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Whitworth looks to keep momentum going with visit to much-improved Lewis & Clark

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 11, 2019

Whitworth quarterback Leif Ericksen throws during the Pirates’ home victory over Willamette on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. (Whitworth Athletics / Courtesy)
Whitworth quarterback Leif Ericksen throws during the Pirates’ home victory over Willamette on Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019. (Whitworth Athletics / Courtesy)
By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

After setting a program record for margin of victory last week, the Whitworth Pirates are back on the road this weekend against what appears to be the much-improved Lewis & Clark Pioneers.

The Pirates got little resistance from the Willamette Bearcats in a 82-7 victory at the Pine Bowl. Plenty of backups got time and many scored – including four who recorded their first collegiate touchdowns – and the deficit could have been greater had the Pirates’ offense not opted to swallow a fourth down inside the Bearcats’ red zone late.

But Lewis & Clark (2-1 overall, 1-0 Northwest Conference) presents more of a challenge to the 24th-ranked Pirates (2-1, 1-0), who will kick off at 1 p.m. Saturday at Griswold Stadium in Portland.

The Pioneers – coached by Jay Locey, who led Linfield to a national title in 2004 – have already matched their conference victory total from last year after they won at Pacific Lutheran 28-14 last weekend. In that game, the Lutes mustered just 158 yards of offense and scored just one offensive touchdown.

The Pioneers’ defense is allowing a conference-low 79.7 yards per game, while the Pirates are second, at 125.7. That presents an interesting matchup of strengths: The rushing attacks for the Pioneers (156 yards per game) and Pirates (197.3) rank second and first, respectively, in the NWC.

Even last year, the Pioneers gave the Pirates a scare, taking an early 14-3 lead and pulling back ahead 21-17 in the second half before Whitworth rallied for a 38-28 victory.

Pioneers running back Michael Abraham, now a junior, ran for 136 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries in that game.

So far this year, Abraham has a conference-high five rushing touchdowns and ranks second with 237 rushing yards.

“You gotta just get a lot of hats to the ball and make a concerted effort to not let him beat you,” Whitworth coach Rod Sandberg said of Abraham.

The Pirates are still playing without two of their usual starting linebackers, Iain Black and Jaylen Gonzales, who are injured. Filling in as starters against the Bearcats last week, seniors Kaipo Barnes and Gunnar Swannack combined for two fumble recoveries and two interceptions.

“The linebackers played well, played smart, played patient,” Sandberg said.

Whitworth’s defensive injury list got longer, though: Sophomore cornerback Braiden Ayala won’t play against Lewis & Clark, Sandberg said.

“They’re a good football team,” Sandberg said of the Pioneers. “We expect an incredible battle.”

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