Leif Ericksen takes over Whitworth offense in season-opening rout of La Verne

Whitworth quarterback Leif Ericksen, seen here during an Aug. 25 scrimmage, threw for 239 yards and two touchdowns during the Pirates’ 38-2 victory over La Verne on Saturday at the Pine Bowl. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

It took the Whitworth Pirates three offensive drives, but they finally caught wind in their sails and they were off.

After coasting to a 53-0 win at home last season over La Verne (California), Whitworth again put its celebratory cannon to work after beating the Leopards 38-2 on Saturday in nonconference play on the newly named Puryear Field in the Whitworth Pine Bowl.

Also new was the first-string quarterback under center. Junior Leif Ericksen had big shoes to fill when Ian Kolste graduated, but put any early-season worries to bed after leading four touchdown drives in the three quarters he played.

Overall, he was 16 for 25 with 239 yards and two touchdowns, guiding the Pirates to a convincing win.

“He was in control, he looked confident, he was having fun,” coach Rod Sandberg said. “He was running the plays how they needed to be ran and the players responded.”

Ericksen and the offense kept the Leopards guessing. Add in 35 rushes for 213 yards and three touchdowns and the Pirates’ offense was just about as balanced as one could be. Mason Elms led the ground attack with 10 rushes for 63 yards and two touchdowns.

Sandberg was happy with the display, but he knows his team has more to show, even in the running game.

“I think we will learn a lot (watching the tape),” he said. “It is hard to simulate that in practice. I think we will take this film and we see where we can get better and how we can sustain blocks.”

If the offense showed off what the 2018 season has in store, then the defense, too, has plenty to be happy about.

La Verne’s James Gonsalves, who had a strong finish to the 2017 season, was held to 18 rushes for only 64 yards.

The shortest player on the field, 5-foot-6 wide receiver Nathan Sagastume, made a diving catch over the middle and gathered in two other deep balls down the field to help put the Leopards within striking range.

But each time, the Whitworth defense clamped down and protected its end zone, holding the Leopards to no offensive points.

“I really loved our energy. We had a lot of energy today,” Sandberg said.

That energy translated to animated celebrations on defense which led to a few unsportsmanlike penalties along the way. All in all, the Pirates were flagged 13 times for 135 yards – too many for Sandberg.

“It was what I talked about at halftime and it definitely didn’t get better in the second half,” he said. “We need to be a disciplined football team. Those things will come back to hurt you if you’re not.”

“First-game mistakes. I think everybody made them across the board, a lot of things we can clean up,” Ericksen said.

But when the final horn blew, it was Whitworth that made more positive plays.

“Any win is a good win,” Sandberg said. “We are thankful to get out of here and finally get an opponent and learn a little about ourselves today.”

Ericksen and the rest of the Pirates are just glad to hit someone in practice who isn’t wearing the same jersey.

“You work eight months for nine games,” Ericksen said. “Eight months of working in the gym, working late nights, working early and finally getting out here, it feels good.”