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Tuesday, November 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Whitworth beats George Fox in defensive struggle to remain perfect in Northwest Conference play

UPDATED: Sat., Oct. 19, 2019

Whitworth coach Rod Sandberg and Kurt Blackman (78) celebrate as the Pirates stop George Fox on fourth down to end a drive near the end of the first half, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in the Pine Bowl. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Whitworth coach Rod Sandberg and Kurt Blackman (78) celebrate as the Pirates stop George Fox on fourth down to end a drive near the end of the first half, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in the Pine Bowl. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Whitworth can win slugfests, too.

After piling up 150 points in its two previous Northwest Conference routs, Whitworth gutted out a 19-14 victory over George Fox on Saturday at a wet and chilly Pine Bowl.

Whitworth safety Jamaal Edwards’ interception of a Jaden Sheffey pass near the end zone in the closing minute saved the Pirates, who won their 15th consecutive Northwest Conference game.

The Pirates (4-1, 3-0 NWC) yielded 266 total yards against the defensive-minded Bruins (2-4, 1-2), who came 10 yards shy of a come-from-behind upset.

“These are kind of games we want to play in and win,” Whitworth head coach Rod Sandberg said. “The (blowout) wins are fun, but you get better when you play in competitive games like this.”

George Fox’s offense struggled but found life on its final drive to Whitworth’s 10-yard line, where it was on the cusp of scoring a go-ahead touchdown with 55 seconds left.

Instead, Edwards, a North Central graduate, jumped in front of Sheffey’s pass near the goal line, sealing Whitworth’s win.

“I just went where the defense told me to go,” said Edwards, who played fewer than a dozen snaps in a reserve role before his timely interception. “I was kind of surprised (Sheffey) threw it because we had two (defensive backs) in that area, but I ducked under and caught it.”

Whitworth’s typically high-octane offense struggled in the slick conditions, totaling a season-low 265 yards. Much of that had to do with George Fox.

The Bruins, whose big, physical defense has given up an average of 17 points in a five-game stretch, held Whitworth’s passing game (195 yards) to 110 yards fewer than its average.

Whitworth quarterback Leif Ericksen completed 19 of 37 attempts, including a 56-yard scoring connection to Andrew Meredith late the third quarter. Ericksen was intercepted on Whitworth’s first two drives.

In a game in which Whitworth’s offense often stalled, resulting in nine punts, the Pirates’ special teams made the biggest plays.

Isaiah Cole’s 40-yard punt return put Whitworth in the red zone late in the first quarter, and the Pirates ended the drive on a 2a-yard touchdown run by Brayden Corona.

The Pirates led 12-7 in the third quarter before Patrick Serrano blocked a punt that was scooped and scored by linebacker Derrick Platt, giving the Pirates a 19-7 lead.

“It just shows that we’re an all-round team that finds a way to win,” Edwards said.

Whitworth’s running game was bottled up, totaling 70 yards on 29 carries. The longest run of the day was Ericksen’s 13-yard scramble.

Meredith led Whitworth in receiving, hauling in five passes for 88 yards, most of which came on the 56-yard touchdown reception that gave Whitworth a 12-7 lead.

Sheffey completed 15 of 27 passes for 176 yards for two touchdowns and an interception. He was also the Bruins’ primary ballcarrier, totaling 47 yards on 29 carries, often picking up key first downs with his feet. He was sacked three times.

“He’s an elusive quarterback,” Sandberg said. “And George Fox is a good team. All the games they’ve lost this year have been by a couple points.”

George Fox was the last team to beat Whitworth in conference play, a 43-23 upset at the Pine Bowl in 2017 that ultimately kept the Pirates from earning a NCAA Division III playoff berth.

Whitworth got similar resistance from the Bruins’ defense this time, but prevailed.

“We knew it was going to be a battle today, and it was,” Sandberg said. “They’re not a good match up for us.”

Whitworth defensive end Andrew McCoy had a team-high seven tackles, including two sacks.

Ericksen injured

Ericksen, the Pirates’ standout quarterback, went down with an ankle injury on the penultimate drive late in the fourth quarter and didn’t return.

If George Fox had scored the go-ahead touchdown with less a minute left, Sandberg said he would have gone with backup Connor Johnson to try and drive Whitworth down the field.

Ericksen was gingerly walking around the field with a taped-up ankle after the game.

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