Defense Wraps Up 'Cats in 19-14 Win

Photo courtesy Kelly Bird, Linfield College
Photo courtesy Kelly Bird, Linfield College

SPOKANE, Wash. – Whitworth University used an explosive third quarter and a strong defensive effort to knock off 11th-ranked Linfield College in the Northwest Conference football opener for both schools on Saturday afternoon at Puryear Field in the Whitworth Pine Bowl.

The Pirates (3-0 overall, 1-0 NWC) defeated the Wildcats (1-2, 0-1) for the first time since 2007 by holding the visitors to 83 total yards after halftime.  Linfield's 23-game NWC winning streak came to an end.

Several Whitworth defenders played big roles, including Ian Black, Chad McCoy, Chad Wilburg, Jaylen Gonzales and Kale Wong.

The first half was one of missed opportunities for both teams.  The Pirates took their opening possession down the field, but Linfield forced a fumble at its own 11-yard line.  Both teams had a field goal blocked and both teams missed a field goal.

The Wildcats got on the board in the final minute of the first half when Wyatt Smith found J.D. Lasswell for a 29-yard touchdown pass with 46 seconds to play.  And Linfield would be getting the opening kickoff of the second half.

However, the Whitworth defense forced a three and out.  In fact, the Pirates did not allow a Linfield first down almost the entire third period. 

Whitworth's offense found its groove when the Pirates went to their hurry up attack.  Quarterback Leif Ericksen broke free for a 22-yard touchdown run to cap a 60-yard drive and get the Bucs on the scoreboard.  The Pirates missed the extra point and trailed 7-6.

Wong, who was unable to play the opening half, forced a fumble on the next Linfield possession.  Wilburg recovered for the Bucs at their own 40-yard line.  Six plays later Ericksen tossed a 31-yard touchdown pass to Garrett McKay to give Whitworth a 12-7 lead after a failed two-point try.

Whitworth forced another Linfield three-and-out and took over on its own 41.  The Pirates took seven plays to score on a one-yard run from Mason Elms.  The extra point was good this time, giving Whitworth a 19-7 lead.

Linfield's offense never got untracked after halftime.  After the Pirates scored their final points, the Wildcats got their first first down of the second half on the final play of the third quarter.  However, Charlie Ball's 12-yard sack on third down forced a punt.

Jack McLeod had a six-yard sack on Linfield's next possession, forcing a fourth down pass attempt.  Shai Pulawa broke up the fourth down pass.  The Wildcats' next possession was also a three and out when Gonzales and McCoy tackled Dawson Ruhl for a five-yard loss on third down. 

Linfield's final drive culminated in Smith's Hail Mary pass on fourth and 16 at the Whitworth 27, which was answered by Aiden Wilder for a touchdown.  There were only 12 seconds left in the game, however, and Whitworth recovered the onsides kick.

The Pirates finished with a 346 – 261 edge in total offense, thanks mostly to the fact that the Wildcats totaled three net rushing yards.  Whitworth sacked Smith four times for 41 yards in losses. 

Ericksen completed 23 of 35 passes for 241 yards.  He was intercepted twice and had one touchdown.  He also ran for 23 yards on seven carries.  McKay caught 12 passes for 122 yards and the one TD.  Tariq Ellis led the rushers with 52 yards on 12 carries.

Smith completed 22 of 27 throws for 258 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.  Keegan Weiss caught seven passes for 79 yards, while Ruhl had six grabs for 43 yards out of the backfield.  All-Star running back Chidubem Nnoli was held to 29 yards rushing on 16 carries.

Jayden Jira, Gonzales and Black all had seven tackles each for the Whitworth defense.  Black, Ball and McCoy each had multiple tackles for loss.  Duke Mackle had 11 tackles and intercepted a pass for the Linfield defense.

Whitworth will head to George Fox next Saturday for its first road game of the season.