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Fresh off big win, Whitworth aims for same story against Puget Sound

Things don’t always work out the way the football gods say they will. Just ask the Huskies over in Seattle, or the Cougars down in Pullman.

Last weekend, four of the nation’s top-10 college football teams were stunned on the home fields of their unranked opponents, including then-No. 5 Washington, which fell to Arizona State in Tempe, and then-No. 8 Washington State, which took a beating from the Golden Bears in Berkeley.

“It just reminds you how hard (the game) really is,” Whitworth football coach Rod Sandberg said this week.

The Pirates also went on the road last weekend to Tacoma in hopes of extending their winning streak over Pacific Lutheran to three games.

Unlike its big brothers in the Pac-12, Whitworth returned home with smiles.

Whitworth’s 17-14 decision over the Lutes secured its first victory in the Northwest Conference and gave the Pirates a much-needed boost in confidence before Saturday’s home game against Puget Sound.

The Pirates gained quite a bit of trust in their backup quarterbacks last weekend, including No. 2 sophomore quarterback Leif Ericksen, who started in place of Ian Kolste as the fifth-year senior recovers from a sprained ankle.

“It’s hard to win a football game, it’s hard to win on the road, and we were a team going on the road with our backup quarterback,” Sandberg said. “It was a great team win. … A lot of great teams weren’t able to do that this past Saturday.”

Ericksen completed 14 of 21 passes against the Lutes and finished with 154 yards.

Freshman Connor Johnson also worked at QB for a bit. His 19-yard run in the second quarter came on his first drive and gave the Pirates their first lead.

Most likely, Ericksen will start again in place of Kolste on Saturday when Whitworth hosts the Loggers at the Pine Bowl. Sandberg said Kolste has been in a boot since he injured his ankle in the third quarter against George Fox on Oct. 7. Kolste took a few reps at practice this week, but his participation was limited.

The Pirates might be without their record-setting QB for the second consecutive week, but they will certainly have history on their side.

Puget Sound is the Pirates’ longest-running football rival, dating back to the first meeting in 1904 when Whitworth, which was located in Tacoma then, defeated Puget Sound 6-0 in its first collegiate football game.

Since then, the Pirates and Loggers have faced off 68 times, with Whitworth leading the overall series 42-25-1.

The Pirates have defeated the Loggers in their last 21 meetings. Whitworth’s most recent win over the Loggers came last season when the Pirates celebrated their homecoming weekend with a 56-32 rout at the Pine Bowl.

The last time Puget Sound had Whitworth’s number was in 1995 when the Loggers won 48-35 in Tacoma.

This year, Sandberg expects Puget Sound to be “much more conservative, much more predictable,” particularly on offense.

Puget Sound is averaging 32.2 points and 404.8 yards in five games this season. The Loggers rely heavily on their passing game, averaging almost 288 yards per game.

Puget Sound senior quarterback Tanner Diebold is leading the offense for the first time after serving as the No. 2 QB in the last two seasons.

Diebold has completed 53.5 percent of his passes (106 of 198) for a total of 1,356 yards.

Junior wide receiver Collin Heimbach leads the team with three touchdown receptions. Sophomore running backs Vance Wood and Paul Thomas have combined for 297 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground this season.


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