McMINNVILLE, Ore. – In the battle of the unstoppable force, No. 14 Whitworth’s high-powered offense, against the immovable object, No. 8 Linfield’s defense, the defense ruled Saturday as the Wildcats dropped the previously unbeaten Pirates 38-9 on Maxwell Field.
Whitworth failed to score a touchdown for the first time in more than a decade.
“We played a very good football team that was very well prepared and the Whitworth Pirates did not play up to their potential today,” Whitworth coach Rod Sandberg said. “We had some mental breakdowns and things we didn’t do right and that gave them momentum and a cushion and we were not able to overcome that.”
It was the Northwest Conference opener for the Pirates (3-1) and Wildcats (2-1).
Linfield brought fierce defensive pressure at the Pirates from the first snap. On the fifth play of the game, record-setting Pirates quarterback Ian Kolste threw into what appeared to be double coverage. Linfield safety Duke Mackle picked off the pass and returned it 56 yards, giving the hosts an early 7-0 lead.
Linfield’s defense blunted the Pirates’ offense allowing just Rehn Reiley field goals of 20, 33 and 32 yards. The Wildcats had a second interception return for touchdown in the third quarter, just when the Pirates had headed off another Linfield score.
The Pirates’ Brian Lee fell on Linfield QB Aiden Wilder’s fumble at the 2-yard line, but on the next play Linfield’s Jake Reimer intercepted Kolste again for at the 6-yard line and took it in for the score, pushing the Wildcats’ lead to 31-6 at the 7-minute, 16-second mark of the third quarter.
“We were really negative in turnover margins, and when you do that it is hard to win, hard to win on the road, and hard to win against a good football team,” Sandberg said. “You tell me a team in America that has won a game when they have thrown two pick-sixes.
“If you are going to win big games, you have to make fourth-and-1 and you have to punch it into the end zone and not settle for field goals and we just didn’t do that today.”
The Pirates made a game of it early with a pair of field goals to close the gap to 7-6 at the 11:58 mark of the second quarter.
“I thought defensively we started with a lot of energy,” Sandberg said.
But Linfield’s offense, which has been suspect in the early season, came to life. Linfield QB Troy Fowler hit J.D. Lasswell for a 63-yard score at the 8:20 mark of the second period for a 14-6 lead.
Linfield followed with another score on a Wilder 2-yard scamper at the 5:30 mark of the second. The score was set up when Kolste fumbled on a Wildcats sack and Linfield took advantage of a short field, starting on the Pirates’ 28. That score made it 21-6 at the break.
“Their defense was really, really good, but not surprising,” Sandberg said. “What was surprising is what we didn’t do. We just did some things that were not typical of us.”
Once Linfield’s lead grew to the final score early in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats were happy to run the clock and control the game with their running game.
The Pirates had a chance to punch the ball in for a TD late in the fourth quarter as Kolste drove them to the Linfield 5. With 23 seconds left, Kolste was sacked. Linfield’s Havili Eteaki, a defensive lineman, scooped the ball and rumbled 37 yards before he was dragged down. Linfield ran out the clock.
Kolste was 32 for 63 for 267 yards. The Pirates added 98 yards on the ground.
Linfield had 234 yards through the air between Wilder and Fowler. Linfield finished with a net of 144 yards on the ground.
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