Fresh off a humbling defeat to No. 2 Linfield, the Whitworth Pirates have done their best this week to re-focus their efforts on a visiting Pacific team that has matched their success this season.
Pacific (Ore.) (5-2, 3-1 NWC) and Whitworth (6-1, 3-1) both suffered lopsided losses to Linfield. Both teams have explosive offenses that have created fits for most of their opponents.
Whitworth Coach Rod Sandberg said he’s seen no signs of a hangover after the 52-10 loss last week to the Wildcats.
“I told the team four weeks ago, as we were growing and having some success, that you are winners,” Sandberg said. “I told them that seven college teams play football in Washington. We were the only undefeated team in the state.
“After the loss, we still have the best record. I told them, ‘Act like winners and practice like winners because you are.’”
Despite the crushing loss to No. 2 Linfield, the Pirates continue to lead the conference and rank second in the nation in sacks per game (4.57). Whitworth also leads the conference and is fifth in the nation for turnover margin (+ 1.86 per game).
Sandberg said before the season, the seniors set four goals: go undefeated at home, lead the conference in turnover margin, make the playoffs and achieve a team GPA of 3.1.
“All of these things the seniors said were important can still be accomplished,” Sandberg said. “We are playing a team that beat us last year. The captains are really fired up about the Pacific game.”
Whitworth offensive coordinator, Alan Stanfield, said he feels confident the Pirates can move the ball against the Boxers, which lost 77-10 to Linfield on Oct. 10.
“They throw multiple coverages and a lot of different looks,” he said. “We’ve just got to be prepared to get to the right spaces.”
He noted that in the 29-15 loss to the Boxers last year, the Pirates had one touchdown called back on a penalty, another drive stalled at the 1-yard line and two others ended with field goals.
“We had our chances,” he said.
Sandberg said the defense has to prepare well to stop Pacific quarterback Warner Shaw, who has completed 68.8 percent of his passes and has guided an offense that averages 270.4 yards passing and 114.3 yards rushing per game.
“Their quarterback has 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions,” Sandberg said. “He really protects the ball very well. He’s also a very good athlete. We are very concerned about him.”
One of the keys for Whitworth will be to protect quarterback Ian Kolste, who is averaging 257 yards a game and has thrown 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. In the last two games, defenses have pressured the sophomore and the offense has struggled to maintain drives.
Against the Wildcats, the Pirates only converted two of 17 third-down attempts.
“Ian got hit early in the Linfield game,” Sandberg said. “From then on he was dinged up. We’ve got to protect the quarterback. And, we have to go back to the basics. We have to get back to some of he things where we had success early on.”
Kolste said he’s healthy and ready for the challenge. He’s practiced ways to get ball out quicker to avoid any possible pressure.
“I need to have a better plan pre-snap about where to get rid of the ball,” he said. “I think this week we can expect to have a better week offensively.”
The key will be to play fast and efficient.
“When we go fast, we wear teams down,” he said, “and they don’t know how to handle it.”
Both coaches and Kolste said the team has shown no ill effects of repeated practices or letdown from the loss.
“I don’t think we can dwell too much in the past,” Kolste said. “We need to focus on practice and come out better on Saturday.”
Sandberg said he purposefully shortens practice this time of year to avoid wearing down his players.
“That attitude has been awesome and the players have been dialed in,” he said. “The kids know what they are playing for. It keeps them focused.”
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.