SPOKANE, Wash. – Whitworth University went to the fourth quarter of its Northwest Conference football game with visiting Pacific University tied 16-16 and with its unbeaten record on the line. The 14th-ranked Pirates outscored the Boxers 21-3 in the final period for a 37-19 victory.
Whitworth improved to 7-0 overall and 5-0 in the NWC. The Pirates can clinch the league's automatic bid to the 2018 NCAA Division III playoffs with a win over either Lewis & Clark College at home next week, or at Willamette University on November 10.
The Pirate defense led this win with nine sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Chad Wilburg led the way with three sacks and now leads the league with 11 this season. Freshman CB Colten Chelin clinched the win with a 21-yard interception return for a touchdown with 4:42 to play.
Pacific scored first, but the Boxers were held to a field goal after having first and goal at the Whitworth three-yard line. Caden Almer converted from 17 yards for a 3-0 Boxer lead.
The Pirates answered two plays later. A mishandled kickoff forced Whitworth to start its possession at its own nine-yard line. After Mason Elms picked up 19 yards on a first down run, QB Leif Erickson broke free for a 72-yard touchdown run to give the Bucs a 7-3 lead.
Pacific efficiently moved the ball 75 yards in ten plays on its next possession. The Boxers scored their first touchdown when JT Greenough passed seven yards to Ty Hargis. Tyler Adamson blocked his fourth kick of the season to keep Pacific's lead at 9-7.
Pacific took advantage of a Whitworth miscue to increase its lead. After the Boxers missed a 36-yard field goal attempt, the Bucs started at their own 20. On the first play, Ericksen's swing pass was incomplete and went backwards, allowing Pacific's Ryan Sinkking to recover at the Pirates' five-yard line. Two plays later Greenough hit Kobe Williams for a five-yard touchdown pass and a 16-7 lead.
Whitworth cut the margin to 16-10 when Cody McDonald drilled a 32-yard field goal with 6:38 to play in the half. After the Pirates forced Pacific to miss another field goal, the Bucs were able to tie the game just before halftime. They went 79 yards on six plays in only 1:10, converting a 3rd and 13 along the way when Ericksen threw a 36-yard pass to Garrett McKay. Two plays later Ericksen found Brett Moser wide open over the middle for a 36-yard touchdown pass with 27 seconds to play in the half. Jordan Hall blocked the extra point to keep the score tied.
Both teams missed field goals during a scoreless third quarter.
Whitworth retook the lead early in the fourth on Ericksen's ten-yard touchdown pass to McKay, capping a 39-yard drive. The Pirate defense set up the offense by holding the Boxers deep in Pacific territory after a McDonald punt pinned Pacific at its own five-yard line.
The Boxers answered with Almen's 33-yard field goal, capping a 59-yard, 12-play possession that pulled Pacific to within 23-19. That is as close as the visitors would get.
Braden Corona returned the ensuing kickoff 79 yards to the Boxers' 19-yard line. After a holding penalty moved the Pirates back, Tariq Ellis sprinted for a 28-yard touchdown run with 7:48 to play.
After an exchange of punts, Chelen intercepted Greenough at the Whitworth 21 and raced untouched up the sideline to the endzone for the final margin of victory.
Pacific outgained Whitworth 378-350 and had a 38:24 – 21:36 advantage in time of possession. However, the Boxers could not overcome the sacks, especially in the second half.
Ellis and Elms combined to run for 96 yards on 15 carries as Whitworth outgained Pacific 148-25 on the ground. Ericksen completed 15 of 34 passes for 202 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. However, he fumbled twice, including the backwards pass. McKay caught six passes for 80 yards to lead Whitworth's receivers.
Chelin finished with a team-high 12 tackles and he was credited with a sack when Pacific was called for intentional grounding. Kale Wong and Zach Hillman made 11 tackles apiece. Wilburg made seven stops, including his three sacks. P-Jay Solomon had two of Whitworth's nine sacks.
Greenough finished the game 37 of 49 for 324 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Hargis was his big target, finishing with 17 receptions for 186 yards.
Whitworth has won twelve games in a row, tied for the third-longest winning streak in school history.