If you studied the form, it was logical to expect Saturday’s meeting of cross-town foes Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran to be one of the least competitive in the long history of the rivalry.
PLU was coming off a win over previously undefeated Willamette, and UPS was fresh off a 70-11 loss to Whitworth, which upped the Loggers’ dreadful points-against average to 54 per game.
But in front of a homecoming crowd that packed Baker Stadium, UPS fought to a 14-14 tie until late in the third period when the PLU Lutes scored 27 straight points to claim the 41-14 win.
Two of those PLU touchdowns came on short-field drives set up by turnovers, and a third score was on a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
So, ignore the mathematics: The Loggers gave up 41 points but played sound defense, and although the final margin was 27 points, it was actually a very entertaining and fairly dramatic game.
From the start, it was obvious that a slippery ball on a soggy field would create a sloppy game. It did, and the teams combined for seven interceptions and three lost fumbles.
Four of the first five possessions ended in turnovers, and the fifth featured a shanked punt.
But in the second quarter, the two sophomore quarterbacks – the Loggers’ Braden Foley and the Lutes’ Dalton Ritchey – each passed for a pair of touchdowns. Foley found Adam Kniffin and Kevin Miller for scores, and Ritchey connected with Kyle Warner and Brandon James.
PLU had won 23 of the previous 24 meetings between these teams, and when given the eye-ball test, the Lutes look bigger and faster and more athletic.
But for most of this game, the Loggers did not have the look of a team that hadn’t won since late October 2010.
Warner (seven catches for 115 yards), came away impressed – and surprised to some extent – by the Loggers’ defense. “They did a great job,” Warner said. “They did some stuff we weren’t expecting and it took a while to figure it out, and even when we did, we had to scrape and claw to get whatever we could.”
A third-quarter interception and fumble helped the Lutes score on short drives of 29 and 10 yards to grab control of the game.
PLU coach Scott Westering cited the game-changing turnovers as examples of just how hard it is to win games, and how frustrating it can be in the process.
“But that’s the beauty of it,” he said. “For our guys to stay in it, to enjoy the grind, to not panic, to not point fingers; I think it was a real tribute to the pride of our kids, making the plays we needed to make. It speaks to their maturity and inner strength.”
On the other side of the field, the Loggers are having to find strengths of their own as the losses pile up.
“We came out with a lot of fire, but a few big plays and the game slipped away from us,” said Loggers linebacker Max Mirande, who led UPS with eight tackles and an interception. “That’s how we should be playing and it shows what we’re capable of.”
But Mirande said the effort on Saturday tells a great deal about the Loggers, even though they’re now 0-7 after finishing 0-9 in 2011.
“We just keep focusing on the positives,” Mirande said. “The losses hurt, obviously, but we saw some good stuff today and we just have to keep building off that.”
Westering said he could tell from the start that UPS was going to hard to defeat, which he called a “great tribute” to the work of Logger coach Jeff Thomas and his staff.
“They came out and planted their flag in the ground and said, ‘We’re here to play,’ ” Westering said. “To a lot of people (a losing streak) would really test your beliefs, but this is a real credit to them.”
“I can’t stress how proud I am of our team,” Thomas said. “Especially our seniors, holding everybody together. It continues to reconfirm what I think about them; they’re such fantastic people who work so hard.”
That hard work didn’t translate into an upset for the Loggers on Saturday, but it did create a game that was more competitive than most would have imagined.
PACIFIC LUTHERAN 41,
At PUGET SOUND 14
Player of the game: The grass field was slow, muddy and wet and built for bullish Pacific Lutheran fullback Cody Pohren, who was more than a featured running back. He registered his first career 100-yard rushing game for the Lutes (13 carries, 100 yards, touchdown).
Turning point: UPS coaches will argue it was the definition of the “player in the grasp” rule and that Loggers quarterback Braden Foley should have been ruled down with the ball in his hands. But he stood as still as a statue while three PLU defenders swarmed him. Foley had the football knocked from his grasp by defensive end Sam Lavis, and it was recovered for a turnover by linebacker Derrik Larsen at the UPS 10-yard line. Less than a minute later, Pohren rumbled in with a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Lutes a 28-14 lead with 3:57 remaining in the third quarter.
Stats and stuff: PLU outgained the Loggers in yards, 387-273. … The teams combined for nine turnovers. … All five of the Loggers’ turnovers came from Foley (three interceptions, two fumbles). UPS has committed 85 turnovers in the past 25 games. … PLU’s Kyle Warner had his third 100-yard receiving day of the season (seven catches, 115 yards, TD). … Lincoln High product Ryan Rogers played on both sides of the ball for the Loggers. He had two catches for 26 yards at wide receiver. At strong safety, he had six tackles and a fumble recovery. … UPS had two chances to take the halftime lead, but missed field goals from 39 and 44 yards in the final minute. The teams were tied at 14-14 at the half.
PLU quotable: “When you turn the ball over, no matter how good you are, all those things can really make a difference in the game.” – Lutes coach Scott Westering.
UPS quotable: “It just shows the character of our guys. … I think we’ve got a defense that is going to build off of that – with six freshman starters holding a very good PLU offense to not very much in the first half.” – Loggers coach Jeff Thomas.Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org @DaveBoling email@example.com