Whitworth’s football team accomplished much in its home debut Saturday afternoon.
The Pirates wanted to start better on offense. They wanted to sustain drives. They wanted to play better defense.
Whitworth took steps in all those areas, finishing with a decisive 42-13 win over Pacific Lutheran before a near-capacity crowd of 2,100 at the Pine Bowl in a Northwest Conference opener for both teams.
If Whitworth coach Rod Sandberg has his way, his Pirates will look back on the win over the Lutes as a springboard to better things.
In the usual postgame huddle, Sandberg looked over his left shoulder at least three times at the scoreboard and told his Pirates they can get better.
“We have four or five dropped balls and some blown protections,” Sandberg said. “ … We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to get back to work.”
Pirates running back Solo Hines, who scored a touchdown and led a rushing attack that gained 167 yards, said his team had much to celebrate but needs to move on quickly to the next game.
“This is a good win,” Hines said. “We can enjoy it now, but, obviously, come Monday we need to forget about it, have amnesia about it and go to our next opponent.”
Hines said Whitworth was ready to make amends for a loss at Pacific Lutheran last year when the Pirates lost quarterback Ryan Blair for the rest of the season.
“Last year, every drive was a three-and-out and after Ryan Blair got hurt,” Hines said. “(Today) we just wanted to drive the field and keep the ball.”
Whitworth (3-0) suffered from slow starts in its first two games, so the Pirates were determined to start quickly .
“We intentionally wanted the ball (first),” Sandberg said.
The Pirates marched 71 yards on 12 plays on the game’s opening possession. Running back Luis Salgado capped the drive with a 1-yard run for the score.
After PLU (1-3) turned an interception into a game-tying touchdown, Whitworth scored three straight touchdowns for a 28-7 advantage.
And it appeared the Pirates were going to extend the margin to 35-7 when they were stopped inches from converting on fourth-and-1 from the PLU 4-yard line.
On the next play, the Lutes scored on a 96-yard pass play. All of a sudden, that made it 28-13.
That set the stage moments later for Pirates defensive end JT Munoz, who scored on a 33-yard fumble return as the clock expired going into halftime. It was the second time Munoz recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown.
“We had a stunt going, and Dylan Owen came around the edge with the strip sack and I just happened to be there to pick it up and take it to the house,” Munoz said. “It was a good feeling looking over at the sidelines and celebrating with the guys.”
Whitworth led 35-13 at halftime. That’s where the score stood going into the fourth quarter before the Pirates added a final touchdown.
“We came out and got better as a team,” Munoz said. “It’s always good when your offense is clicking like that. But like coach said after the game, I think we’re just scratching the surface on our full potential.”