SPOKANE, Wash. – Eighth-ranked Linfield built a big lead and then held off a late Whitworth rally to defeat the Pirates 45-31 in the Whitworth Pine Bowl and take over sole possession of first place in the Northwest Conference football standings.
The Wildcats improved to 5-1 overall and 4-0 in the NWC, clinching their 61st consecutive winning season in the process. The Pirates (5-2, 3-1) saw their five-game winning streak come to an end.
Ian Kolste, who came into the game leading all of NCAA Division III in passing yards and total offense, completed 25 of 48 passes for 293 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. But he was harassed all day by the Linfield defense and ended up getting sacked five times for 45 yards in losses.
Mostly because of those sacks, and 13 tackles-for-loss overall, the Wildcats limited the Pirates to only 25 yards rushing on 33 carries. Whitworth finished the game with 318 yards in total offense.
Linfield, on the other hand, was able to post 664 yards of offense, including 381 yards passing and 39 yards rushing by senior QB Sam Riddle – the NWC Offensive Player of the Year in 2015. Riddle completed 25 of 40 passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions. His first three touchdown passes all went to Johnny Carroll.
Those three touchdown throws, plus Riddle's two-yard TD run, gave the Wildcats a 28-10 lead at halftime. The Pirates scored on their opening possession on Rehn Reiley's 41-yard field goal. That was set up by Jordan Pride's game-opening 62-yard kickoff return.
Kolste passed 21 yards to Nick Kiourkas for Whitworth's only touchdown of the first half.
Whitworth had a chance to cut into the lead early in the second half after Linfield began the third quarter with possession. The Pirates forced Riddle to fumble at midfield, but could not take advantage as Linfield's defense forced a quick punt. Riddle followed with a 33-yard TD pass to Eric Igbinoba to increase the Wildcats' lead to 35-10.
The Pirates got another long kickoff return, this one by Garrett McKay, and took advantage of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a short field at the Wildcats' 35 yard line. Duke DeGaetano finished off the possession with a 12-yard touchdown run, his NWC-leading 15th rushing touchdown of the season, cutting the margin to 35-17.
But Riddle's final TD pass of the day, this one 55 yards to Reed Peterson, capped an 80-yard drive and extended the lead to 42-17. When Willy Warne converted a 41-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats had stretch the lead to 45-17 and appeared on the way to a blowout victory.
But Whitworth responded with two fourth quarter touchdowns. First Kolste ran in from one yard to finish off a 59-yard drive. Then after forcing a punt, the Pirates moved 50 yards in five plays, scoring when Kolste connected with Kiourkas on fourth and goal at the five-yard line. The second touchdown cut the margin to 45-31 with just over four minutes to play.
Whitworth's attempt at an on-sides kick was fielded cleanly by the Wildcats however, ending any hope of furthering the comeback.
Bryan Cassill led a Linfield ground game that finished with 253 yards by running for 150 yards on 14 carries. He gained 78 of those yards on a first quarter run that was stopped at the Pirates' two-yard line by John-Robert Wolley. Whitworth recovered a fumble on the very next play to keep Linfield off of the scoreboard at that point.
DeGaetano battled for 37 yards on 16 carries for Whitworth. Griffin Hare carried four times for 12 yards.
Kiourkas finished with five catches for 86 yards and two scores to lead the Pirate receivers. McKay had five for 74 yards, while Kevin Thomas caught four for 61.
Carroll had the big day catching the ball for Linfield, finishing with six receptions for 78 yards and three touchdowns. Peterson had five catches for 124 yards.
Mitchell Kekel led the Wildcats' defense with 4.5 tackles for loss, including two sacks for 21 yards. Mikey Arkans had the game's only interception in the third quarter.
Wolley had a career-high nine tackles to lead the Whitworth defense. Dalin McDonnell added eight stops, including an 11-yard sack. He also recovered a fumble.
The Pirates hit the road for a game at Pacific University next Saturday in Forest Grove, Oregon.