The Whitworth Pirates showed they could play with 17th-ranked Redlands, but playing with the Bulldogs wasn’t their objective.
Whitworth had two costly fumbles and an ill-fated deflection helped sink the Pirates’ upset hopes as Redlands (Calif.) escaped with a 30-20 nonconference football victory Saturday in front of 1,850 at the Pine Bowl. The Pirates, bidding for their first win over a ranked opponent since 2007, dropped to 1-2.
“We made plays, they made a couple more,” Pirates coach John Tully said. “Watching how we responded, we still have a tremendous upside, if we can get healthy.”
The Pirates suffered two key injuries away from the ball as receiver Austin Ehlo made an acrobatic one-handed catch to trim Redlands’ lead to 21-14 late in the first half. Whitworth’s sideline erupted, but it became a muted celebration as senior guard Travis Todd limped off the field with a right knee injury and freshman quarterback Bryan Peterson hobbled to the bench with a right ankle injury.
It appeared the Pirates had settled on Peterson after two games of splitting time between Peterson and freshman Zac Hill, but the injury left Peterson on crutches.
“I think I stepped on someone’s foot,” said Peterson, who was 12 of 14 for 121 yards in the first half. “They said it generally takes 3-4 weeks to completely heal, but that I can play with it if it’s feeling all right.”
The 6-foot-2 Ehlo outjumped a defensive back to snag Peterson’s lob pass in the end zone.
“We got locked up and he had my left arm down so I stuck my (right) hand out,” Ehlo said. “It was just one of those plays you love to make.”
The only problem was 55 seconds remained and Redlands quickly moved downfield for Kevin Grady’s 35-yard field goal and a 24-14 lead.
Whitworth’s first fumble came on a kick return after Redlands had taken a 14-7 lead. Cailen Thomason lost the ball near the Pirates’ 35, although television replays indicated his knee was down before the ball came loose. Chad Hurst’s third touchdown pass gave the Bulldogs a 21-7 edge.
Linebacker Scott Carr intercepted a deflected pass early in the third quarter and Whitworth marched 33 yards, capped by Ronnie Thomas’ 1-yard scoring run. The point-after try was blocked and the Pirates trailed 24-20.
Hurst, who finished with 268 yards passing and 77 yards rushing, guided Redlands to Whitworth’s 14. He fired an off-target pass that hit a Pirates defensive back in the hands, but the ball deflected high into air, giving Kyle Romero time to catch the ball in stride and restore Redlands’ 10-point lead.
Whitworth twice marched into Redlands territory in the fourth quarter, once when Ehlo took a handoff from Hill and threw a 51-yard bullet to Jake DeGooyer. Hill was sacked for an 11-yard loss on third down and the Pirates failed to convert on fourth down.
Hill completed third-down passes to DeGooyer and Wade Meyer on Whitworth’s next series, but a scrambling Hill lost control of the ball and Redlands’ Arlando Brown recovered with 8 minutes remaining.
“It could have been a step up, but instead we kind of took a step sideways,” said Ehlo, who finished with six receptions, two for touchdowns, and averaged 51 yards on three punts. “We knew that we were good enough to play with them. If we would have made the plays we should have, it would have been a ‘W’ for us. We just have to get better next week.”