Kicking miscues and turnovers had Whitworth on the ropes late in the game, but the Pirates found their groove in the fourth quarter and pulled away Saturday for a 34-14 win over Willamette at the Pine Bowl.
The Pirates (7-2, 5-1 Northwest Conference) were led by senior running back Duke DeGaetano, who set a career record with 197 yards and also set a season record with 20 rushing touchdowns on Senior Day.
“I’m proud of him. He is a winner,” Pirates coach Rod Sandberg said of DeGaetano. “He’s been the heart and soul of our team all year. He’s a beast. He’s hard to stop.”
Despite the damage DeGaetano caused on the ground, the Bearcats got the ball after a blocked punt in the fourth quarter and were only 46 yards from the go-ahead score before the Whitworth defense stiffened.
The Pirates got a 54-yard touchdown pass from Ian Kolste to Kevin Thomas and a 15-yard touchdown scamper by DeGaetano, his third of the day, to pull away at the end from the Bearcats (3-6, 2-4).
“That’s now how we drew it up,” Sandberg told his team. “But we won 34-14. I’m proud of how we finished.”
Kolste didn’t have his best day. He completed 29 of 40 passes for 285 yards and two interceptions. Thomas had a huge day, finishing with 108 yards on seven catches and two touchdowns.
DeGaetano credited the potent passing attack for opening holes. He also had touchdown runs of 8 and 42 yards and caught two passes for 11 yards. DeGaetano’s 20 rushing touchdowns surpassed the previous record of 18 set in 2008 by Adam Anderson.
“I’m beyond thankful to this brotherhood. They changed my life in so many ways,” DeGaetano said. “I love my offensive lineman. Getting the touchdown record was something that meant a lot to them. I was able to give them the ball in the end zone.”
The Pirates survived two missed field goals, a blocked field goal, two failed two-point conversions and a blocked punt.
“We made it hard on ourselves today,” Sandberg said. “But I’m proud of our guys to be resilient and secure the seventh win of the season.”
In addition to DeGaetano’s record day, the offense broke the total yards team record of 4,521 yards set in 2014 and the total points record of 392 set in 1961. The current team has 4,723 yards and has scored 406 points and still has one game remaining on the road Saturday at Lewis & Clark.
Subscribe to The Spokesman-Review’s sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.