McMINNVILLE, Ore. – Whitworth’s football team rolled over nine opponents this year on the way to one of the best seasons in school history. In Saturday’s first-round Division III playoff game against Northwest Conference rival Linfield, the Pirates learned that they have a long way to go to be a national contender.
No. 22 Whitworth scored the first three points Saturday but ultimately couldn’t keep pace with No. 2 Linfield in a 48-10 loss.
Whitworth (9-2) outscored its opponents 333-134 in its nine wins but lost twice to Linfield by a combined score of 100-20. The Wildcats, who reached the semifinals last year, have won a first-round playoff game in seven straight seasons.
“I’m really impressed by how they’re coached and with their players,” Pirates head coach Rod Sandberg said. “You see what it takes. They’re one of the best teams in the country, and to eventually be the best you have to beat the best. To be able to play them twice was very beneficial for our program.”
The Pirates moved the ball better in the rematch than they did in a 52-10 loss to Linfield on Oct. 24 in which they had just 133 yards of total offense.
Whitworth gained 293 yards Saturday, the highest total allowed by Linfield (10-0) this season. But when the Pirates had offensive momentum in the first quarter, they were slowed by penalties and sacks.
“We’re capable of executing against a team like that, but small mistakes will catch up to you,” Whitworth junior quarterback Ian Kolste said.
The Pirates gained 48 yards on their first drive, which resulted in a 44-yard field goal by Rehn Reiley for a 3-0 lead.
But Linfield outgained the Pirates 343-87 over the remainder of the half to lead 31-3 at halftime. When it was 41-3, Kolste threw a 6-yard touchdown pass to Nick Kiourkas.
“They’re just so well-rounded and good at every position,” said Whitworth linebacker Patch Kulp, who led the team with seven tackles. “They don’t do tricky things, they just run their plays consistently.”
Kolste completed 29 of 53 passes for 175 yards. He was also the team’s leading rusher, picking up 68 yards on 17 carries.
“We have to be able to look back on this as a great season, but we’re not satisfied,” he said. “Playing these guys we see what level we need to be at, but it’s time to move forward.”
Whitworth won nine games for the fifth time in school history. The Pirates last appeared in the playoffs in 2006, when they reached the second round.
“Last Sunday was a special day, being able to sit together and watch us get selected to the playoffs,” Kulp said. “I’m extremely blessed to be part of that.”
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