The godfather of Pacific Lutheran University football – Frosty Westering – sat in the Sparks Stadium grandstand, bundled up against a driving rainstorm.
What he witnessed during most of the fourth quarter must have tickled his heart – a flashback to the old days in the ’70s when he first coached the team, before handing over the reins to his son, Scott, nearly a decade ago.
For a change, it was the visiting side that boasted the greater quick-strike ability – No. 22 Willamette University, the passing leader in NCAA Division III.
But after gaining a lead, the Lutes did what they normally don’t – run the ball.
Their 18-play, 99-yard drive netted the final touchdown and was the defining sequence of PLU’s 41-27 victory over the Bearcats on a wet Saturday afternoon.
In that series, 12 run plays were called. Many of them came from the booth via offensive coordinator Trevor Roberts. Others were audibles by quarterback Dalton Ritchey.
Ritchey’s 3-yard scamper culminated a drive that ate up 9 minutes, 47 seconds. The late score seemed to suck the air out of the Willamette sideline when the Bearcats got the ball back with 41/2 minutes to go, trailing by a bunch.
“It was a little bit of a flashback,” Scott Westering said. “That is a character drive if there ever was one.”
PLU’s defense also did its part, forcing three turnovers – including cornerback Tayler Angevine’s 80-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave the Lutes a 27-13 lead early in the second half.
But after every PLU score, Willamette had an answer. And early in the fourth quarter, Josh Dean’s 41-yard scoring strike to Jake Turner on a fourth-and-8 play cut the Lutes’ lead to 34-27.
Then the Lutes’ special teams muffed the kickoff return, giving them the ball at their own 1. With sheets of rain blowing sideways, a three-and-out would have been understandable, almost expected.
Scott Westering fought the urge to test things downfield, adding “when it is time to put on your barbed-wire jock and go, that was the time to do it. Everybody answered it in that way.”
It helped that the Bearcats were immediately whistled for a personal-foul penalty that gave the Lutes breathing room. But with Ritchey finding creases in the defense for big runs, and Niko Madison, Brandon James and Cody Pohren making headway up the middle on carries, PLU kept the progress going.
“Every time I called something in the huddle and told them what we were going to do, they looked at me like, ‘Yep, we are going to do it,’ ” Ritchey said. “An awesome drive.”
A key call came on a fourth-and-3 play from the Bearcats’ 16. Westering elected to go for it, and James sprinted up the middle for an 8-yard gain for a first down with 5:45 to go.
And two plays later, Ritchey scored the game-sealing touchdown, his third of the afternoon, and PLU had its second win against a nationally ranked opponent this season.
“Those first games … we were trying to get a feel for it. And now we kind of have our feet under us and we are ready to get into a full sprint,” Ritchey said. “We can do a lot of big things, and we all know that.”
At Whitworth 70, Puget Sound 11: Six turnovers, 11 points – and a long trip back from Spokane.
Quarterback Bryan Peterson threw four touchdown passes for the Pirates, and tailback Ronnie Thomas chipped in with 122 rushing yards and a pair of TDs as Whitworth won its 17th game in a row in the series.
“I was shocked we were down 22-0 at the end of the first quarter. Our defense came out and played very well, but we gave them a pick- six (touchdown off an interception) and two short fields,” UPS coach Jeff Thomas said. “It disgusted me.”
UPS scored its lone touchdown on Braden Foley’s 6-yard pass to Tieler Souza in the third quarter at the Pine Bowl.Todd Milles: 253-597-8442 firstname.lastname@example.org @ManyHatsMilles