Colten Chelin’s arrival on the Whitworth University campus happened to dovetail with his arrival in the starting lineup, way back in 2018. So he was bound to feel a crash of emotions as the final seconds of the Pirates’ 2022 football season ticked away Saturday.
Losing that finale 28-14 to George Fox on the home green of the Pine Bowl only added to it.
The Pirates said goodbye to 26 seniors before the game, none any more central to the 33 victories of the past five seasons than the defensive back from Kennewick – his impact underscored by the nearly endless line of teammates who waited to embrace him afterward.
“It sucks that we lost and it’s sad right now,” said Chelin, who started all 44 games in his Whitworth career. “But more than that, there are the friendships and common experiences I’ve had with the seniors and coaches and all the guys. It’s great to have them in my life and be in a program that’s bigger than football.”
That is a comfort, because the football was a disappointment for the Pirates on Saturday.
Four big plays by the Bruins – three explosive passes and one crushing interception – did in Whitworth, but maybe not as much as not being able to turn three George Fox fumbles into any points.
“All day long, we didn’t make plays,” Whitworth coach Rod Sandberg said. “Penalties, dropped passes, not covering our guy, missing a field goal and getting one blocked, opportunities we didn’t take advantage of. You get turnovers, you need to do something with it.”
The tenor of the proceedings turned in the space of just five plays early in the second quarter.
On the first of those, Bruins quarterback Haiden Schaan spotted wide receiver Logan Klopfenstein matched up against Whitworth linebacker Patrick Serrano – the result a 70-yard pass play that led to Taylor Saben’s 3-yard run for the game’s first score.
On Whitworth’s first subsequent scrimmage play, it was Schaan’s brother Kiegan’s turn – intercepting an easy-to-read floater from Jaedyn Prewitt and returning it 26 yards. A play later, the Bruins had a 14-0 lead.
Playing from behind didn’t suit the Pirates, who couldn’t sustain drives – they were 2 of 12 on third down and 1 of 5 on fourth. They did have a textbook 2-minute drive to end the first half sparked by six receptions by tight end Isaac Fields, and Prewitt made a nervy, scrambling 24-yard touchdown pass to Evan Liggett on the first play of the fourth quarter that pulled Whitworth within a touchdown for the last time.
Chelin was part of an intriguing subplot, matched up all game long against the Northwest Conference’s top receiver, Leon Johnson III, who was averaging 23 yards a catch and 126 a game. He did manage a short touchdown grab, but only 23 yards on six receptions.
“I loved the challenge,” Chelin said.
But Haiden Schaan didn’t hesitate to look elsewhere, finding Dylan Dobbins for completions of 32 and 59 yards, and Saben on a perfectly executed screen that went for 42 and the clinching touchdown. Three of their four long passes came on third down.
The Bruins celebrated an eight-win season for the first time since resuming football in 2014. The Pirates finished 6-4 and tied for fourth in the NWC in a season marked by many hiccups, not the least of which had them resorting to a fourth-string quarterback and an emergency Wildcat formation to salvage the season in October.
“It was a challenging year,” Sandberg said. “We never could get our rhythm with injuries and different things.
“We were never the team we thought we could be, and you’ve got to look internally as a coach and ask yourself why we couldn’t get them out of that.”
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