It may not have been the season opener Rod Sandberg expected, but the Whitworth coach certainly didn’t mind the early test in the Pirates’ 13-10 nonconference win over Carnegie Mellon on Friday.
“You just can’t practice this,” Sandberg said. “The best thing that happened today was for us to be tested. We didn’t play well, we made mistakes, but we had different guys step up, and I was proud of their resilience.”
Whitworth led 6-0 after the first quarter, thanks to 28- and 33-yard field goals by senior kicker Nate RaPue. Whitworth’s first touchdown of the season came off a 31-yard run by Isaiah Cole with 6 minutes, 40 seconds left in the first half. The Pirates’ defense stymied the Tartans throughout the first half, only allowing 47 yards and two first downs.
But Carnegie Mellon controlled the second half, sparked by a momentum-shifting interception early in the third quarter. Just over 3 minutes into the second half, the Pirates tried to convert a fourth-and-3 on the Tartans’ 25-yard line. Whitworth quarterback Jaedyn Prewitt’s pass was intercepted by Carnegie Mellon’s Kevin Arcia, setting up a Tartans scoring drive capped by a 1-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Tre Vasiliadis.
The Tartans held Whitworth scoreless throughout the second half, led by 19 combined tackles by brothers Thomas and Robert Coury. A 24-yard Tartans field goal with 9 minutes left in the fourth cut the Pirates’ lead to three.
After the Tartans forced the Pirates to punt with less than 2 minutes remaining, quarterback Ben Mills led them on a 35-yard drive to set up a first-and-goal on the Pirates’ 12-yard line with a minute remaining.
With 17 seconds left, Mills fired a pass into the end zone toward Ethan Reifer, but Pirates safety Jacob Hogger stepped in front to pick it off, securing the win.
“I was just sitting in the middle of the field and kinda baited (Mills) a little, and he didn’t see me,” Hogger said. “He looked off and then came back to throw it down the middle and threw it right to me.”
“I think we realized it’s hard to win a college football game. Doesn’t matter. It’s hard to win a college football game,” Sandberg said. “We learned a lot about ourselves and we will have a lot great film to watch.”