The undefeated Whitworth University football team will put its perfect record on the line against one of the Northwest Conference's top defenses on Saturday. The 14th/18th-ranked Pirates take on Pacific University of Oregon in a game that has huge conference title implications. The game will be televised locally on SWX and 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 (6-0, 4-0 NWC) is coming off a 47-13 victory at the University of Puget Sound. Pacific (4-3, 3-1 NWC) dominated the second half of a 54-22 win over visiting Lewis & Clark.
Live Links for Saturday's game:
Whitworth (6-0, 4-0 NWC)
Pacific (4-3, 3-1 NWC)
Saturday - Oct. 27
The Pirates: Whitworth got off to a quick start in its 47-13 win at Puget Sound last Saturday, scoring on three straight possessions in the opening quarter to take a 21-6 lead. The Pirates steadily pulled away while holding the Loggers' vaunted offense to its lowest scoring output of the season. Whitworth outgained UPS 556-338, including a 276-48 advantage in rushing yards. The Pirates took the ball away five times with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries and sacked UPS quarterbacks six times.
Leif Ericksen completed a season-low percentage of passes (13-29), but he averaged 20 yards per completion, which was a season-high. He threw three touchdown passes: 32 yards to Bryce Powers, five yards to Anthony Ruiz and 48 yards to Nick McGill. He also had a 54-yard completion to Noah Alejado. Mason Elms ran for a season-high 167 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 9.3 yards per carry. Garrett McKay caught three passes for 30 yards.
The NWC selected Chad Wilburg as its Defensive Player of the Week. He finished with five solo tackles, three of which went for loss. He had two of the Bucs' six sacks for 20 yards in losses. One sack forced a fumble, which was recovered by Whitworth. Wilburg also broke up two passes at the line of scrimmage. Jaylen Gonzales led the team with eight tackles and he returned a fumble 49 yards to midfield to set up the Bucs' first touchdown. Kale Wong, who had six stops, forced that fumble and was in on two sacks. Jayden Jira returned an interception 39 yards from deep in Whitworth territory late in the first half, killing a Puget Sound scoring opportunity and setting up a field goal that gave the Pirates a 31-6 halftime lead. Ian Black (six tackles) and Colten Chelin had the other two interceptions.
Cody McDonald made two of his three field goal attempts. He was good from 34 and 24 yards. His effort from 42 yards was blocked. He had one PAT blocked, but connected on five others. He also averaged 61 yards per kickoff with two touchbacks.
Going Streaking: Whitworth's 6-0 start matches the Pirates' hot start from 2015, when the team also started 6-0 before a loss at Linfield. The Bucs finished that regular season 9-1. If Whitworth can defeat Pacific on Saturday, the Pirates will be 7-0 for the first time since the team went 10-0 during the 2006 regular season. Counting the final five games from 2017, Whitworth has won 11 games in a row, the longest winning streak since finishing 2005 with a win at PLU and starting 2006 with 11 straight victories before a loss to St. John's (Minn.) in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs. The school record for consecutive victories is 20, from the end of the last game of the 1952 season until the third game of 1955. The Pirates finished undefeated in 1954 (8-0) and 1955 (9-0).
National rankings: Whitworth moved up in both NCAA Division III polls this week. The Pirates are 14th, up from 18th, in the D3football.com top-25 poll. They are 18th (up from 21st) in the AFCA Division III Coaches Poll.
Swarming Defense: Whitworth leads the NWC and ranks second in all of NCAA Division III in team tackles for loss this season. The Pirates are averaging 11.2 tackles for loss per game. They had eight tackles for 42 yards in losses in the win over Puget Sound. Chad Wilburg leads the Pirates, and ranks second in the NWC in sacks, with 8.0 for 56 yards. He is also third in the NWC with 12.5 tackles for loss (-65 yards). Colten Chelin and Shai Pulawa are 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 27 of the 32 times they have entered the red zone this season (84%). They have scored touchdowns 20 of those times (63%). On two occasions into the Red Zone, Whitworth was running out the clock and voluntarily downed the ball. Opponents have scored against Whitworth only seven of the 16 times they have entered the red zone (43.8%), which leads the conference and ranks fifth 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 42.3% of its offensive third downs this season. Pirate opponents have converted only 27.7% of their third downs into first downs, which ranks as the 18th-best percentage in Division III.
Value the Ball: One primary reason Whitworth has outscored its last three opponents by a combined total of 140-40 is the Pirates have valued the football. In those three games, Whitworth has not given up a single turnover. Nor have the Bucs allowed a single sack. Over the same three games, Whitworth has taken the ball away ten times and sacked opposing QBs 14 times (82 yards).
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 140.0 all-purpose yards per game and 99.3 receiving yards per game. He is also averaging 10.8 yards per punt return. He has 47 pass receptions for 596 yards in 2018. He is second in the NWC in receptions per game (7.8).
McKay is one of the most prolific pass-catchers in Whitworth history. The two-time first team All-Northwest Conference honoree has caught 229 passes for 2,693 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 38 of the 39 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. Pacific (Ore.) knocked off Cal Lutheran at home, 21-16.
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
Oct. 20 – TJ Jensen
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 is carrying two of Whitworth's games this season, including this week's game against Pacific (Ore.). SWX previous aired the October 13th Homecoming game against Pacific Lutheran. 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 Boxers: Besides Whitworth, Pacific University is the only other school in the Northwest Conference that still controls its own destiny to at least a share of the league title and the corresponding automatic berth to the NCAA playoffs. The Boxers are 4-3 overall and 3-1 in the NWC. Keith Buckley is in his ninth season, the only coach the Boxers have had since resurrecting the program in 2010. He is 35-46, including an NWC co-title in 2014. After a 4-23 start in the first three seasons, Pacific is 31-23 since 2013 under Buckley.
Pacific comes into Saturday riding a two-game winning streak. The Boxers are averaging 289.6 yards and 22.3 points per game this season. On defense, they are allowing 336.1 yards and 22.9 points per contest. Pacific's defense has had plenty of big plays in 2018. The Boxers lead the league in takeaways (18), fumbles recovered (13), sacks (32) and sacks per game (4.4 – 3rd in NCAA Division III). Senior DB Cole Thomas leads the defense with 57 tackles. He also has two fumble recoveries and an interception. Senior lineman Tristen Smith leads the NWC in tackles for loss with 16.5 (73 yards) and has seven sacks (48 yards). On offense, senior QB JT Greenough has completed 52.6% of his throws for 1,497 yards with ten touchdowns and four interceptions. Junior WR Kobe Williams, already a two-time first team All-NWC honoree in his career, has 24 receptions for 282 yards. Senior WR Ty Hergis leads the team with 53 catches for 485 yards and three TDs. Freshman WR Hayden Van Almen only has 14 receptions in 2018, but four of those have been touchdowns.
Pacific outscored visiting Lewis & Clark 34-7 in the second half of last week's 54-22 victory over the Pioneers. The Boxers finished with a 443-324 edge in total offense, including a 147-23 advantage on the ground. Greenough is the NWC's Offensive Player of the Week after he completed 16 of 33 passes for 296 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Van Almen caught seven of the passes for 172 yards and two TDs. Kevin McGee ran for two touchdowns. Thomas led the Boxers with ten tackles and two pass break ups. Smith had six tackles, including two sacks, and a forced fumble.
The Series: Whitworth leads the all-time series 22-4-1. The teams first met in 1910 with Pacific earning a 21-0 victory. The Pirates and Boxers would not meet again until 1967 when Whitworth won 21-0. The teams played every year between 1973 and 1984. The series resumed from 1987 - 1991. Then Pacific dropped its program and did not field a varsity team from 1992 through 2009, coming back in 2010. Whitworth's largest margin of victory was 45-0 in 1976. The Boxers' largest win came in that initial meeting between the schools. Pacific won two in a row in 2013 and 2014 and Whitworth has won the last three.
Last Meeting: The Pirates used a key ten-point swing in the third quarter to build a 30-13 lead and hung on for a 30-20 road victory over Pacific last season.
Special teams played a huge role in the contest. Garrett McKay broke a school record when he returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, giving Whitworth a 17-6 lead. The defense on special teams prevented a score when the Boxer's field goal attempt near the end of the third quarter was thwarted by a bad snap and the ensuing desperation pass was stopped for an eight-yard loss. Two plays later Mason Elms ran 87 yards for a score – the ten-point swing – that gave Whitworth the 30-13 lead.
Elms had a huge day, finishing with 174 yards rushing on 16 carries, averaging 10.9 yards per attempt. He broke free for touchdown runs of 45 and 87 yards to lead a Whitworth ground game that finished with 216 yards on 28 carries. Tariq Ellis ran for 36 yards on five attempts.
The Whitworth defense did enough to keep the lead throughout the game, even though Pacific finished with a slight edge in total offense (453-449) and ran for 291 yards. Shai Pulawa and Kale Wong made eight stops each, with Pulawa forcing and recovering a fumble in the first half that prevented a Pacific scoring opportunity. Zach Hillman intercepted a pass in the third quarter that led to a Whitworth field goal. Chad Wilburg was credited with a sack and made a fourth-down tackle for no gain at the Whitworth 40 yard line in the first quarter.
Greenough completed 14 of 28 passes for 170 yards with one touchdown. Brandon Boyd, a first team All-NWC honoree who has graduated, ran for 157 yards on 21 attempts. Smith had five solo tackles, including three for losses of four yards.
Coming up next: Whitworth will host Lewis & Clark College next Saturday in the final home game of the 2018 season. The game will start at 1:00 pm.