In a thriller that came down to the last play, the Whitworth Pirates dropped a hard fought 25-20 game Saturday against the visiting La Verne Leopards.
La Verne, playing its first game of the season, dominated the first half against the Pirates, who were coming off a 36-7 win against St. Scholastica and a 38-17 victory last week against Whittier.
“I thought we played poorly for three quarters,” Pirates coach John Tully said. “But their effort in the fourth quarter was good. Their backs were against the wall and they made some plays.”
Whitworth had two drives in the last 2 minutes and 28 seconds with chances to win the game.
On third-and-4 from the La Verne 37-yard line, junior quarterback Bryan Peterson didn’t see a wide open Wade Meyer and instead threw incomplete to running back D.J. Tripoli. Peterson then threw incomplete on fourth down.
The defense stuffed the Leopards on three downs, forcing a punt with 39 seconds left.
Peterson drove his team the length of the field, including passes of 15, 20 and 13 yards to Drew Clausen to set up one last play with 2 seconds left. But Peterson’s pass skipped off Devon Lind’s hands to end the game.
“We went the length of the field. We just didn’t quite make the play,” Tully said. “That’s the way it goes.”
Leopards coach Chris Krich said he was surprised how crisp his team played. He noted it was his team’s first season-opening win since 2005. The Leopards lost to Whitworth 45-20 last year.
“With our first game, we usually are fighting through all of the problems,” Krich said. “But we got off to a hot start. We kept everything basic.”
He meant basic as in handing the ball to running back Matt Biggers. The 5-foot-8, 205-pound senior ran for 102 yards in first half and finished the day with 117. Fellow running back Travis Sparks-Jackson had 52 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown.
“Thank goodness we had (Biggers),” Krich said. “Coach Tully did a great job of making adjustments at halftime. We didn’t have an answer. We were just basically able to hold on.”
Down 17-0 at the half, the Pirates didn’t get on the board until Tripoli scampered around the left end for a six-yard touchdown run with 10:33 left in the third quarter.
In fact, all but 66 of Whitworth’s 435 total yards came in the second half.
Despite suffering seven sacks, Peterson gave the Pirates a chance with touchdown runs of 20 and 18 yards in the fourth quarter.
He finished 20 of 38 for passing for 374 yards and one interception. He was also intercepted on a 2-point conversion try that the Leopards returned the length of the field to go up 25-13 early in the fourth quarter.
“I just think we came out flat as an offense in the first half,” said Clausen, who finished with eight catches for 172 yards. “We got our running game going in the second half, which took a lot of pressure off of Bryan. We needed to give Bryan more time.”
Tripoli finally found some running room in the second half. He ran 22 times for 74 yards and a score.
But La Verne linebacker Anthony Arguello routinely harassed Peterson, getting three sacks and two more tackles for losses.
“They were a great team. I don’t want to take anything away from them,” Clausen said. “But it also showed we could overcome adversity.”
With conference play opening in two weeks, Clausen said the close loss may serve greater needs.
“It’s so early in the season, we can’t let this affect us. It’s a good way to bring us down to earth,” he said. “We need to take what we can from it and improve.”
Simon Fraser 21, Central Washington 14: Chris Tolbert accounted for two fourth-quarter TDs and the Simon Fraser Clan (2-0) rallied for a win over the Wildcats (1-2) in Ellensburg, Wash.
Puget Sound 42, Whittier 33: Braden Foley threw three TD passes and Kupono Park ran for two scores to power the Loggers (1-1) past the Poets (0-2) in Whittier, Calif.
Pacific Lutheran 35, Redlands 14: Dalton Ritchey tossed three TD passes and Dalton Darmody recovered a fumble in the end zone for another score to lead the Lutes (2-0).
Carroll 24, Rocky Mountain 17: Dustin Rinker’s 1-yard TD run in the third quarter carried the Saints (4-0, 3-0) to a Frontier Conference win over the Bears (3-1, 2-1) in Billings, Mont.
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