The NCAA Division III football playoffs are returning to the Whitworth Pine Bowl for the first time in a dozen years. Whitworth will host Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Saturday at noon in a first round playoff game. The game can be heard live in Spokane on KSBN 1230am and on the internet at KSBN.net. The radio broadcast will begin at 11:45 am (PDT).
Whitworth (9-0, 7-0 NWC) enters the game as the champions of the Northwest Conference. The Pirates defeated Willamette 52-0 in the regular season finale. CMS (7-3, 6-1 SCIAC) earned its first Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference automatic bid this fall. The Stags lost 24-19 to Pomona-Pitzer in a meaningless game in their final regular season contest.
Live Links for Saturday's game:
Whitworth (9-0, 7-0 NWC)
CMS (7-3, 6-1 SCIAC)
Saturday - Nov. 17
Tickets: Admission prices for Saturday's game are $10 for adults, $5 for students and senior adults. Seating is general admission and tickets will be available at the gate (no advanced sales). A block of tickets are reserved for CMS fans/parents. Gates will open at 10:00 am.
NCAA Playoff Info: The NCAA Division III football playoffs consist of a 32-team field. The championship game, known as the Stagg Bowl, will be played at 7:00 pm (CST) on Friday, December 14th in Shenandoah, Texas. All games up to final are played on campus and will start at noon local time. Click here for an interactive online bracket.
Playoff History: Whitworth last appeared in the NCAA DIII playoffs in 2015 as an at-large participant. The Pirates lost 48-10 at 2nd-ranked Linfield in the first round.
In 2006 the Pirates finished the regular season 10-0 and defeated an unbeaten Occidental squad 27-23 in the first round of the tournament in the Pine Bowl. The Pirates fell to St. John's (Minn.) 21-3 in the second round, also played in the Pine Bowl.
Whitworth's first NCAA playoff appearance came in 2001 when the Pirates lost at home to Pacific Lutheran 27-26 in overtime in the first round.
The Bucs had one NAIA playoff appearance, falling 13-7 at Humboldt State in the semifinals in 1960.
The Pirates: Whitworth scored touchdowns on its first six possessions of the game on the way to a 52-0 road win at Willamette in the regular season finale. It is the Pirates' largest margin of victory in the series between the long-time opponents. Whitworth outgained the Bearcats 514-168, had a 26-11 advantage in first downs and finished with a 4-0 edge in turnovers. The Bucs converted 50% of their third downs into first downs (6-12) and held Willamette to 1 of 15 on third down.
Leif Ericksen completed 13 of 15 passes for 198 yards with two touchdown passes. He also ran for a touchdown and only played five minutes into the second quarter after Whitworth had opened a 42-0 lead. Connor Johnson returned from injury and played most of the rest of the game at QB. Johnson went 6 of 15 for 73 yards and ran for 31 yards on seven carries. Bryce Powers was the leading receiver with five catches for 87 yards and a score. Brett Moser caught the other touchdown. Taylor Hall and Garrett McKay each had three receptions and McKay broke Whitworth's record for career pass receptions.
The Pirate running game pounded out 226 yards and five touchdowns. Mason Elms carried seven times for 69 yards and two scores, including a 47-yard touchdown on the third play from scrimmage. Tariq Ellie ran seven times for 48 yards and a touchdown. Brad Mills established career highs in carries (11) and yards (48). Third string QB Cole Hinrichs scored his first career touchdown with a one-yard carry.
The Whitworth defense posted its first shutout since a 53-0 win over La Verne early in the 2017 season. The Pirates finished with 13 tackles for loss (-54 yards) and six sacks (-31 yards). The top 11 tacklers on defense were backups as Whitworth pulled the starters midway through the second quarter and the second and third stringers maintained the shutout. Weston Kroes had seven tackles, while Chase Wilcutt had two sacks among his six stops. He also forced a fumble. Braiden Ayala had his first career interception.
Cody McDonald kicked a 32-yard field goal in the second quarter, but barely missed a 49-yard effort in the third period. He averaged 42 yards per punt, including a career-high 60-yard effort in the second half. He went 6-6 on extra points. Kevin Ramsey made the other extra point.
All-NWC Honors: Whitworth was well represented on the 2018 All-Northwest Conference football team. Rod Sandberg and his staff are the 2018 Coaching Staff of the Year. Chad Wilburg is the Co-Defensive Player of the Year while Colten Chelin is the NWC Freshman of the Year.
Leif Ericksen (Jr., QB), Garrett McKay (Sr., WR), Tyler Adamson (Sr., OT) and Jacob Hubbard (Sr., OT) are on the first team offense. Kale Wong (Jr., LB) and Jaylen Gonzales (So., LB) join Wilburg (Sr., DB) on the first team defense. Mason Elms (Sr., RB), Andrew McCoy (Jr., DE) and P-Jay Solomon (Sr., DT) are on the second team. Tariq Ellis (Jr., RB), Anthony Ruiz (Jr., TE), Kurt Blackman (Jr., OG), Brayden Corona (So., KR), Ian Black (Jr., LB), Shai Pulawa (Sr., SS) and Chelin received honorable mention consideration.
Going Streaking: Whitworth is 9-0 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 14 games in a row, the second-longest winning streak in Pirate history. The school record for consecutive victories is 20, from 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). Whitworth won 13 games in a row from the end of the 1959 season until falling in the NAIA semifinals in 1960.
Unblemished Bucs: Only four previous teams in Whitworth history have finished a regular season unbeaten. The first time came in 1954 when Jim Lounsberry's Pirates went 8-0, outscoring opponents 269-40. The 1955 team kept the streak going with a 9-0 record, giving up only 34 points all season. The 1960 Pirates finished 9-0 under Sam Adams during the regular season before losing 13-7 at Humboldt State in the NAIA semifinals. Forty-six years later Whitworth went 10-0 during the regular season under John Tully, finishing 11-1 after falling to St. John's (Minn.) in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
National rankings: Whitworth moved up in both NCAA Division III football polls this week. The Pirates moved up to 10th from 12th in the D3football.com top-25 poll. They advanced to 11th (tie) from 15th in the AFCA Division III Coaches Poll.
Swarming Defense: Whitworth leads all of NCAA Division III in team tackles for loss this season. The Pirates are averaging 11.1 tackles for loss per game. They had 13 tackles for losses of 54 yards in the win over Willamette. Whitworth also leads the NWC and ranks third in Division III in sacks (4.33 per game). Chad Wilburg leads the NWC in sacks, with 11.5 for 69 yards. He is also second in the NWC with 16.5 tackles for loss (-79 yards). Colten Chelin is tied for second in the NWC with four interceptions.
Red Zone Excellence: Whitworth leads the Northwest Conference in the red zone this season, both offensively and defensively. The Pirates have scored 39 of the 46 times they have entered the red zone this season (85%), which leads the league and ranks 31st in Division III. They have scored touchdowns 29 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 14 of the 28 times they have entered the red zone (50%), which is second in the conference and ranks 8th 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 43.3% of its third downs this season. Pirate opponents have converted only 25.7% of their third downs into first downs, which ranks as the 10th-best percentage in Division III.
Finding Balance: When Mr. Miyagi told Daniel to find balance in all things, the Pirates were listening. Of 704 total offensive plays in 2018, Whitworth has run the ball 357 times (50.7%) and passed it 347 times (49.3%). Of 46 offensive touchdowns, the Bucs have run for 24 and passed for 22.
Spreading the Wealth: Whitworth has a deep and capable receiving corps once again in 2018. Eighteen different Pirates have caught at least one pass this season, and 13 players have four catches or more. Nine different Pirates have caught a touchdown this season. Garrett McKay has the team lead with 68 receptions, 852 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
Mr. McKay: Garrett McKay is concluding his Pirate career in a big way. He leads the NWC in punt return average (9.1) and ranks second in all-purpose yards per game (124.7). He is third in receptions per game (7.6) and fourth in receiving yards per game (94.7) this season.
McKay is now the most prolific pass-catcher in Whitworth history. The three-time first team All-Northwest Conference honoree has caught 250 passes for 2,949 yards in his career. He surpassed Whitworth's career record for receptions (248, Wayne Ralph, 1983-86) last week. He is within reach of the record for receiving yards (3,042, Dwayne Tawney, 2000-03). McKay has at least one reception in 41 of the 42 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. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps lost 10-7 in a defensive struggle at Pacific Lutheran.
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
Oct. 27 – Jay Zier
Nov. 3 – Weston Kroes
Nov. 10 – Zach Hillman
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.
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 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.
The Head Coach: Rod Sandberg has had a huge impact on the Pirate program in his five years as head coach, posting a 40-10 record and leading the Bucs to the NCAA playoffs in year number two, and now again in his fifth season. He has had 49 players earn All-Northwest Conference recognition since 2015. Whitworth's four-year record (34-6) from 2015-present is the best four-year stretch in school history. Sandberg already has the third most coaching victories in school history and was selected by his peers as the 2018 NWC Coach of the Year. 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 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 Stags: Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (7-3) earned its first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament by capturing the SCIAC's automatic bid. The Stags finished in a tie with Redlands atop the league standings at 6-1, but earned the tiebreaker due to a head-to-head road win over the Bulldogs (20-10 on Oct. 13). CMS then clinched the league title and automatic bid with a 16-9 home win over Chapman on Nov. 3, rendering the final regular season game inconsequential for NCAA purposes. That final game was a 24-19 loss to Pomona-Pitzer. Kyle Sweeney is 37-36 in his eighth season as the Stags' head coach. CMS is 25-12 over the last four seasons, more victories in any four-year stretch in team history.
The Stags are averaging 340.2 yards and 22.6 points per game, averaging 205.6 yards on the ground. They have allowed only 277.6 yards and 16.3 points per contest. CMS leads the SCIAC and ranks nationally in both total defense (37th) and scoring defense (41st). The Stags have been most effective at holding onto the ball and wearing down opponents. They average 36:04 per game in time of possession, which ranks 2nd in all of Division III.
Junior RB Garrett Cheadle has run for 1,305 yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging 130.5 yards per game (7th in NCAA DIII) and 5.3 yards per carry. He is also a threat catching passes out of the backfield. Sophomore QB Jake Norville has completed 53% of his passes for 909 yards with nine touchdowns and only two interceptions. Sophomore Ethan Takeyama is the leading receiver with 27 catches for 321 yards and two touchdowns. On defense, senior LB Mitchell Allen has 72 tackles while freshman DB Benjamin Cooney has 46 tackles, three interceptions and one fumble recovery.
CMS opened the season by dropping two of its three non-conference games, both to NWC opponents. The Stags lost 45-35 to Puget Sound in the season opener, but never allowed more than 24 points in any game after that. The Stags scored a season-low seven points in the loss at Pacific Lutheran on September 15th, but averaged more than 24 points per game in the SCIAC. CMS closed out the regular season with a 24-19 loss at cross-campus rival Pomona-Pitzer. With the bid already in-hand, few starters played the whole game for the Stags and Cheadle had only seven carries for 30 yards for precautionary reasons.
The Series: Whitworth and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps have never played in football. CMS is the only SCIAC member school the Pirates have never played.
Coming up next: The winner of Saturday's game will play the winner of a game between Martin Luther (9-1) and St. John's (10-0) on November 24th at a location to be determined.