A stingy defense and explosive offense led the Whitworth Pirates to an impressive 36-7 over St. Scholastica in the opening game for both teams.
The Pirates defense continually forced the Saints, of Duluth, Minn., into third-and-long situations and had several key turnovers to put the ball back into the hands of junior quarterback Bryan Peterson and senior running back D.J. Tripoli.
“I thought our coaches did a great job of preparing for them,” Whitworth coach John Tully said of the Saints, who won their conference last year. “And, our guys did a good job executing.”
Saints coach Greg Carlson brought in an experienced squad hoping to reach the NCAA playoffs for a third straight year but watched as his team failed to score until 4:27 left in the 4th quarter.
“I’m very impressed with this football team,” Carlson said of Whitworth. “They looked like this was their third or fourth game in the season. They were clicking and they were polished.”
The Pirates took the opening kickoff and marched down the field. But the drive ended inside the five when Peterson failed to connect on a fourth-down pass.
However, defensive back Sean McNealley quickly got the ball back when he intercepted a Tyler Harper pass and returned it to the Saints’ 29-yard-line. Four runs later, freshman running back Griffin Hare (Gonzaga Prep) ran it in from 11 yards out for his first collegiate touchdown.
The next Saints drive also ended with an interception by the Pirates De’ Hall who returned the ball to the 14. Tripoli then broke through the defense on a 14-yard scamper for his first of three touchdowns on the day.
“They are a great team. You don’t get to the playoffs easily,” said Tripoli, a 5-foot-9, 192 pound running back from Burbank, Calif. “That kept us focused as we prepared for them.”
The Saints, which only started playing football in 2008, went 8-3 last year and won the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference. But the Pirates dominated on both sides of the ball.
With Tripoli gaining 75 yards on 19 carries, Peterson also found open receivers en route to completing 15 of 24 attempts for 259 yards. That included a 16-yard touchdown pass to Devon Lind.
That score followed a 90-yard drive in just over a minute before halftime.
“Bryan threw some great passes,” Tully said. “That pass to Devon was to his outside shoulder and he went up and got it. That pass was beautiful.”
Peterson said the team practices the 2-minute drill every day.
“We joke about why we don’t do that all the time,” he said, smiling. “We just feel that whenever we do get down that we have complete confidence to move the ball down the field.”
The Whitworth defensive line and linebackers continually stuffed the Saints on first and second down. Hall thought he got in on the scoring when he intercepted his second pass and ran it back for 47 yards.
But the 4th-quarter play was called back because of a holding call on senior defensive lineman Kyle Davidson.
“He definitely owes me dinner,” Hall joked about Davidson. “It’s all good. He was out there going hard.”
The defense held the Saints to 200 total yards and finished with four turnovers on the day, which is something the Pirates coaches drill into the players every day, Hall said.
“You practice it and practice it and when it happens in the game,” he said smiling, “that’s why we play.”