In a game in which it didn’t seem that Whitworth could score enough points to win, a key interception and late defensive stand were just enough to seal a 61-45 victory over Northwest Conference foe Willamette.
The teams combined for 1,671 all-purpose yards and Whitworth (4-2, 2-1) tied an NCAA Division III record with 112 plays from scrimmage in a wild homecoming win for coach Rod Sandberg.
“It was a crazy game,” Sandberg told his team. “There were so many plays, I can’t even remember all of them. It was awesome. It was a privilege to be a part of it.”
In a game dominated by offense, the defenses actually started the game by forcing each team to turn over the ball on downs. Then the floodgates opened.
Willamette (2-1, 0-1) running back Dylan Jones set the immediate tone. He took the first handoff on the Bearcats’ second possession and raced 67 yards to the end zone for the first six points of what became a 106-point shootout.
Whitworth freshman receiver Bret Moser immediately answered with a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and the game quickly morphed into a scoring contest.
Jones ended up gashing the Pirates for 350 yards and three touchdowns. Bearcats quarterback Trent Spallas completed 18 of 38 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns.
Still, Whitworth defensive coordinator Adam Richbart was ecstatic with how his defenders competed even after giving up 398 yards rushing and 271 yards passing.
“I’m not usually this happy after giving up 45 points in a game,” Richbart said. “But our guys just fought on both sides of the ball. I’m very proud of them.”
Senior quarterback Bryan Peterson was bloodied and battered after the game in which he completed 43 of 68 for 389 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. He even caught a Drew Clausen pass in which Peterson batted the ball up and fought a defender to make the reception.
“When you can win a game like this, it’s so gratifying,” Peterson said. “It definitely felt like whoever had the ball last was going to win.”
Willamette continually showed why.
After a pair of Duke Degaetano touchdowns and Michael Zeng field goals for Whitworth, the Pirates were leading 41-25.
But the Bearcats got the ball back with 1:18 left in the half. Three plays later, Trent Spallas hit Ryan Foote for a 64-yard touchdown to make it 41-35 just before halftime.
But Peterson directed a 10-play drive to open the second half that ended with a 7-yard touchdown pass to senior Connor Williams to make it 47-35.
The Bearcats eventually got within two points at 47-45 to start the fourth quarter. But Peterson hit Williams again for a 23-yard touchdown. Williams led the Pirates with 15 catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns.
The defense then stopped Willamette on downs. Degaetano added a 20-yard touchdown and freshman Jacob Sturtevant sealed it with a late interception.
Degaetano finished with 150 yards on 27 carries and three touchdowns. Drew Clausen had 14 catches for 77 yards and a score and Moser had 10 catches for 135 yards for the Pirates.
“The stats didn’t matter,” Sandberg said. “The players just played the next play. They kept battling. This is a very big win for us.”
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