by Joshua Omdal
With alumni, students and parents packed into the Pine Bowl Saturday afternoon, the Pirates kicked off Homecoming weekend against the previously undefeated Willamette Bearcats with a high-scoring 61-45 victory. For Whitworth, the win was their first Homecoming win since 2008.
Along with Homecoming, Whitworth celebrated its inductees into the Whitworth Heritage Hall of Fame who were recognized in a halftime ceremony.
Coming off of their first conference loss, the Pirates needed a win to keep their season on track. Whitworth demonstrated a strong offensive and defensive presence throughout the game.
Willamette was the first team on the board, scoring a 67-yard rushing touchdown by running back Dylan Jones. Jones had a breakout game for Willamette, rushing for 350 yards, a little less than half of Willamette’s offensive attack.
Former starting running back sophomore Griffin Hare and starting senior wide receiver Anthony Fullman both did not suit up for the game due to injuries.
Whitworth’s defense continues to give up a large total of yards this season. The Pirates have allowed a little over 1,200 yards and 74 points in the past two games. Although the Pirates did give up big plays, they responded with an explosive effort on special teams and offense.
On the kickoff after the first Willamette touchdown, Whitworth freshman wide receiver Brett Moser received and returned a kick off for a touchdown putting the score at 7-7.
Whitworth started to get their high-tempo offense in motion late in the fourth quarter. With 6:26 left in the first, Whitworth was able to score three unanswered touchdowns due to takeaways by the defense, placing them in excellent field position for the scores.
Sophomore running back Duke DeGaetano had two rushing touchdowns from the goal line and senior quarterback Bryan Peterson threw one 9-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Drew Clausen.
“We put that play in practice this week, and every time we ran it I was wide open, when we ran it in the game Drew’s pass gave me the opportunity to make a play on the ball,” senior quarterback Bryan Peterson said.
The first quarter was the most productive offensive quarter, placing the score at 28-14 going into the second quarter.
The second quarter featured a touchdown by senior wide receiver Connor Williams and two field goals by freshman place kicker Michael Zeng. Whitworth was able to maintain a 41-35 lead after giving up three touchdowns to Willamette going into the half.
Whitworth came out at halftime firing on all cylinders. After several big stops on defense, the Pirates held Willamette to only ten points in the second half.
“The defense really stepped it up in the second half,” sophomore outside linebacker Dalin McDonnell said. “We met up on the sidelines in between drives and concluded that the team that is going to win this game is the team that makes the most defensive stops, and we were that team for the rest of the game.”
From a pair of touchdowns by junior Connor Williams and one rushing touchdown by DeGaetano, the game ended with a final score of 61-45 in the Pirates’ favor.
Williams led the team with 15 catches for 163 yards and 3 touchdowns. DeGaetano had the best game of his collegiate career after leading the team in rushing with 141 yards and three touchdowns.
“We had our best week of practice of the season going into this game,” Head Coach Rod Sandberg said. “We worked on how we could just get better, as a team, individually, and as coaching staff. We worked hard, had a lot of fun and it showed in the game today.”
Whitworth took their second NWC win of the season while Willamette suffered their first loss.
The 4-2 Pirates travel down to Oregon this Saturday, Oct. 18 to play against fifth-ranked and undefeated Linfield University for their fourth conference game of the season.