After storming through the bulk of Northwest Conference play largely unchallenged, Whitworth’s football team had to scrap out a different kind of win Saturday to keep its perfect season alive.
The Pirates faced rainy conditions and a fourth-quarter deficit for the first time in weeks but scored 14 unanswered points to close out a 24-13 win over George Fox in the Pine Bowl.
Whitworth had to overcome another slow start – an issue that plagued it earlier in the season – after quarterback Austin Ewing was intercepted on just the second play into the Pirates’ opening drive.
The Bruins kicked a field goal to take an early lead, but Whitworth quickly struck back when senior running back Solo Hines took a 67-yard run along the sideline for a touchdown.
“I was supposed to run inside, but they crashed inside, so I bounced it outside and I saw I was one-on-one with the corner,” Hines said. “I knew if I broke his tackle I’d be gone, so I broke his tackle and took off.”
The rest of the first half was defined by tough defensive play, leading to a 10-6 Whitworth lead at halftime.
Whitworth coach Ron Sandberg credited George Fox’s coaching staff for making it hard on the Pirates’ offense.
“It was just a battle,” Sandberg said. “Our guys had some grit and fought back and made it happen.”
George Fox regained the lead in the fourth quarter after quarterback DeMontre Thomas II led the offense on a 17-play drive and punched in a touchdown on fourth-and-goal.
The Pirates limited Thomas to 208 passing yards and no touchdowns. Senior River Osen led the way for Bruins receivers, racking up 100 yards on five catches.
The Pirates’ undefeated season appeared to be in jeopardy before sophomore running back Luis Salgado’s 61-yard catch-and-run score, giving Whitworth a 17-13 lead.
On an afternoon in which the team honored its seniors, it was only right that a senior-to-senior connection would seal the win. But where it came from was unexpected.
With just less than 7 minutes left and the Pirates deep in Bruins territory, two quick pitches left the ball in senior receiver Dillon Kuk’s hands.
But instead of looking to run, he set his feet and fired a strike to fellow senior receiver Evan Liggett in the back of the end zone.
Liggett, who finished with 91 yards, said the play was designed for Kuk to either run it in or find Ewing for a pass.
“I saw him plant his feet and look back at me and I’m like, ‘Oh boy, here we go,’ ” Liggett said . “… I saw it coming my way and I just had to be ready for it. He delivered a great ball.”
An interception by Pirates junior cornerback Joshua Lawson on the ensuing drive ended the Bruins’ hopes.
The win sets up a heavily anticipated matchup next weekend against NWC powerhouse Linfield, which is also undefeated after a dominating win over Pacific Lutheran on Saturday. The Pirates have repeatedly emphasized this season that they intend to knock off Linfield and secure the conference championship.
“I think it starts with our seniors,” Sandberg said of the team’s belief. “We have an incredible senior class, not all of them on the field, but accepting and embracing their role, leading without even being on the field and just being servant leaders, and that just sets the tone for everyone else.
‘Man, if that guy is going to embrace his role, then I better embrace mine.’”