kickoff returns. Tariq Ellis and Mason Elms combined to rush for 96 yards on 19 carries. Elms added three receptions for 24 yards.
National rankings: Whitworth made its 2018 debut in both NCAA Division III polls this week. The Pirates are 22nd in the D3football.com top-25 poll and 24th in the AFCA Division III Coaches Poll. The last time Whitworth was ranked in both polls was September 18th of last season, just before a 38-9 loss at Linfield.
Coaching Connections: There are strong connections between Whitworth and the coaching staff at George Fox, beginning with head coach Chris Casey. Casey was the Pirates' defensive coordinator for ten seasons (1994 – 2003) under previous head coach John Tully before he turned Aloha HS into an Oregon 6A powerhouse. Tully is now in his fourth season as the Bruins' quarterbacks coach. Defensive Coordinator John Bates was an all-star safety and linebacker at Whitworth and began his coaching career with the Pirates following graduation in 2000. Special Teams Coordinator Ian Sanders was an All-NWC defensive back for the Pirates in 1999 and 2000. Nic Brockhoff and Michael Plueard are both former Pirate players who are now assistant coaches at GFU.
Mr. McKay: Garrett McKay is concluding his Pirate career in a big way. He leads the NWC in all-purpose yards and punt return average this season. He ranks among NWC leaders in receptions and receiving yards. McKay is averaging 170.3 all-purpose yards per game and 13.3 yards per punt return. He has 25 pass receptions for 328 yards in 2018. He is fourth in the NWC in receptions per game (8.3) and second in receiving yards per game (109.3).
McKay is one of the most prolific pass-catchers in Whitworth history. The two-time first team All-Northwest Conference honoree has caught 207 passes for 2,425 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 35 of the 36 games he has played as a Pirate.
Swarming Defense: Whitworth leads all of NCAA Division III in team tackles for loss this season. The Pirates are averaging 12.3 tackles for loss per game. They had 11 tackles for 69 yards in losses in the win over Linfield. Chad Wilburg leads the Pirates, and ranks fourth in the NWC, with six tackles for loss (-27 yards) this season. Shai Pulawa is tied for the lead in the NWC with three interceptions.
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. George Fox rolled past Pomona-Pitzer 40-6 on the road.
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
Sept. 29 – Kyle Ditter
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.
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 Bruins: George Fox University comes into the 2018 season as a legitimate threat to win the NWC title after the Bruins finished 7-3 and tied Whitworth for second place in the league standings in 2017, only its fourth season since restarting the program in 2014 under Chris Casey (19-23). George Fox (2-2) is outscoring opponents by an average of 25-12 as the Bruins defeated Howard Payne and Pomona-Pitzer by a combined margin of 75-9. They lead the league in rushing (192.3 ypg) and rushing touchdowns (10). On defense, they lead the league in points per game allowed and total defense (262.3). They have a league-best nine interceptions, two of which they have returned for touchdowns.
After losing their starting QB to injury in the season-opener, the Bruins have shuffled three other players in the next three games. Freshman Jaden Sheffey has seemed to emerge as the primary QB, thanks to his excellent running ability. He is second in the NWC in rushing average (86 ypg) and in rushing TDs (4). He has completed 54.5% of his passes for 235 yards with one TD. Despite playing four different players at QB, George Fox has not thrown an interception this season. Like Sheffey, junior RB Wesley Riddell has also run for four touchdowns. Senior LB Charles Riga is a multiple-time All-NWC honoree. He has 31 tackles, including two sacks, and an interception in 2018. Junior LB Austin Shadbolt has three sacks this year. Senior DE Caleb Dalzell was an All-American in 2017, but he is battling injuries this season.
George Fox fell 19-13 in overtime at Pacific (Ore.) in the NWC opener for both teams last Saturday. The Bruins led 13-3 in the third quarter before the Boxers returned a fumble for a touchdown and kicked a tying field goal in the final minute of regulation. Sheffey completed 5 of 12 passes for 66 yards and also ran for 47 yards and a score. Riddell ran for 73 yards and a touchdown. Shadbolt finished with 11 tackles and two sacks.
The Series: Saturday's game is the fifth meeting between the two schools and Whitworth leads the series 3-1. The Bruins picked up their first win of the series in 2017. Saturday's game will be only the second played at GFU's Stoffer Family Stadium. Whitworth won the first match up in Newberg 28-23 in 2016.
Last Meeting: A slow start doomed the Pirates in a 43-23 loss to George Fox during Homecoming Weekend last year in the Pine Bowl. The Bruins took a 20-0 lead into halftime and withstood Whitworth's efforts in the second half.
The Whitworth offense was limited to 359 yards, 240 through the air and 119 on the ground. Ian Kolste left the game with an injury in the third quarter. Leif Ericksen came on to complete 7 of 13 passes for 78 yards with a touchdown, while Garrett McKay caught ten passes for 85 yards. Mason Elms had a solid day running the ball, finishing with 64 yards on ten carries with one touchdown.
George Fox rolled up 553 yards of offense on the Pirate defense. The Bruins threw for 261 yards and ran for 292, mostly behind QB Grant Schroeder. George Fox finished with 25 first downs and held the ball for over 37 minutes of possession. Shai Pulawa had 11 stops and Chad Wilburg had 10 tackles and blocked a field goal. Zach Hillman had a nine yard sack that stopped George Fox's first possession.
Coming up next: Whitworth will host Pacific Lutheran during Homecoming and Hall of Fame weekend on October 13th. The game will begin at 1:00 pm.