Players and coaches at Whitworth say every week that it is just one game, and that every win means the same as another.
But on Saturday, the 19th-ranked Pirates sure looked dominant, and they stand as the team to beat in the Northwest Conference.
Whitworth (5-0, 3-0 NWC) scored six first-half touchdowns and held Pacific Lutheran without a first down until just before halftime, coasting to a 55-13 victory at the Pine Bowl.
Little about what the Pirates did on offense or defense seemed spectacular. Rather, theirs was a workmanlike effort led by a dominant offensive line.
“They had a great week of practice, and they keep coming together as a unit,” junior quarterback Leif Ericksen said. “Right now they are jelling at a great time.”
Ericksen was hardly touched and never sacked, completing 31 of 40 attempts for 306 yards and five touchdowns. Senior Garrett McKay continued his banner year with 10 catches for 111 yards and his fourth touchdown of the season.
But it was sophomore receiver Noah Alejado who had perhaps the most memorable and important touchdown.
Ahead 7-0, the Pirates lined up to punt near their end zone. The Lutes came in a swarm, blocked the punt, and Jake Herzog fell on the ball in the end zone. Tyler Adamson blocked the extra-point attempt and the Pirates led 7-6.
But near midfield on the next drive, Alejado caught a screen pass – his first college reception – and evaded a handful of tackles before diving into the corner of the end zone for a 44-yard score.
“I thought, ‘OK, catch the ball first, and then make something happen,’ ” said Alejado, who caught another touchdown in the second quarter. “I saw a couple people coming behind me and I thought, ‘Oh, I gotta score this,’ so I just dived.”
That gave the Pirates a 14-6 lead, and the Lutes never got closer.
The Pirates had no trouble moving the ball, and they spread around the carries. Fifteen players caught passes, and four running backs combined for 263 yards rushing, led by Mason Elms’ 106 on 14 carries.
They finished with 38 first downs and averaged almost 6 yards per play.
Pacific Lutheran (2-3, 1-2) had no such luck. Its strategy of quick throws wasn’t effective early in the game when it needed to be.
Anthony Louthan, the Lutes’ star do-it-all senior, couldn’t get going. He ended up touching the ball more as a punter (10 times) than a rusher or receiver (nine times for 68 yards). Aside from Louthan, the Lutes mustered 78 yards from scrimmage.
“One of our game plans was just to account for him,” Whitworth coach Rod Sandberg said of Louthan. “He lines up as an H-back, a tail back, a tight end, a wide receiver, and you don’t know where he’s going to be, so we needed to be cognizant of where he was, because we did think he was probably their best football player.”
By the end of the third quarter, the Pirates had pulled nearly every starter. Whitworth finished with 628 yards of offense, no turnovers and zero missed kicks.
The outcome starkly contrasted with the close contests of the past two years between the programs, results of 17-14 and 45-41, both wins for Whitworth.
With Puget Sound losing to Pacific 23-22 Saturday, Whitworth stands alone atop the NWC standings with a game at Puget Sound (4-2, 2-1) looming.
“We played well. The potential of this team is scary, though, because we have a lot of things we can improve upon,” McKay said.
Penalties (nine for 79 yards) were still an issue for the Pirates, Sandberg said. He pointed out the blocked punt, as well as kickoff coverage, as areas the team needs to improve.
As far as the standings, he said he’s not looking at that, aside from the goal of staying atop them.
“The champion of the Northwest Conference has an automatic bid to the playoffs,” Sandberg said. “Let’s focus on that, and the rest can fall for itself.”
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