PUYALLUP - Pacific Lutheran scored a touchdown in each of the final three quarters and kept Puget Sound off the scoreboard until the closing minutes Saturday in picking up a 21-7 Northwest Conference football win at Sparks Stadium.
The win was the 23rd for the Lutes in the last 24 games in the series against the Loggers. It came in the conference opener for both teams, and as a result the Lutes are now 2-1 for the season and 1-0 in the NWC. Puget Sound falls to 0-4 overall and 0-1 in the conference.
After a sloppily played first quarter in which they turned the ball over once on a fumble and twice via interception, the Lutes finally got untracked on offense. Starting late in the quarter and going into the second period, PLU drove 80 yards on 10 plays before quarterback Zack Halverson hit wide receiver Tyler Bowen with a 4-yard scoring pass. The Lutes lost another good scoring chance on the next possession when they fumbled the ball at the UPS 1-yard line following a 23-yard pass play.
While the Lutes struggled on offense in the early going, the PLU defense was staunch, blocking a first quarter punt and not allowing Puget Sound more than four plays in a possession until midway through the second quarter. That nine-play, 70-yard drive ended when the Loggers turned the ball over on downs. The PLU defense set the tone early, shutting down any semblance of a Puget Sound running game and forcing the visitors to put the ball in the air 49 times compared to just 20 rushes during the contest.
In fact, starting on a possession with 2:54 left in the third period and going to the end of the game, the Loggers ran 22 plays, all passes, though two of them ended in sacks and thus counted as rushes.
Pacific Lutheran made the score 14-0 at the 10:22 mark of the third quarter, taking the opening kick and driving 64 yards on seven plays. capped by a 7-yard scoring burst around the right side by Brandon James. The sophomore running back gained 83 yards on 14 carries to lead a PLU ground game that compiled 184 nets yards on 43 carries.
The Lutes made it 21-0 with 7:52 remaining in the game on a 1-yard touchdown run by Niko Madison, who added 39 rushing yards on six carries.
Puget Sound got its only score with 38 seconds left, culminating an eight-play, 55-yard drive on George Ka'ai's 23-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Rogers.
Despite turning the ball over four times, the Lutes accumulated 395 yards of total offense, including 211 passing yards by Halverson. He threw to 10 different receivers, led by Bowen and Andrew Carlson with three catches apiece.
Defensively, Steven McDonald finished the game with seven tackles, including a pair of sacks for 12 yards, and a forced fumble. Mychael Tuiasosopo had a quarterback sack and a fumble recover to go along with five tackles, and Justin Whitman finished with five tackles, two for losses totaling eight yards, and an interception in the end zone. As a team, the Lutes piled up five quarterback sacks and six pass deflections.
Ka'ai finished the game throwing for 326 yards, completing 26 of his 48 attempts. Adam Kniffin had 10 receptions for 128 yards and Thiesen Chang added nine grabs for 96 yards. The Puget Sound running game was virtually nonexistent with seven net yards on 20 attempts.
Linebackers Tyler Vlasak and Cody Petro-Sakuma were all over the field for the Loggers, notching 13 and 12 tackles, respectively. Vlasak also had one of the team's two interceptions.
Pacific Lutheran returns to Northwest Conference action at 1 p.m. next Saturday when it plays the Whitworth Pirates at the Pine Bowl in Spokane.
- PLU -