The Whitworth Pirates did nearly all of the things upset-minded football teams put on their checklist when trying to knock off the conference bully.
They started fast and finished fast. They opened up the offense and produced big plays in the passing game. They won the turnover battle 4-1. They limited mistakes while fifth-ranked Linfield committed 11 penalties.
But the Pirates couldn’t overcome four missed PATs and the Wildcats’ four-touchdown flurry in the second half that paved the way for Linfield’s entertaining 42-38 Northwest Conference victory Saturday in front of 1,675 at the Pine Bowl.
“We weren’t hoping to play well, we came in to compete to win,” said Whitworth coach John Tully, whose team dropped to 3-6 overall, 2-3 in conference. “It came down to the point where we wanted the ball just one more time.”
Whitworth scored twice in 2 minutes, using Bryan Peterson’s fifth touchdown pass, a 21-yarder that pin-balled off two defenders into Kekoa Turbeville’s hands, and Ronnie Thomas’ 78-yard run to pull within 42-38 with 3:24 remaining.
With two timeouts left, Whitworth opted to kick deep, hoping to get a defensive stop and the ball back with roughly 90 seconds remaining. The Wildcats (8-0, 5-0) had other ideas as Stephen Nasca ran for 18 yards on the first play from scrimmage. Quarterback Mickey Inns then hit Buddy Saxon for 11 yards on third-and-10, allowing Linfield to run out the clock.
“Whitworth is getting better and better every game,” Wildcats coach Joe Smith said. “I didn’t think we’d give up that many points, but that’s why you play the game.”
Peterson had 274 yards passing, receiver Austin Ehlo used his 6-foot-2 frame to snag three touchdowns and Thomas ripped off second-half runs of 51 and 78 yards. The Pirates finished with 422 total yards against a Linfield defense that typically allows 257 per game. They scored 38 points against a unit that had permitted 53 in its first seven games.
“We wanted to spread them out,” said Ehlo, who had seven catches for 88 yards. “They’re pretty big up front, pretty nasty. Those are my favorite plays where Bryan says, ‘I’m going to throw it to you, go get it.’ I just love making those plays.”
The Pirates have lost two kickers to injuries and two weeks ago they turned to Sean McNealley, who was 5 of 5 on PATs and made a fourth-quarter field goal in a double-overtime win against Willamette on Oct. 29. Linfield blocked three of McNealley’s PATs and another hit the back of a Pirates lineman.
Whitworth led 25-14 at half. Linfield, trailing for the first time in the second half this season, scored four TDs in 20 minutes to take a 42-25 lead before the Pirates’ late rally.
Inns finished with 344 passing yards and five TDs. The Wildcats also scored touchdowns after Drew Fisher punt returns of 21, 36 and 48 yards.
PLU 35, Pacific 24: Zack Halverson passed for 336 yards and five TDs and the Lutes (5-3, 3-2 NWC) jumped out to a 35-0 lead and held off the Boxers (1-8, 1-5) in Puyallup, Wash.
Simon Fraser 35, Central Washington 24: The Clan (3-7, 2-6) scored 29 fourth-quarter points to rally past the Wildcats (3-6, 3-4 GNAC) in Burnaby, British Columbia.
Levi Taylor (Lewis and Clark High) rushed for 114 yards and two TDs for the Wildcats. Central will finish with a losing record for the first time since 2001.
Carroll 28, Montana Tech 14: Matt Ritter ran for two 2-yard TDs and caught a 42-yard scoring pass from Dane Broadhead to lead the Fighting Saints (9-1, 8-1) to a win over the Miners (2-8, 1-8) in Frontier Conference play in Helena.
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