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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Christilaw: Valley grads integral to Whitworth’s success

You have to wonder where the Whitworth University football program would be without a heaping helping of Valley football talent.

The Pirates are off to a 4-2 start under first-year head coach Rob Sandberg, including a 61-45 win over previously unbeaten Willamette on Saturday at the Pine Bowl.

It’s not just that the Bucs are winning games; they’re putting up points by the truckload. They opened the season with a 63-10 rout of Lewis & Clark, then went on the road to win back-to-back games against Whittier and LaVerne by scores of 30-17 and 50-48.

They lost a shootout with Chapman at the Pine Bowl, 49-34, and stumbled against Pacific at Forest Grove, Oregon, 29-15, before rebounding against Willamette.

Football teams don’t put up big numbers without a solid offensive line. University High School graduate Kyle Cosby is the Pirates’ starting left tackle. But the heart of that Whitworth offense resides in two former West Valley High School quarterbacks.

Senior Bryan Peterson is the starting quarterback and he’s in the midst of his finest college season.

With three games left in the regular season – the final two at home against Puget Sound (Oct. 25) and George Fox (Nov. 1) – Peterson has thrown for 14 touchdowns. He’s completed 174 of 266 passing attempts, giving up just five interceptions.

Against LaVerne, he broke the NCAA single-game record for completions in a game and most consecutive completions without an interception. He set school records for passing yards in a single game, most completions in a game and most passing attempts in a game. He was 59 of 83 for 589 yards and six touchdowns, with no interceptions.

Not bad for a guy playing his fallback sport.

After Peterson graduated from West Valley, he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox organization and he spent several years playing minor league baseball.

The player who replaced Peterson at quarterback for the Eagles was Drew Clausen, who guided the Eagles to the state Class 2A championship game as a senior and earned All-Great Northern League honors.

Clausen’s days under center ended when he headed off to Carroll College to start his college football career.

The Saints turned him into a starting wide receiver, where he helped them win the NAIA National Championship n 2010.

But wide receivers at Carroll College are blockers first and pass-catchers second, so Clausen transferred after his sophomore season in Helena and enrolled at Whitworth in hopes of catching on in a more wide-open offense.

Turns out he not only caught on, he’s pretty much caught everything a year ago and he hasn’t slowed down as a senior. He has had 51 catches for 305 yards and three touchdowns so far this season.

The biggest surprise this season has been the play of East Valley freshman JT Phelan.

As a Knight, Phelan did a little of everything. He was an ALL-GNL wide receiver and stepped in to play quarterback when the EV starter went down with an injury. Defensively he seemed to be everywhere at once.

At Whitworth, he stepped into the role of starting outside linebacker in the second game of his college career and become one of Whitworth’s leading tacklers.

The son of East Valley’s assistant football and head baseball coach, John Phelan, the frosh linebacker is the Bucs’ fourth-leading tackler, collecting 15 solo tackles and helping on 22 more for a total of 39. Eight of those tackles have been for a loss and he has two-and-a-half sacks.

It’s tough for a small college football program to compete for attention in the Spokane area. Playing in the Pac-12 and improving steadily under Mike Leach, Washington State garners the majority of the attention. And Eastern Washington is a national power in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Still, the Pine Bowl is a college football gem. It’s a picturesque spot for a fall Saturday afternoon.

And the quality of local football talent playing there on any given Saturday afternoon makes it an exceptional spot to spend a day.

Steve Christilaw is a longtime sportswriter and reporter. He can be reached at steve.christilaw@ gmail.com.
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