This wasn’t exactly the big comeback Rod Sandberg had hoped for.
After Whitworth suffered its first loss of the season last week when it dropped its Northwest Conference opener to Lindfield, the fourth-year coach was certain his 22nd-ranked Pirates could regain their momentum that had suddenly slowed since their dominating 3-0 season start.
But the Pirates (3-2, 0-2) couldn’t seem to hit the start button on Saturday, failing to score until the third quarter before falling to the George Fox Bruins 43-23 at the Pine Bowl.
“This was tough. (It was) the two best teams that we play all year back-to-back,” Sandberg said. “Now we learn from it and respond.”
The defeat spoiled Whitworth’s homecoming weekend. It was George Fox’s (4-1, 2-0) first victory over the Pirates in four tries.
“We just got to a really slow start,” Sandberg said.
That’s a bit of an understatement, considering Pirates quarterback Ian Kolste didn’t enter until almost 10 minutes into the game.
George Fox began the game at its 25-yard line and slowly chipped away at Whitworth’s defense. The Bruins used up 9 1/2 minutes on their first drive.
“It’s hard, because our offense is definitely rhythm offense, and when they have those long drives like that and we’re sitting on the sidelines for a little bit, it’s tough,” Whitworth running back Mason Elms said. “… That didn’t set us up too well for the rest of the game.”
Bruins tailback Wesley Riddell gained nearly half of his total yards (60 of 124) on 11 carries in the first drive, having his number called seven consecutive times before the Pirates finally shut him down at the 4-yard line.
That seemed to wake up Whitworth’s defense. Zach Hillman sacked Bruins quarterback Grant Schroeder to force a fourth-down field-goal attempt from the 30.
The Pirates blocked the kick, and Brad Lander recovered the ball for George Fox before it flipped out of his hands and landed near the 14-yard line.
Whitworth’s Chase Takaki scooped up the ball and dashed 86 yards to the end zone, but officials waived off the touchdown and put the Pirates back to their 14-yard line, ruling Lander’s awkward flip a forward pass.
“It was a tough call against us. We had a lot of momentum and that just kind of ripped that away from us,” said Sandberg, who agreed that the play was an incomplete pass. “We just took a long time to recover after that.”
The Pirates, who failed to get a first down until the final minute of the first quarter, went scoreless until more than 7 minutes into the third quarter when George Fox already had a 27-0 lead.
Fifth-year senior Kolste connected with Garrett McKay on a 22-yard pass and added a 4-yard toss to wide receiver Kevin Thomas for Whitworth’s first touchdown.
Kolste left the game halfway through the third with what appeared to be a leg injury, according to Sandberg. He finished 21 of 28 on passes.
Leif Ericksen took over for Kolste and completed 7 of 13 passes. His first drive on the field resulted in a score after the sophomore connected with Brett Moser on a 20-yard pass.
Elms had 10 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown and McKay finished with 10 catches for 85 yards to lead Whitworth.
Pirates wide receiver Nick Kiourkas extended his reception streak to 36 games after he made his only reception of the game in the third quarter for a 12-yard gain.
Schroeder completed 16 of 21 passes for the Bruins. Lander led George Fox’s offense with six receptions for 163 yards and two touchdowns. Riddell finished with 21 carries for 124 yards and a second-half touchdown.
The Bruins outgained Whitworth 553-359 and had a nearly 15-minute advantage in time of possession.
Patch Kulp led Whitworth’s defensive line with 15 tackles. Shai Pulawa followed with 11.
Chris Riga, who was 19th in Division III tackles with 47 ahead of Saturday’s game, added 10 more to lead the Bruins. Teammate Austin Taylor also recorded 10 tackles.
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