Last season, the Whitworth football team took two good wallopings in conference play.
One was at Linfield, a defeat the Pirates avenged last week in a 19-14 victory.
Saturday, they get their chance at the other: George Fox.
“They kicked our butts last year,” head coach Rod Sandberg said of the Pirates’ 43-23 loss at the Pine Bowl. “They were hungrier than we were. They came here and laid a whooping on us, and we are excited to have an opportunity to play better this year.”
George Fox resurrected its football program five years ago, and the Bruins are already among the Northwest Conference favorites. Led by one-time Whitworth assistant coach Chris Casey, the Bruins (2-2, 0-1 NWC) were picked to finish second in the preseason coaches’ poll. They lost 19-13 in overtime at Pacific to start conference play last week, but Sandberg and the 22nd-ranked Pirates (3-0, 1-0) know full well the Bruins’ capabilities.
Last year, the Bruins took a 20-0 halftime lead over the Pirates and finished with 553 yards of offense, 292 on the ground. Both teams finished 5-2 in conference play.
But the Pirates head to Newberg, Oregon, a confident team after beating NWC Goliath Linfield. Wide receiver and returner Garrett McKay leads the conference in all-purpose yards per game (170.3), has 25 catches for 328 yards and is nearing some school records. With six games left, he needs 41 more catches to match Wayne Ralph’s career record (248) and 617 receiving yards to reach Dwayne Tawney’s 3,042.
Whitworth will be without its other fifth-year receiver, Brett Moser, for at least a couple of weeks after he dislocated his shoulder against Linfield, Sandberg said.
Sandberg was hopeful that sophomore quarterback Connor Johnson could play some today after suffering a shoulder injury last week. Junior Leif Ericksen handled nearly all the snaps last week, but Johnson has spelled him throughout the year and is second on the team with 111 rushing yards.
Stunted by injuries at the position, the Bruins have started three players at quarterback. Freshman Jaden Sheffey, who has four rushing touchdowns this year, and sophomore Jack Taylor are both listed on the depth chart with “OR” between them. Sandberg said the Pirates are preparing accordingly.
No matter who the Pirates see at quarterback, Sandberg said the challenge is for his team to match the emotional high of its win over Linfield.
“The key is by (Saturday) that we get it back up again,” Sandberg said. “Our players know the challenge in front of them and know how good this team is.”
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