On an afternoon when he wasn’t great, Whitworth quarterback Leif Ericksen made the throws he had to.
And when he had to, he looked for Garrett McKay.
“He’s reliable,” Ericksen said of the receiver. “The offense, part of it is just finding him. He presents himself a lot of the time, and there’s a lot of trust there.”
McKay caught 12 passes for 160 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown to put away the Lewis & Clark Pioneers in the fourth quarter of the Pirates’ 38-28 win Saturday at the Pine Bowl.
The victory ensured that Whitworth will receive the Northwest Conference’s playoff bid and that the Pirates (8-0, 6-0) will at least be co-conference champions for the first time since 2007. They can win the NWC outright by beating Willamette next week.
McKay is one reception and 109 yards from tying the school’s career records in those categories.
“He’s a big-time player,” Pirates head coach Rod Sandberg said of the senior, who has 65 catches for 836 yards this year. “If we needed something, he’s the guy you wanted to go to.”
And need him, the Pirates surely did.
Michael Abraham, Lewis & Clark’s battering ram of a running back, tried and tried to bash through the Whitworth defense. A couple of times he succeeded, such as the second quarter, when he barreled past the line and through senior defensive backs Shai Pulawa and Jayden Jira on a 52-yard run. Pulawa hobbled off and didn’t return.
Four plays later, Abraham scored from 1 yard out to extend the Pioneers’ lead to 14-3.
“(Abraham is) a big, physical guy, and once he comes downhill, it takes more than one guy to stop him,” said sophomore linebacker Jaylen Gonzales, who had 10 tackles.
Abraham carried 32 times for two touchdowns and 136 yards, but only 18 of those came after half.
Pioneers receiver Dejour Williams found space in the Pirates’ secondary, including the game’s opening 60-yard touchdown. Williams had seven catches for 154 yards.
Despite that, and despite Ericksen’s three interceptions, the Pirates found a way, specifically during key stretches at the end of the second and third quarters.
Trailing 14-3 – their largest deficit of the season – Ericksen capped back-to-back drives in the second quarter with touchdown passes. The first went to Taylor Hall, a 12-yard fade to the corner. The second was an identical play, Ericksen said, but went to Bryce Powers for 10.
That gave the Pirates a 17-14 halftime lead.
Late in the third, after the Pioneers (2-6, 1-5) had reclaimed the lead, the Pirates again scored on consecutive drives: Ericksen on a 10-yard read-option run, and then Tariq Ellis on a 23-yard dodge and dash up the middle. Suddenly, the Pirates led 31-21.
On the next drive, McKay caught his touchdown, his sixth of the year, for a 38-21 lead. Ericksen finished 28 of 47 for 302 yards.
Defensive lineman Chad Wilburg recorded half a sack, giving the senior at least that many in every game this season. His 11.5 sacks lead the NWC.
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