PUYALLUP, Washington – Sophomore Leif Ericksen shook off an early interception in his first start and Tariq Ellis accounted for the only score of the second half with a 60-yard run to lift Whitworth to a 17-14 victory over Pacific Lutheran on Saturday afternoon.
The Pirates (4-2, 1-2 Northwest Conference) also got a rushing touchdown from freshman quarterback Connor Johnson on his first collegiate play and capitalized on critical mistakes by the Lutes for their first conference victory.
“It was a great team victory today,” said Ericksen, who replaced Ian Kolste at quarterback in the second half last week when the fifth-year senior injured his ankle. “Guys had my back all week. The coaches, players, everyone was behind me and gave me the confidence to go out there and do what needed to do to win.”
The game, Pacific Lutheran’s homecoming, had extra meaning for Ericksen, who completed 14 of 21 passes for 121 yards.
“Both my parents went to PLU, my sister went to PLU and I’ve had 22 other family members go to PLU,” he said. “So, it’s a little bit of a homecoming retribution game for me.”
Pacific Lutheran (1-3, 1-2) had a third-quarter touchdown pass called back on a penalty, missed a 38-yard field goal, and had a crucial drop on its final possession.
Ericksen, who threw an interception on his first pass on the opening series, sealed the victory with a 25-yard run to the Lutes’ 1-yard line. The Pirates then took a knee on three consecutive plays to run out the final 1:35 because Pacific Lutheran was out of timeouts.
“If we take a knee, we win. We don’t care about scoring, we care about winning the game,” Whitworth coach Rod Sandberg said. “You don’t want to risk fumbling because crazy things happen.”
Midway through the third quarter, Elllis burst off the left side from his 40-yard line for what proved to be the decisive touchdown.
“I saw a cutback and saw the two safeties coming in and knew I had to blast straight through,” said Ellis, who played at nearby Tacoma in high school. “The hole that the lineman made was so big, it was easy for me after they did their job.”
Ellis finished with 100 yards on 13 carries as the Pirates rushed for 169 yards.
On the ensuing possession, Pacific Lutheran appeared to score when Cole Chandler found Jacob King from 24 yards out in the right corner of the end zone, but the Lutes were called for an ineligible player downfield.
Pass interference gave the Lutes a first down, but the drive stalled and Dallen Rodriguez’s 38-yard field-goal attempt was wide right.
Ericksen’s second interception gave the Lutes another shot, but after a first down at the Whitworth 19, defensive tackle P-Jay Solomon came up with huge sack and Chandler overthrew his receiver inside the 10 on fourth down with 10:10 left.
After Rehn Reiley’s 51-yard punt pinned them at their 7-yard line, the Lutes also had to punt after John Morasch dropped a potential first-down pass. The Pirates ran out the clock behind Ericksen’s run.
“We made some good plays, but also made some mistakes,” Pacific Lutheran coach Scott Westering said. “In every close game, it seems like there are four or five plays that make the difference.”
After a scoreless first quarter, the Pirates took a 7-0 lead when Johnson came in and capped a 56-yard scoring drive with a 19-yard run up the middle the first pay he ran.
The Lutes tied it at 7 on Chandler’s 9-yard run with 7:46 left in the half.
On the ensuing possession, Erickson’s 33-yard completion to Michael McKeown keyed a drive that penetrated to the 6-yard line, but a high snap resulted in a 13-yard loss and the Pirates settled for Reiley’s 36-yard field goal.
The Lutes answered when Chandler hit DJ Winter with a 48-yard scoring pass for a 14-10 halftime lead.