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Whitworth football opens conference play against Lewis & Clark fresh off its bye week

UPDATED: Fri., Oct. 1, 2021

Whitworth's Logan Kitselman breaks free for a 17-yard reception in the Pirates' 13-10 home win over Carnegie Mellon on Sept. 3.  (Courtesy of Steve Flegel/Whitworth Athletics )
Whitworth's Logan Kitselman breaks free for a 17-yard reception in the Pirates' 13-10 home win over Carnegie Mellon on Sept. 3. (Courtesy of Steve Flegel/Whitworth Athletics )
By Adam Chambers For The Spokesman-Review

After a shortened 2020 season in which Whitworth only played – and won – four games, the Pirates entered the 2021-2022 season looking to extend their streak of winning seasons to eight.

With a 3-0 start against nonconference opponents, the Pirates seem poised to do just that. The Pirates look to build on their undefeated record against Lewis & Clark at 1 p.m. today at the Pine Bowl in the teams’ first Northwest Conference matchup of the season.

The Pirates have been tested early in the season, with narrow wins over Carnegie Mellon (13-10) and Lincoln College (31-29). Both matchups were closed out by game-ending interceptions from senior safety Jacob Hogger.

In Whitworth’s first road game against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, the Pirates gave themselves breathing room by jumping out to a 24-0 halftime lead, with senior wide receiver Ethan Pelaquin grabbing a pair of touchdown receptions in the half, before winning 31-15. Whitworth senior quarterback Jaedyn Prewitt ended the game 17 for 28 with 200 yards and two touchdown passes.

“We were tested in all three nonconference games by three talented teams,” Whitworth coach Rod Sandberg said. “We learned a lot about ourselves. If you win 52-0 in a nonconference game, you don’t learn a whole lot and you can’t focus on the little things that make you better. We’ve played good teams this year, we’ve been in battles, and we’ve learned about the team.”

Among the lessons Sandberg has learned about this year’s team are how explosive the offense can be and how dependable the secondary is.

“Against Claremont, we saw what our offense is capable of,” Sandberg said. “We had a fast start and scored early. But we also fumbled in the end zone and threw an interception in the end zone. We need more consistency. We look great for flashes but need to do it consistently.”

Whitworth’s secondary is among the best in the country in causing turnovers, snatching three interceptions per game. Hogger’s three interceptions in three games rank third best in the country.

“Our whole secondary has been around a long time and has played a whole lot of games,” Sandberg said. “They have a lot of experience that gives them a lot of confidence.”

Coming off the shortened season and off-season, however, there is one major area in which the Bucs need to improve. Sandberg said the team’s overall conditioning isn’t where he wants it to be, or where previous teams have been, at this point in the season.

“One of our biggest concerns this season has been conditioning,” Sandberg said. “Due to COVID and smoke early in the season, we couldn’t get much conditioning in. We were inside for our first three practices, so we were limited on what we could do. Our conditioning isn’t where it has been in the past or where it needs to be. So we didn’t use the bye week to coast, we focused a lot on conditioning. The guys put the pedal down and used the week to get better.”

The Pirates’ conditioning and secondary will be tested Saturday against Lewis & Clark (1-1). The Pioneers’ passing attack generously distributes the ball, with nine receivers pulling in at least three receptions this season. In their last meeting in 2019, senior receiver Aidan Verba-Hamilton torched the Pirates’ secondary for a career day with nine catches for 331 yards and two touchdowns.

“He (Hamilton) went off on us in 2019,” Sandberg said. “So we will need to keep an eye on him. He’s got speed and makes big plays.

“This team is very well-coached and has great schemes. You have to really play sound against them.”

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