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Willamette comes alive in second half to upend Pirates

It’s a combination that can turn a football game around in a hurry.

The offense goes three-and-out, the defense wears down against a balanced attack and can’t get off the field. Repeat it a couple of times and there’s a snowball effect.

Whitworth found itself on the wrong side of that sequence of events as Willamette roared back in the second half to claim a 38-24 Northwest Conference victory Saturday at the Pine Bowl.

Willamette (5-0, 1-0 NWC), operating out of a no-huddle, rolled up 311 yards and 24 points in a dominating second half. Whitworth (5-1, 1-1) lost its grip on a 17-14 halftime lead with four consecutive three-and-outs spanning the third and fourth quarters.

“Unfortunately, that’s the worst half we’ve played and it was against a good team,” Pirates coach John Tully said. “We kept getting in second-and-long and third-and-long, which we didn’t want to happen.

“Offensively, you have to get some first downs and we didn’t. And if the defense wants to get off the field, stop them in three downs and make them punt.”

The Pirates had opportunities to build a bigger lead in the first half. They picked off Willamette quarterback Josh Dean three times in the second quarter and had a chance at two more.

Safety Casey Monahan dropped a certain interception near the Pirates’ 5-yard line. On the next play, cornerback De’ Hall bobbled Dean’s throw and receiver Jake Knecht reached in to snag a touchdown catch.

“They’re an explosive offense, probably the best we’ve faced this season,” Pirates cornerback Paul Miller said. “I blew one coverage. We just made mental mistakes and they exploited those.”

Willamette took control in the third quarter. Taylor Wyman’s 3-yard TD run gave the Bearcats a 21-17 lead.

Whitworth made a goal-line stand, but was unable to move the ball and the Bearcats took over at the Pirates’ 25. Whitworth held again and Kyle Derby missed a 33-yard field goal.

Whitworth committed a costly false-start penalty and failed to get a first down. This time, Willamette finished its drive as Dean hit Jake Knecht on a 19-yard touchdown pass.

Whitworth cut Willamette’s 14-point lead in half with a 68-yard drive, capped by Austin Ehlo’s 11-yard TD catch with 1:47 remaining. The Bearcats’ Chad Pollard recovered the ensuing line-drive onside kick and Dean tossed his fourth touchdown pass to seal the victory.

The Pirates, who were turnover-free until quarterback Bryan Peterson’s interception late in the fourth, were stung by penalties, missed tackles and several busted coverages.

“Our special teams have been spot-on and we weren’t great. We had some penalties, which isn’t like us,” Tully said. “We’ve done the little things really well all year and today we didn’t.”

Willamette finished with 598 total yards as Dean passed for 392 yards and Dylan Jones added 131 rushing.

Peterson passed for 262 yards, but was sacked four times. Whitworth’s Jake DeGooyer had 10 receptions for 104 yards and one touchdown. Ronnie Thomas gained 85 yards on 22 carries, ending a streak of seven consecutive 100-yard games.

Pacific Lutheran 31, Lewis & Clark 14: Dalton Ritchey threw four TD passes to spark the Lutes (2-2, 1-1) to a victory over the Pioneers (4-1, 1-1) in Northwest Conference play in Portland.

Pacific 62, Puget Sound 21: PJ Minaya passed for 276 yards and four TDs to power the Boxers (2-3, 1-1) to a win over the Loggers (0-5, 0-2) in Northwest Conference play in Tacoma.

Dixie State 29, Central Washington 21: Griff Robles came off the bench to throw a 56-yard TD pass and scored on a 2-yard keeper to rally the Red Storm (3-3, 3-2) over the Wildcats (4-2, 4-1) in Great Northwest Athletic Conference play in St. George, Utah.