Kaipo Barnes jogged to the sideline and got his chance to hold court, accepting handshakes, hugs and other adulation from his teammates.
He had just recorded his second interception of the game, a Pirates’ victory that was by then, in the third quarter, safely established.
With two starting linebackers out with injuries, Barnes made his first career start on Saturday and almost immediately made an impact. He had two interceptions as well as a fumble recovery, and Whitworth took advantage of numerous mistakes by the Bearcats to rout Willamette 82-7 at the Pine Bowl in both teams’ Northwest Conference openers.
“I’ve been waiting for this for four years,” Barnes said. “It’s not the way I wanted to get here by replacing someone injured like Jaylen (Gonzales), but whatever I can do to help my team win.”
The depth of linebacker corps was something coach Rod Sandberg touted during training camp, and it got its first test two weeks ago in a 37-30 loss to Chapman. Gonzales missed most of the second half, and Iain Black played through an injury as he finished that game.
Whitworth was without both those starters Saturday, but their absence showed little. Barnes recovered a fumble on the Bearcats’ first drive and intercepted a Mathew Castenada pass to start their second. They led to a Pirates field goal, touchdown and two-point conversion for an 11-0 lead.
Two drives later, Brandon Culcasi snapped the ball over Bearcats punter Sam Adams’ head, setting up Taylor Kolste’s second touchdown reception of the game. Kolste finished with a team-high 72 yards on five receptions.
Whitworth was forced to punt on its next drive, but the low kick deflected off a Willamette player’s foot and was recovered by the Pirates. Andrew Meredith caught a touchdown five plays later, and with the score 25-0, the rout was on.
Willamette’s mistakes continued, and Whitworth’s 31-7 halftime lead ballooned to 73-7, capped by freshman Spencer Lloyd’s 91-yard touchdown run – on just his second collegiate carry – early in the fourth quarter.
Right after that, Jamaal Edwards scored on a 30-yard interception return to make it 80-7.
On the next Whitworth possession, faced with a fourth-and-3 on the Willamette 11-yard line, the Pirates opted to kneel rather than attempt a field goal.
After the Bearcats gained zero yards on three plays, Pirates freshman Tristen Guilfoyle blocked a punt. The ball bounded out the back of the end zone for a safety, and the score was 82-7.
Whitworth’s total fell a point shy of the team record for points in a game, set in an 83-13 win over Northern Montana in 1971.
“We executed in all facets of the game,” said junior running back Brayden Corona, who led the Pirates with 101 rushing yards and two touchdowns. “It went well.”
By game’s end, the Pirates had picked off five passes and recovered two fumbles. Their first-team offense sat the entire second half and scored just four of the team’s 11 touchdowns.
That included senior quarterback Leif Ericksen, who finished 11 of 18 for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Junior Connor Johnson, who threw a 33-yard pass to Kolste for the game’s first touchdown, completed all seven of his throws for 91 yards and four scores.
The Pirates finished with 556 yards of offense and committed just two penalties. Last year, Whitworth averaged more than 10 penalties per game.
Although Willamette was able to generate 279 yards of offense, turnovers and late-down struggles stifled its drives. The Bearcats (1-2, 0-1) went 5 of 21 on third and fourth downs.
Isaac Parker, the Bearcats’ first-year head coach, was the offensive coordinator at Lewis & Clark College last year. Senior linebacker Kale Wong said the Bearcats’ offense looked similar to what they saw out of L&C last season.
“I think it was just great getting back on the winning track,” Wong said. “We were focused these past few weeks, ready to flush the game before.”
The Pirates (2-1, 1-0) will play at Lewis & Clark (2-1, 1-0) next week, with no more byes the rest of the way.
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