SPOKANE, Wash. – On a record-setting day by both teams' offenses, it was the Whitworth defense that came up big in the fourth quarter of a 61-45 Northwest Conference win over visiting Willamette on Saturday in the Pine Bowl.
The Pirates (4-2 overall, 2-1 NWC) won a game for all-time on a day the school celebrated its Homecoming, the induction of a new Hall of Fame class and the school's 125th year as a college. Whitworth came close to the Division III record for plays in a game with 112 to overcome a school-record rushing performance by Willamette's Dylan Jones.
Jones ran for 350 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries, breaking the old Bearcat record of 275 yards set by Dan Mahle against Whitman in 1970. He accounted for over half of Willamette's 669 yards of total offense.
Yet it wasn't enough. Jones scored his final touchdown of the game from four yards away two plays into the fourth quarter to pull the Bearcats within 47-45. But Willamette (3-1, 1-1) did not threaten the Whitworth endzone again as the Pirate defense made five consecutive stops. Whitworth forced two punts then held the Bearcats on downs on consecutive possessions. First Taylor Roelofs broke up a fourth down pass with 6:06 to play, then JT Phelen broke up another pass on fourth down with 3:22 to go. Jacob Sturtevant intercepted Willamette's final pass at the Pirates' 19 yard line with 2:20 to play.
While the defense was shutting down Willamette in the fourth quarter, Whitworth put the game away with two more touchdowns. Bryan Peterson found Connor Williams in the flat and Williams broke a tackle on the way to a 23-yard touchdown that gave the Bucs a 54-45 lead with 7:41 to play. Then after Phelan's pass break up on fourth down gave Whitworth a first down at the Willamette 20, Duke DeGaetano ran for a score on the Pirates' first play from scrimmage to give Whitworth its final margin of 61-45 with 3:13 to go.
DeGaetano had his best game as a Pirate. The sophomore running back picked up 141 yards and scored three touchdowns on 27 carries. His strong running game complemented another huge passing game for the Pirates. Senior QB Peterson completed 43 of 68 passes for 389 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. Williams caught 15 of those passes for 163 yards with three touchdowns. Drew Clausen caught 14 passes for 77 yards and a score.
Brent Moser accounted for 302 all-purpose yards. He had a 94-yard kickoff return to give Whitworth its first touchdown of the game and finished with 167 return yards. He added ten receptions for 135 yards.
Willamette took a 14-7 lead less than five minutes into the first quarter, including a 67-yard touchdown burst by Jones. But Whitworth scored the next three touchdowns to take a 28-14 lead after one quarter. DeGaetano scored two of those touchdowns.
The Bearcats scored two times to tie the game 28-28 in the second quarter, with Jones running away from the defense for a 75-yard score that tied the game.
Michael Zeng sandwiched a pair of field goals around a four-yard touchdown catch by Williams, giving Whitworth a 41-28 lead. Willamette pulled within 41-35 at halftime when Trent Spallas found Ryan Foote for a 64-yard touchdown pass at the end of the second quarter.
After 76 combined points in the first half, the third quarter featured only a seven-yard TD catch by Williams that extended the Whitworth lead to 47-35 and a 23-yard field goal by Willamette's Conner Mertens.
Spallas completed 18 of 38 passes for 274 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Foote caught seven passes for 131 yards and two scores.
The teams combined for 1,215 yards in the game.
Paul Miller led the Whitworth defense in tackles for the third straight game, finishing with nine stops. Alex Myrick had nine tackles as well, including two for losses of four yards. Daniel Portillo made seven tackles and forced a fumble. Neil Wagner and Danny Welstad had fumble recoveries.
Wendell Galvan made 14 tackles for Willamette and added an interception, two pass breakups and a blocked extra point. Jack Nelson made a dozen stops.
Whitworth returns to action next weekend at 5th-ranked Linfield.