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Pirates open against unfamiliar foe

D-III Saints coming off 10-1 record last season

The Whitworth Pirates open their football season today against St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minn., with appropriate levels of enthusiasm and optimism, and a healthy dose of the unknown.

It’s the first meeting between the schools and Whitworth’s staff is working off two 2011 St. Scholastica game tapes.

The Saints are coming off a 10-1 season and a trip to the Division III playoffs in the program’s fifth season, but they lost Upper Midwest Athletic Conference offensive player of the year (quarterback Alex Thiry) and defensive player of the year (linebacker Sean Graskey) to graduation, as well as two top receivers and a four-time all-UMAC center.

“The quarterback last year was a really good player, but to be honest we don’t know,” Whitworth coach John Tully said about the Saints’ offensive system. “We expect them to try to run the ball, use multiple formations, but the positive thing for our defense is we’ve played against our offense. There aren’t going to be too many formations they haven’t seen.”

Whitworth returns 15 starters from a 4-6 season, including quarterback Bryan Peterson, running back Ronnie Thomas and numerous playmakers at linebacker and defensive back.

The offensive line is considered a question mark, but Tully likes the unit’s progress. Gavin Horst earned the start at center for the opener. Greg Vibbert, a transfer from College of the Siskiyous, and Dalton Cosby (University High) join mainstays Nate Guthrie (East Valley) and Liam Brown. Defensive end Danny Welstad is the only freshman in the starting lineup.

St. Scholastica brings back 15 starters from a team that outscored opponents by nearly 24 points per game and led D-III in turnover margin. Still, the Saints didn’t receive a single vote in the preseason Top 25, likely because the UMAC is ranked near the bottom of D-III conferences.

“They were 10-0 in the regular season, so obviously they’re a good team,” Tully said. “We have to get outside of our league for people to notice us, so this is a great opportunity. I think it’s a great matchup.”