Under the rented lights for the last time this season at the Pine Bowl, the Whitworth football team wrapped up its final practice Thursday.
It followed a thrilling overtime loss against Linfield last weekend that ensured Saturday’s today’s game at Pacific would be the Pirates’ last of the season.
It also set up an interesting scenario in the standings.
“We have a lot to play for: second place or fifth place,” Pirates coach Rod Sandberg said. “We play a very good opponent who’s really hot right now.”
Sandberg’s message for the team this week was simple: Finish.
“Finish the season, finish out strong and make a statement for the program,” Pirates senior quarterback Leif Ericksen said. “We want to get to championship games, and we got to it. Unfortunately, it didn’t come out our way, and our program’s one where we’re not gonna lay down, and we’re gonna finish the season well.”
While Linfield has clinched the Northwest Conference championship and a spot in the Division III playoffs, four teams sit behind it with 4-2 conference records: Whitworth, Puget Sound, George Fox and Pacific.
Puget Sound, which beat Whitworth 34-23 earlier this year, hosts Lewis & Clark today. . George Fox hosts Linfield.
After losing all three of its nonconference games and an NWC opener to Linfield, Pacific (4-5 overall) has won four of its last five. It ranks second in the NWC in total offense with 464 yards per game, 34 more per game than Whitworth (5-3 overall). Sophomore Josh Harris leads the conference with 1,131 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns.
Quarterback Kenyon Harris – no relation to the running back – took over as starter after the nonconference losses and leads all NWC starters in completion percentage (74.6).
“He doesn’t make mistakes and he can run,” Sandberg said of the sophomore quarterback. “There’ll be some power running that we really haven’t seen this year. We can’t just choose one or the other.”
There should be no shortage of motivation for the Boxers, whose 10th-year coach, Keith Buckley, is retiring to become Pacific’s director of athletics.
For Whitworth defensive lineman Brennen Folkins, this weekend will mark an end to a playing career that predates his time at West Valley High.
“After what, like, 14 years playing football, this being the last one, a little sad,” the senior said about playing Pacific. “A lot of excitement, lots of extra nerves … a lot of butterflies. I’m just gonna think of all the memories I’ve made and enjoy every moment.”
At the end of Thursday’s practice, Ericksen wasn’t ready for any sentimentality. He came to Whitworth as a wide-eyed freshman, he said, and his one hope then for his final collegiate game was simple: to win it.
He aims to take care of that goal before he considers the personal significance of these last four years.
“Get to Saturday, play a football game and reflect after that,” he said.
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