SPOKANE, Wash. -- Nick Kaylor booted a 36-yard field goal as time expired to give visiting Pacific Lutheran a dramatic 20-17 win over Whitworth in a Northwest Conference football game on Saturday afternoon at the Pine Bowl.
The Pirates (1-4 overall, 0-1 NWC) appeared to have sent the game to overtime when Bryan Peterson connected on a 19-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Blaska with 55 seconds left that tied the game 17-17. But a long kick off return and a late unsportsmanlike conduct call against the Pirates helped move the ball to the Whitworth 19-yard line with four seconds left, setting up Kaylor's heroic kick.
PLU (3-1, 2-0 NWC) outgained Whitworth 289-256 as both defenses made it hard for the offenses to sustain any momentum.
The Pirates got on the scoreboard first when Drew Goranson kicked a 21-yard field goal with 34 seconds to play in the first quarter. But that was a victory for the Lute defenders. Whitworth's Cailen Thomason intercepted PLU QB Zack Halverson and returned the ball 27 yards to the Lute five yard line before the PLU defense forced the field goal.
PLU then went 87 yards on their only sustained drive of the game to score its first touchdown. Running back Brandon James got the Lutes out of deep in their own territory with a 24 yard run, then he ended the drive with a five-yard carry for the touchdown.
Whitworth's Ronnie Thomas fumbled the ensuing kickoff and PLU took advantage when Halverson connected with Daniel Herr for a six yard touchdown pass three plays later, giving the Lutes a 14-3 lead.
Thomas atoned for the mistake late in the first half when he completed a 38-yard drive that was set up when Whitworth recovered a fumble as Halverson tried to pitch to James on an option play on third down. Peterson connected with Derek Martin on a 22-yard pass completion and then Thomas danced through several defenders for an 11-yard score that pulled the Pirates within 14-10 just before halftime.
Taylor Angevine set up PLU for a short scoring march to start the second half with a 44 yard kickoff return to the Whitworth 36 yard line. The Pirate defense came up big, holding PLU inside the ten and forcing Kaylor to kick a 24 yard field goal that gave the Lutes a seven point lead.
Despite an average starting field position on the Whitworth 42 yard line in the third quarter, PLU could not add to its advantage. Thomason came up with his second interception of the game at the Whitworth 23 to stop the Lutes' best chance to extend their lead.
Whitworth looked like it would tie the game early in the fourth quarter after driving 70 yards and gaining first down on the PLU ten yard line. But three plays later it was fourth down at the Lutes' three and Jordan Patterson forced Whitworth QB Peterson into a wild throw through the endzone.
PLU had a chance to ice the game after Steven McDonald recovered Peterson's fumble at the Pirates' 48 yard line with 7:01 to play. But this time it was the Whitworth defense that held on fourth down at the 33 yard line when Thomason broke up a pass intended for Alex McDiarmid.
Peterson was sacked on Whitworth's next play, but then he completed 6 of 7 passes for 67 yards to lead the Pirates to a game-tying score with 55 seconds to play.
Angevine came up big for PLU again as he returned the ensuing kick off 39 yards to the PLU 45 yard line. On third down Halverson completed a 24-yard pass to McDiarmid at the Whitworth 28. Two plays and a false start later the Lutes had moved back to the 33 when Paul Miller broke up a pass attempt and appeared to force a fourth down. But a flag came in after the play against the Pirates for unsportsmanlike conduct. That allowed the Lutes to move to Whitworth's 18 yard line, giving Kaylor a chance at his winning kick with four seconds to play.
Peterson completed 20 of 27 passes for 204 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions to lead the Whitworth offense. Austin Ehlo caught four passes for 42 yards, while three other Pirates made three grabs, including Martin and Kekoa Turbeville, who made the first three receptions of his career. Thomas finished with 74 yards on 15 carries running the ball.
Halverson completed 21 of 36 passes for 159 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for PLU. Four Lutes caught four passes each, including McDiarmid and Dalton Ritchey. James finished with 82 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Paul Miller led Whitworth's defense with nine tackles, while Ryan Loutsis came back from an ankle injury with eight tackles, including two for loss. Thomason's two interceptions now give him four for the season.
Adam Schwander and Sean McFadden each had seven tackles to lead the Lutes. Erik Magnussen had four stops and was in on two of PLU's six sacks in the game.
Whitworth will have to pick itself up from Saturday's heartbreak quickly as the Pirates have to travel to Portland to take on unbeaten Lewis & Clark next Saturday. PLU, meanwhile, will go out-of-conference for a game at Menlo.