FOREST GROVE, Ore. – Trailing 28-14 in the second quarter, visiting Whitworth rallied for a 38-28 win at Pacific (Ore.) to clinch second place in the final Northwest Conference football standings.
Backup quarterback Connor Johnson ran for three touchdowns to lead the Pirates to the comeback victory.
Whitworth (6-3 overall, 5-2 NWC) entered the day tied with Pacific, Puget Sound and George Fox at 4-2 in the standings, but all three other teams lost on Saturday.
Johnson's 10-yard touchdown run with 1:43 to play in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach for the Pirates, capping a 24-0 run. Johnson also scored the game's first touchdown, a two-yard run that finished off Whitworth's 76-yard march on the opening possession.
Pacific (4-6 overall, 4-3 NWC) scored on its first two possessions to grab a 14-7 lead. Quarterback Kenyon Harris ran in from two yards out to cap a 55-yard drive. Then running back Josh Harris broke free for a 62-yard score.
Brayden Corona tied the game for Whitworth with an 11-yard run, finishing off a 78-yard drive that only took only four plays. Leif Ericksen completed a 41-yard pass to Jerusalem To'oto'o to set up the touchdown.
Kenyon Harris threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Kobe Williams early in the second quarter to give Pacific a 21-14 lead. The Boxers increased the margin to two touchdowns when Harris threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Ty Hargis with only 1:50 to play in the half.
Whitworth answered right before halftime when Ericksen completed a three-yard touchdown pass to Nick McGill on fourth down with only four seconds to play in the period.
The Pirate defense dominated the second half. After Pacific rolled up 247 yards of offense before halftime, Whitworth shut out the Boxers and held them to only 137 yards in the second half.
Johnson tied the game with his second touchdown run of the day on the Pirates' first possession of the second half, completing a 63-yard drive. The Bucs took the lead (31-28) the next time they had the ball when Alvaro Campos-Ontivero kicked a 22-yard field goal.
The Pirates held that three-point lead most of the rest of the way as the defense kept Pacific from threatening the Whitworth endzone until the final seconds of the game. Pacific had only four first downs in the second half until the last possession after Johnson scored his clinching touchdown.
Leading by three with 3:22 to play, Whitworth held Pacific on fourth down at the Pirate 37 yard line. Whitworth drove 63 yards on five plays for the final score. Johnson set up the last touchdown with a 37-yard, third down pass completion to Taylor Hall.
Whitworth outgained Pacific 477-384 and had a 26-19 edge in first downs, even though the Boxers had the ball for 34:27.
The Pirates sacked Kenyon Harris five times, including two for 16 yards by Andrew McCoy. McCoy led the NWC in sacks this season with nine. Kale Wong led Whitworth with a career-high 16 tackles in his final game as a Pirate. Gunnar Swannack added 10 tackles in his last game.
Ericksen completed 23 of 44 passes for 307 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions in his swan song as quarterback. Hall caught five passes for 86 yards and Taylor Kolste added five receptions for 53 yards. Corona ran for 114 yards on 19 carries. Johnson finished with only six net yards on the ground, but had the three running touchdowns.
Kenyon Harris completed 26 of 36 passes for 242 yards for Pacific. Josh Harris, the NWC's leading rusher, totaled 98 yards on 22 carries. But when his one long touchdown run is subtracted from the total, Whitworth's defense held him in check.