Rod Sandberg made a simple request ahead of Whitworth’s season finale against winless Willamette.
“Put the hammer down,” the Whitworth coach said on Wednesday.
The Pirates certainly brought down the hammer on Saturday, but with a bit more force than Sandberg had expected.
They overpowered the struggling Bearcats in a swift 57-24 victory that gave nearly the entire team the chance to touch the field in Whitworth’s season finale at the Pine Bowl.
Just four minutes into the second half, with the Pirates were leading 43-6, Sandberg pulled his starting seniors off the field to give the backups some reps.
The group of five starters, led by fifth-year senior quarterback Ian Kolste, were greeted by cheers from the stands as they made their way to the sideline.
“That was a really good way to end it,” Kolste said.
Kolste, who began breaking program records last season, finished 20 of 29 passing for 264 yards. That was enough to finish with 10,118 passing yards for his career.
Kolste led the Pirates to an 8-2 overall record this season, 5-2 in the Northwest Conference.
The Pirates turned things around in the second half of the season, finishing 5-0 following Saturday’s win.
“When you’re down, it’s so easy to stay down. And they picked themselves back up and they fought for this,” Sandberg said.
Unlike previous showings with the Bearcats, Saturday wasn’t much of a brawl.
Whitworth never trailed the Bearcats, who managed to stay close only in the first quarter.
The Pirates jumped out to an 8-0 lead midway through the first quarter on Mason Elms’ one-yard rushing score. Senior wide receiver Micahel McKeown caught a pass from Kolste for the two-point conversion.
Willamette answered just four minutes later with a six-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jeremiah James. The Pirates blocked the extra-point attempt to hold their lead at 8-6.
It was the closest the Bearcats would get.
Whitworth scored five more times in the half, including a pair of touchdown receptions by senior wide receiver Chase Takaki. His second score came in the final minute of the half when he broke through a tackle for a 27-yard touchdown.
As usual when the Pirates takes a substantial lead, Sandberg switched up the quarterbacks between sophomore Leif Ericksen, and freshman arms Jared Oliver and Connor Johnson.
The trio finished with six completions in 10 attempts for 83 yards.
Oliver connected on both of his attempts, including a fourth-quarter touchdown to senior wide receiver Cody Hand for his only touchdown in a Pirates uniform..
Willamette attempted a late rally, scoring on its first three possessions of the second half behind senior running back Joey Thurman to cut Whitworth’s lead to 50-24 heading into the fourth.
McKeown led the Pirates with six receptions for 120 yards and a score. Kevin Thomas finished with four catches for 67 yards,. Takaki had three catches for 34 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior Casey Bond, a second-string running back, also scored for the Pirates late in the third quarter. His five-yard carry was one of only two touchdowns of his four-year career at Whitworth.
Jarin Manuel led the Whitworth defense with 10 tackles and a fumble recovery. Connor Tangeman and Jack McLeod each had an interception in the second quarter.
Willamette quarterback Mathew Castaneda completed 19 of 31 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown.
Kevin Martz led the Bearcats with five receptions for 58 yards. Jeremiah James followed with four catches for 41 yards and a touchdown.
Willamette finished 0-9, its first winless season in program history.