Four games in, the 19th-ranked Whitworth football team has a lot going for it.
Excellent red-zone efficiency. Relatively good health across the roster. Four wins, including a pair over the two teams the Pirates lost to last year. And senior Garrett McKay might just go down as the most productive receiver in school history.
But head coach Rod Sandberg was quick to point out the team’s biggest problem this year: penalties. That was a focus at practice this week, preparing for Saturday’s game against Pacific Lutheran at the Pine Bowl.
“Discipline,” Sandberg said. “We’ve talked about it for four weeks, now we’re gonna do some friendly reminders after practice.”
This year, the Pirates (4-0, 2-0 Northwest Conference) have been assessed an average of 9.5 penalties per game for 97.3 yards. That’s about double the team’s 2017 numbers, when those figures were 4.8 and 47.6.
The penalties haven’t cost Whitworth any games, but Saturday it faces a Lutes team that has shown steady improvement under Brant McAdams, the first head coach not named Westering at PLU in 47 years.
“They just keep getting better and better each week,” Sandberg said of PLU. “We expect a great game.”
That’s what the Pirates got the past two years, games they won – both on the road – by scores of 17-14 and 45-41.
This year’s Lutes (2-2, 1-1) are led by do-it-all senior Anthony Louthan, whose position is listed as punter/tight end, which is both unconventional and a bit misleading.
Twice named Northwest Conference Special Teams Player of the Week, he averages 41.6 yards per punt, second best in the conference.
But Louthan is also the team’s leading rusher (46 carries for 240 yards) and is third on the team in receptions with 10 for 177 yards. He has even completed a 7-yard pass and successfully thrown for a 2-point conversion.
All that said, the Pirates have done a lot well this year. They have scored in 14 of 16 red-zone trips, including 11 touchdowns. McKay continues to climb the receiving record books, needing 32 catches and 491 yards to match Whitworth’s all-time career bests.
Whitworth’s defense, which has allowed 14.5 points per game, is by far the stingiest unit in the NWC against the run at 59.8 yards per game, 31 fewer than second-best Linfield.
After Saturday, the Pirates have four games remaining, including home games against Pacific (Oct. 27) and Lewis & Clark (Nov. 3).
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.