The No. 8 Linfield Wildcats jumped all over Whitworth early and hung on for a 45-31 win at the Pine Bowl on Saturday.
The Wildcats defense held Whitworth to a season low 318 yards, including only 25 yards on the ground, while racking up 664 total yards in the game was not as close as the final score indicated.
“When you are in a championship matchup, you’ve got to make plays,” Whitworth coach Rod Sandberg told the team. “Right before the end of the first half, that was brutal. That was a big swing.”
Trailing 21-10, the Pirates’ defense had forced a third-and-25 near midfield. But Linfield’s Sam Riddle, who completed 25 of 40 attempts for 381 yards and five touchdowns, found Reed Peterson for a 25-yard pass to convert the first down.
Riddle later ran the ball in for a two-yard touchdown to make it 28-10 just before the end of the first half.
“It could have been 21-17. But having them going up 28-10 was brutal,” Sandberg said. “They are a great team. They make you pay.”
The game started well for the Pirates (4-2, 3-1 Northwest Conference), who took the opening kick and marched down the field before stalling at the Linfield 23. Rehn Reiley booted a 41-yard field goal to make it 3-0.
Then Linfield happened. Riddle hit Johnny Carroll for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 2:44 left in the first quarter to make it 7-3. He hit two more first-half touchdowns to Carroll before Whitworth’s Ian Kolste hit Nick Kiourkas for an 11-yard touchdown with 5:17 left in the second quarter to make it 21-10.
Down 18 points at halftime, Linfield (5-1, 4-0) added to the pain when Riddle hit Eric Igbinoba for a 33-yard strike to make it 35-10.
Whitworth added a 12-yard touchdown by Duke DeGaetano in the third quarter; a fourth quarter Kolste run and a 6-yard Nick Kiourkas touchdown, but it wasn’t enough.
“They are a great team,” said DeGaetano, who finished with 37 yards on 16 carries. “We needed to find a groove and that took a while. We just weren’t executing the way we wanted to.”
The Linfield defense sacked Kolste five times for 45 yards in losses for Whitworth.
“I have to take a lot of the blame” on the sacks, said Kolste, who completed 25 of 48 passes for 293 yards and an interception. “I have to do a better job of going through my progressions and making my throws.”
Sandberg said he was proud of his team’s effort, even if it didn’t make enough plays. DeGaetano agreed, saying the team wants to finish strong for the seniors.
“We got hit in the mouth a little bit,” he said. “But it’s our time to respond. We are playing for our seniors and the love of our brothers.”