SPOKANE, Wash. – On a day dominated by the weather, two big special teams plays were the difference in Whitworth's 19-14 Northwest Conference football win over visiting George Fox on Saturday in the Pine Bowl.
The Pirates (4-1 overall, 3-0 NWC) survived a steady rain, gusty winds and a last-ditch drive by the Bruins (2-4, 1-2) to win their 15th consecutive NWC game.
Defenses controlled a scoreless first quarter. Whitworth's defense limited GFU to 16 yards of offense on 13 plays. But the Bruins intercepted Pirate quarterback Leif Ericksen twice deep in their own territory to turn away Whitworth scoring opportunities.
The first big special teams play finally sparked the first points. Whitworth used a deceptive punt return to get deep into GFU territory. Return man Taylor Kolste and all the blockers went left drawing all the Bruin defenders their direction, but the punt went right. Isaiah Cole scooped it up for the Pirates and ran 40 yards to the GFU 25 yard line. Four plays later Brayden Corona ran two yards for a touchdown and the Bucs had a 6-0 lead after the two-point conversion failed.
Those were the only points of the first half.
Josiah Schmidt gave George Fox a special teams boost to start the third quarter when he returned the opening kickoff to the Whitworth 30. Eight plays later Jaden Sheffey completed a two-yard touchdown pass to Leon Johnson III and the Bruins took a 7-6 lead.
After an exchange of punts, Ericksen completed a pass over the middle to Andrew Meredith, who shucked a defender and ran 56 yards for a touchdown to complete a 69-yard possession. A second two-point try failed and Whitworth only led 12-7.
After the Pirates held the Bruins without a first down once again, Patrick Serrano broke through to block a punt at the 25 and Meredith scooped it up and ran it 11 yards for a touchdown. The traditional PAT was good to give the Pirates a 19-7 lead.
George Fox got its biggest play in the game when Sheffey lofted a pass for running back Justin Trimble 30 yards down the field. As Trimble came back to the under thrown ball, Whitworth linebacker Kale Wong slipped on the wet field while trying to make the same adjustment and Trimble raced untouched the rest of the way for a 75-yard score. The PAT pulled the Bruins within 19-14.
The Bruins took over a final time at their own ten yard line with 2:46 to play. They survived a 4th and 4 at their own 16 before Sheffey guided them down the field with his legs and arm. A 32-yard completion to Adam Hawker gave GFU a first down at Whitworth's 17 with just under a minute to go. Jamaal Edwards intercepted Sheffey at the Pirates' one yard line on the next play and the Bucs were able to run out the clock.
George Fox finished with a slight edge in total offense (266-265) and a larger advantage in time of possession (33:20 – 26:40). But Whitworth had three sacks and nine tackles for loss.
Ericksen completed 19 of 37 passes for 195 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He also ran for 31 yards on seven carries. Meredith caught five passes for 88 yards, including his team-leading sixth touchdown reception of the season. Corona ran for 41 yards and a score and caught four passes for another 28 yards.
Sheffey finished 15 of 27 for 176 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He was also the leading runner with 47 yards on 19 carries.
Andrew McCoy had a big day for Whitworth's defense. He had two sacks (19 yards), three total tackles for loss and tied for the team lead with seven tackles. Wong and Gunner Swannack also had seven stops. Edwards' interception was his second of the season, adding to the Pirates' season total of 12 picks.
Whitworth will hit the road for an important Northwest Conference game at Puget Sound (4-2, 2-1) next Saturday.