On day when defense became an endangered luxury, Whitworth overcame an 11-point first-half deficit Saturday to pull away for a 50-33 win over the Pacific Boxers at the Pine Bowl.
The win keeps hopes alive for a possible at-large playoff berth for Whitworth (7-1, 4-1 NWC).
“We are still playing for something special,” coach Rod Sandberg told his team. “You battled today. That was a very good football team you just beat.”
The game started as if the winner would be determined by which team had the ball last. By the end, the teams had combined for 1,227 total yards.
“Scoring 50 points was huge,” Sandberg said. “This was a statement game.”
After Whitworth opened the scoring with a two-yard Duke DeGaetano touchdown run, the Boxers (5-3, 3-2) came out swinging.
On the first offensive play after falling behind 7-0, Pacific quarterback Warner Shaw hit Nathan Suyematsu in stride and he took it 70 yards to tie the game.
Whitworth’s next drive stalled at the Pacific 28, but kicker Rehn Reiley booted a 45-yard field goal to retake the lead at 10-7.
It only took Pacific two plays to retake the lead. After Bronson Barretto ripped off a 45-yard run, Shaw hit James Berry for a 20-yard touchdown strike to make it 14-10 Boxers.
Kolste missed three passes in a row and the Pirates gave the ball back to the Boxers, who put together a 14-play, 82-yard drive that ended with a 20-yard scoring pass from Shaw to Zak Porsche to make it 21-10 Pacific.
Three plays later, Kolste hit Michael McKeown in stride and he did the rest for a 59-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion failed to make it 21-16 Boxers.
After a Pacific punt, Whitworth again had a drive stall. But punter Robert Thullen passed to Taylor Roelofs on a fake punt that converted a fourth-and-seven.
“We had a couple momentum-shifting plays right before that half,” Sandberg said. “That fake punt got us back into it. That play was huge.”
Facing fourth down again the Pacific five-yard line, Kolste ran it in for a touchdown to give Whitworth the lead for good at 23-21.
On the next drive, Roelofs intercepted a Shaw pass at the Whitworth 37. With less than a minute to go, Kolste drove his team to the Pacific 2. After Whitworth failed three times to score, Reiley kicked a 19-yard field goal to make it 26-21 Whitworth at halftime.
Whitworth kept rolling in the second half with Kolste touchdown runs of 23 and 8 yards. He finished the day completing 25-of-46 passes for 386 yards and a touchdown. He also ran eight times for 68 yards and three scores on the ground.
But the team turned to DeGaetano to run out the clock and keep the ball out of the Boxers’ offense that compiled 198 yards on the ground and 381 through the air. The Boxers scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but never threatened after halftime.
“He was a beast,” Sandberg said of DeGaetano, who rushed 27 times for 166 yards and two touchdowns. “That happened because our offensive line was keeping him and Kolste clean and opening holes.”
DeGaetano said the offensive players knew they had to step up when the team fell behind by 11 points in the first half.
“Pacific is a big, physical team,” he said. “This was a game coming into the season that we really wanted. It feels great.”
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