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Undefeated Whits face unbeaten Willamette

Whitworth University (Whitworth University)
Whitworth University (Whitworth University)

Whitworth football is 5-0 with four road wins. Ronnie Thomas leads the Northwest Conference in rushing. The Pirates lead in time of possession, allow the fewest points and they’re the least penalized team in the conference.

Willamette is 4-0. The Bearcats easily top the NWC in points scored, passing yards and total offense. They also rank highly in most defensive categories and have forced 18 turnovers, seven more than any conference rival.

Yet neither team has cracked the D3 Top 25. Willamette is close, at No. 30, but Whitworth hasn’t received a vote. In the preseason NWC poll, Whitworth was picked third and Willamette fifth. There seems to be a healthy dose of skepticism about both teams, but a victory today would probably convince some of their doubters.

“A lot of times people just don’t know, they speculate,” said Pirates coach John Tully, whose team entertains the Bearcats at 1 for homecoming. “We’re a pretty good team. It will bear out that the teams we’ve played are pretty good teams, just like the teams that Willamette has played. I’m not worried about that because we have our hands full with a very good Willamette team.”

Both teams face daunting schedules to close the regular season. Whitworth faces three unbeatens, including No. 3 Linfield next Saturday, and five teams with a combined 13-6 record, even with Puget Sound’s 0-4. Willamette faces those same five teams, plus a second date with Pacific (1-3).

The Bearcats beat Pacific 51-17 in a nonconference meeting. Whitworth edged Pacific 28-25 last week.

Willamette, fueled by quarterback Josh Dean’s 370.8 passing yards per game, is averaging 43.8 points. First-year head coach Glen Fowles, who was promoted from offensive coordinator, has tweaked the offense.

“They are spreading it out and throwing the ball probably 40-50 times a game,” Tully said. “They’ve gotten away from the fly offense.”

Thomas has a streak of seven 100-yard rushing games dating back to last season and quarterback Bryan Peterson is coming off a career-high 354 yards passing. Whitworth has won three games by five points or less.

“Once you’re able to win games like that, it helps you to be able to do it the next time,” Tully said. “Our games have been close, but we’ve found ways to be victorious at the end.”