Smarting after three straight losses, the Whitworth Pirates boarded a bus after practice Thursday, headed to Salem to take on league foe Willamette Bearcats in a rare Friday night football game that will present a tough task to end a losing streak.
The Bearcats are 3-0 and emerged this week as 25th in the Division III poll. They join Northwest Conference compatriots No. 2 Linfield (4-0, 1-0) and No. 15 Pacific Lutheran (3-1, 0-1) as three ranked teams Whitworth has yet to face.
“The coaches kind of talked about (the Friday game) over the summer as a way to generate some interest,” Whitworth sports information director Steve Flegel said. “It will be the only show in town for Oregon college football on a Friday night.”
As part of a scheduling fluke, Willamette will be the sixth (and next week’s foe, Linfield, will be the seventh) consecutive team to play Whitworth either as the first game of the season or following a bye week.
St. Scholastica, Whittier, and La Verne all opened their seasons against the Pirates. Pacific (Ore.), Williamette and Linfield all had, or will have, a week off to prepare for Whitworth.
“It’s just brutal how that works out,” Flegel said.
Making the game even more challenging, the Pirates (2-3, 0-1) will be facing the Bearcats without backup running back Ricky Abernathy, a 5-foot-11, 226-pound junior from Citrus Heights, Calif.
Abernathy, who was lost for the year with a broken bone in his leg suffered last week in the 31-21 loss to Pacific, had become the primary backup and change-of-pace complement to senior running back D.J. Tripoli, who leads the Pirates with 410 yards rushing and six touchdowns.
To make matters worse, the Pirates also lost senior offensive tackle Liam Brown on a freak injury that occurred during the celebration of a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from quarterback Bryan Peterson to running back Alphonso Miranda.
When Brown went over to celebrate the score, the turf gave way and he suffered torn ligaments in his knee, Flegel said. One of four team captains, the 5-foot-11, 255-pound Brown will be a major loss to an offensive line already struggling to protect Peterson.