SPOKANE, Wash. – Visiting Pacific Lutheran overcame four turnovers with a stellar second-half defensive effort, defeating Whitworth 28-21 in a Northwest Conference football game on Saturday afternoon in the Pine Bowl.
The 15th-ranked Lutes finished the regular season 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the NWC and await the announcement of the NCAA playoff field on Sunday, November 17th hoping for an at-large bid.
Whitworth (3-6 overall, 1-4 NWC) looked like it might challenge PLU after the Pirates forged a 14-14 tie at halftime. But the Lutes limited the Pirates to 78 net yards in the second half and kept the Bucs out of the endzone until 1:26 to play in the game.
PLU jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to a pair of Dalton Ritchey touchdown runs. He ran for 21 yards to cap the Lutes' first possession, a 72-yard drive. Then he carried in from eight yards out on PLU's second time with the ball to finish off an 84-yard drive.
But Whitworth got its offense going in the second quarter. Bryan Peterson hit Drew Clausen with a ten-yard scoring pass eight minutes before halftime to finish off an 80-yard drive that took 17 plays.
The Pirates scored again when Peterson found Dustin Martin in the flat and Martin eluded a pair of tacklers for a five-yard scoring pass with 2:35 to play in the half, capping a 17-yard drive that was set up by a PLU fumble.
Two of the Lutes' four turnovers occurred in the second half, keeping the Pirates within striking distance. The first was an interception by linebacker Trevor Cooper at the PLU 39 yard line. But the Lute defense held Whitworth without a first down and forced a punt.
Neither team scored in the third quarter, but PLU scored early in the fourth to go back in front. Ritchey rolled right and found Kelly Morgan, who had fumbled to set up Whitworth's second touchdown, with a redeeming TD reception to give the Lutes a 21-14 advantage. That drive went 87 yards and took 18 plays.
Niko Madison carried in from four yards away for PLU's final score with 9:12 remaining.
It appeared the Lutes were ready to put the game away after forcing the Pirates to punt. But Richey fumbled near midfield for the fourth PLU turnover of the game.
After another exchange of punts, Whitworth went 86 yards in nine plays to pull within one touchdown. Wade Meyer out-jumped a defender to pull down Peterson's third touchdown pass of the game – from 20 yards away with 1:26 to go.
PLU recovered the onsides kick and ran out the clock.
The Lutes outgained the Pirates 398-207, including a 223 yards on the ground. Whitworth finished with a net of -13 yards rushing after PLU sacked Peterson six times for 45 yards in losses.
Ritchey accounted for 304 yards of total offense. He ran for 129 net yards on 20 carries with the two rushing scores. He also completed 15 of 22 passes for 175 yards with one TD and two interceptions. Madison ran for 81 yards on 16 attempts and Kyle Warner had four receptions for 67 yards.
Peterson completed 25 of 31 passes for 220 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for Whitworth. Clausen caught seven passes for 69 yards, while Meyer had five grabs for 67 yards. DJ Tripoli ran for 30 net yards on1 5 attempts as PLU controlled the Whitworth ground game.
Sean McFadden led PLU with 10 tackles, while Jordan Patterson had eight stops, half of which were for losses of 15 yards. Joel Anthony had two of PLU's sacks for 16 yards.
Casey Monahan and Jacob Kriegbaum led Whitworth with eight stops each. Kyle Davidson had a big game with four tackles, including one for loss of four yards, and an interception.
Whitworth will conclude the 2013 season next Saturday at Lewis & Clark.