Whitworth football coach Rod Sandberg got a call this week, he said, from officials at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, the Pirates’ opponent Saturday.
They were asking for heaters on the sidelines.
Ever since, the Whitworth coaches have posted on the locker room wall the daily high and low temperatures from Claremont, California, and Spokane. It’s been colder here.
“Their low is higher than our high,” Sandberg said. “We’re gonna embrace that we’re the tough northern team and they’re gonna be out of their element.”
The Pirates don’t often get a chance to do that, as it has been a long time – 12 years – since they hosted a warm-weather team in a late-season game. They won that contest 27-23 over Occidental (California).
That was the program’s lone NCAA postseason victory. The Pirates (9-0) will play for another at noon Saturday when they host the CMS Stags (7-3) in the opening round of the Division III playoffs at the Pine Bowl.
Under the lights at practice this week, junior quarterback Leif Ericksen proudly wore shorts and a jersey despite temperatures in the 30s.
“Oh, I love playing in this weather,” said Ericksen, whose high school playoff games were always played in subzero temps. “It’s awesome.”
Ericksen’s streak will likely end, but not by much. When the Stags and Pirates kick off, temperatures are expected to hover just above freezing.
The last time the Pirates played in the postseason (2015) they did so on the road, losing to Northwest Conference rival Linfield 48-10. Senior offensive tackle Tyler Adamson was on that team.
“I think we’re all committed, that’s one thing I see that’s different,” Adamson said, comparing this team to the 2015 squad. “We were going against Linfield again, and it seemed like half the guys weren’t committed.”
Home teams have done well in the D-III playoffs, especially in the first round. In each of the last three years, the home team has won 13 of the 16 opening-round games.
Whitworth has played well – and often – at home this year with six games at the Pine Bowl.
Most likely this will be their only home game of the playoffs, unless Martin Luther (9-1) pulls off what would be widely regarded as a major upset over Saint John’s (10-0) in a contest of two more northern teams in Minnesota on Saturday.
Whitworth will likely be without injured starting safety Shai Pulawa for the second consecutive game, but it expects to get senior defensive end Charlie Ball back. Backup quarterback Connor Johnson, out since the Week 3 victory over Linfield, returned in last week’s 52-0 win at Willamette. He completed 6 of 15 attempts for 73 yards and carried seven times for 31 yards.
“It’s nice having him back there,” Ericksen said of the sophomore. “(We are) two guys who bring two different things to the table. It’s nice to have him behind you, and you know what you’re gonna get with him.”
The Pirates are trying to become the second team in school history with 10 victories, aside from the 11-1 team of 2006. Regardless, this year’s team will be the second since 1961 to finish with fewer than two losses.
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