The 2018 football season continues at least one more week for Whitworth University. The Pirates have advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs and the team is one of only 16 left playing at the DIII level. Whitworth heads to Collegeville, Minnesota to take on Saint John's University on Saturday at noon Central time (10:00 am PST). The game can be heard live in Spokane on KSBN 1230am and on the internet at KSBN.net. The radio broadcast will begin at 9:45 am (PST).
Whitworth (10-0) advanced to the second round with a 48-6 victory over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps last Saturday in the Pine Bowl. The 3rd-ranked Johnnies demolished Martin Luther 84-6 in the first round, setting an NCAA Division III record for most points scored in a playoff game.
Live Links for Saturday's game:
Whitworth (10-0, 7-0 NWC)
St. John's (11-0, 9-0 MIAC)
Saturday - Nov. 24
Tickets: Admission prices for Saturday's game are $8 for adults, $4 for students and senior adults. Tickets are available online at the SJU tickets website.
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. Click here for an interactive online bracket.
Playoff History: Whitworth is now 2-3 all-time in the NCAA Division III playoffs.
The Bucs last appeared in the NCAA DIII playoffs in 2015 as an at-large participant and 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 Saint 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 fell behind 6-0, but then scored the next 48 points in a first round victory over CMS last Saturday. The Pirates prepared all week for a run-heavy offense, but with SCIAC Offensive MVP Garrett Cheadle unable to play due to an ankle sprain, the Stags went to a pass-first attack. The strategy took the Pirates by surprise early, allowing CMS to score the game's first touchdown on its first possession. Once the defense adjusted, the Stags struggled offensively. Whitworth outgained CMS 513-288, including a 192-37 edge on the ground. The Pirates sacked CMS quarterbacks six times and the Stags converted only 2 of 15 third down attempts.
QB Leif Ericksen settled down after a slow start to complete 27 of 42 passes for 285 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Connor Johnson played most of the fourth quarter at QB and completed his only pass for a 36-yard touchdown. Garrett Riddle caught seven passes for 58 yards and a score, while Nick McGill and Brett Moser grabbed five passes each. In addition to McKay and McGill, Mason Elms and Caleb Jones caught the other touchdown passes. Whitworth used a running attack by committee. Elms had 43 yards on 13 carries. However, it was his 58-yard touchdown reception with 12 seconds left in the first half that gave Whitworth a 20-6 lead at the break. Brayden Corona finished with 71 yards on ten carries, including a 27-yard touchdown. Tariq Ellis also ran 15 yards for a score.
Iain Black had eight solo tackles to lead Whitworth's defense. Kale Wong was also in on eight stops, including two for loss. Andrew McCoy had two of Whitworth's six sacks. BJ Mullin's interception near the beginning of the third quarter set up a Whitworth touchdown. The Pirate defense limited CMS to only 3.9 yards per play, forced nine punts, held on downs twice and came away with two turnovers.
Whitworth had big plays on special teams as well. Tyler Adamson blocked his sixth kick of the season after the CMS touchdown, extending his own school record. Chad Wilburg took a fake punt 48 yards for a first down. Cody McDonald hit both of this field goal attempts, including a career-long 47-yarder in the second quarter. He averaged 37.2 yards per punt.
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 10-0 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 15 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.
Swarming Defense: Whitworth leads all of NCAA Division III in team tackles for loss this season. The Pirates are averaging 10.9 tackles for loss per game. They had nine tackles for losses of 36 yards in the win over CMS. The Bucs have set a team record for tackles for loss in a season with 109. Whitworth also leads the NWC and ranks third in Division III in sacks (4.60 per game). Chad Wilburg leads the NWC in sacks (and ranks sixth in DIII), with 12.5 for 74 yards. He is also second in the NWC with 17.5 tackles for loss (-84 yards). Colten Chelin is tied for second in the NWC with four interceptions.
Red Zone Excellence: Whitworth leads the Northwest Conference in red zone efficiency this season, both offensively and defensively. The Pirates have scored 42 of the 49 times they have entered the red zone this season (86%), which leads the league and ranks 23rd in Division III. They have scored touchdowns 31 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 15 of the 30 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% of its third downs this season. Pirate opponents have converted only 24.5% of their third downs into first downs, which ranks as the fifth-best percentage in Division III.
Finding Balance: When Mr. Miyagi told Daniel to find balance in all things, the Pirates were listening. Of 781 total offensive plays in 2018, Whitworth has run the ball 391 times and passed it 390 times. Of 52 offensive touchdowns, the Bucs have run for 26 and passed for 26.
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 14 players have four catches or more. Eleven different Pirates have caught a touchdown this season. Garrett McKay has the team lead with 75 receptions, 910 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
Mr. McKay: Garrett McKay is concluding his Pirate career in a big way. He is third in receptions per game (7.5) and fourth in receiving yards per game (91.0) this season. In addition, he leads the NWC in punt return average (9.2) and ranks second in all-purpose yards per game (119.9).
McKay is now the most prolific pass-catcher in Whitworth history. The three-time first team All-Northwest Conference honoree has caught 257 passes for 3,007 yards in his career. He surpassed Whitworth's career record for receptions (248, Wayne Ralph, 1983-86) in the regular season finale at Willamette. He is within reach of the record for receiving yards (3,042, Dwayne Tawney, 2000-03). McKay has at least one reception in 42 of the 43 games he has played as a Pirate.
The Brick Wall: All-Northwest Conference offensive tackle Tyler Adamson has been much more than an outstanding pass protector for the Pirates this season. Standing 6'-5", he has blocked six extra points or field goals, setting a Whitworth single-season record. His six blocked kicks leads all of NCAA Division III this season.
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
Nov. 17 - Anthony Ruiz
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 41-10 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 (35-6) from 2015-present is the best four-year stretch in school history. Sandberg already has the third most coaching victories ever at Whitworth 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 Johnnies: Saint John's University (Collegeville, Minn.) is one of the most storied football programs in American history, regardless of level. The Johnnies have four NCAA Division III titles (1963, 1965, 1976 and 2003) and they are the winningest football program in NCAA DIII history (640-248-24, .715). Most of that success came under legendary coach John Gagliardi, the winningest college football coach in history who led the Johnnies for 64 seasons. Coach Gagliardi passed away in October. Head Coach Gary Fasching, now in his sixth year, has continued the winning tradition with a 57-11 record.
Saint John's has an explosive offense and a stingy defense. The Johnnies are averaging 50.4 points per game (3rd in NCAA DIII) and allowing only 9.0 points per contest (5th in DIII). They put up 494.5 yards per game and average 7.7 yards per play. Opponents are averaging only 268.7 yards per game 3.9 yards per play. SJU has taken the ball away 34 times and given it up only 14 for a turnover margin of 1.82 (3rd in Division III).
Junior QB Jackson Erdmann ranks second in NCAA DIII in passing efficiency (201.2) and second in passing touchdowns (40). He has completed 67% of his passes for 2,727 yards and he set a school record with seven touchdown passes in a 63-23 win over Thomas More in the season finale. Erdmann's favorite target is Will Gallach (Sr., WR), who has caught 59 passes for 163 yards and 14 touchdowns. The Johnnies have been running back-by-committee in 2018. Kai Barber (Jr.) has run for 497 yards and seven touchdowns, while Kenneth Udoibok (So.) has 378 yards and seven scores. Max Jackson (Sr., Safety) leads the defense with 64 tackles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Nathan Brinker (Sr., DE) has 16.5 tackles for loss among his 51 stops.
Saint John's rolled past Martin Luther 84-6 in last Saturday's first round game. The Johnnies led 42-0 at the end of the first quarter and went on to set a Division III record for most points in a playoff game. SJU scored touchdowns on its first eight possessions and rolled up 717 yards of offense while allowing only 166 yards. Erdmann completed 19 of 25 passes for 289 yards and six touchdowns without an interception. Gallach caught five passes for 88 yards and a score to lead the receivers. Twelve different players carried the ball as the Johnnies piled up 375 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. Second teamers played the majority of the game on defense. James Inman and Richard Carriveau led the team with seven tackles apiece.
The Series: Whitworth and Saint John's have played twice in football and the Johnnies won both matchups. The first was a game arranged at the last minute when Whitman College cancelled its season and Whitworth had to fill a homecoming date in 1975. SJU had an open date and flew out to Spokane, staying in campus housing and private homes. The Johnnies defeated the Pirates 7-3. In 2006 Whitworth again hosted Saint John's in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs and the Johnnies won 21-3.
Coming up next: The winner of Saturday's game will play the winner of a game between Berry (Ga.) and Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) on December 1st at a location to be determined.