Precision. Concentration. Domination.
When a football team can combine those elements in a game, good things happen.
And that explains how Pacific Lutheran romped to a 35-14 Northwest Conference victory over highly-regarded Whitworth at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup on Saturday.
The host Lutes fashioned touchdowns drives of 65, 62 and 45 yards on their first three possessions and led 28-0 at halftime before coasting to their fifth straight victory.
Sophomore quarterback Dalton Ritchey completed 15 of 27 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns for the Lutes (6-2 overall, 5-1 NWC), who have fought their way through a tough schedule and could secure an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs with a victory over Menlo next Saturday.
“We knew this was a big game and a good opponent and that it was important to execute at our best,” said Ritchey, who had 207 yards through the air at halftime. “It felt like our whole offense was on top of their game in that first half.
“I was making my pre-snap reads and everything just clicked.”
Niko Madison had touchdown runs of 2 and 7 yards and Cody Pohren dived in from a yard out before Ritchey closed out the first-half scoring with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Warner.
Ritchey and Warner also hooked up for a spectacular 47-yard, catch-and-run play on the first play of the fourth quarter. The pass over the middle was a bit high and slightly behind Warner, but the 6-3, 205-pound sophomore from Tumwater snagged it without difficulty and then ran through a couple of tackles on his way to the end zone.
“I cut my route to the inside – away from the safety – and Dalton actually put the ball in a good spot,” said Warner, who finished with five receptions for 127 yards. “If he would have led me any further, one of their other (defensive backs) was in position to put a big hit on me.
“This was definitely one of our most complete games,” added Warner. “We answered the call against a good team.”
As efficiently as PLU’s offense performed, the Lutes’ defense was no slouch, either. Whitworth (6-3, 2-3) managed just 86 yards in the first half and failed to get on the scoreboard until Bryan Peterson hit Austin Ehlo –the son of former Washington State basketball standout Craig Ehlo – on a 1-yard scoring pass with 2:37 remaining in the third quarter.
Whitworth finished with 294 yards of total offense, compared to 479 by the Lutes.
Junior linebacker Jordan Patterson was an omnipresent force for the Lutes, collecting seven solo tackles, seven assisted stops, two tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks.
“It’s exciting to see the growth and maturity of this football team,” said PLU coach Scott Westering. “We executed on both sides of the ball against a team that came in here with a 6-2 record.”
Westering seem especially impressed with Ritchey, a first-year starter at PLU who hails from tiny Onalaska High School in Lewis County.
“It’s a joy to watch him grow and mature every week, and there’s no greater classroom than the football field,” said Westering.
Linfield 47, at Puget Sound 7: At least it was a game for more than a half – but the third-ranked Wildcats pulled away to clinch at least a tie for the NWC championship and capture the automatic berth to the NCAA Division III playoffs.
Despite giving up 692 total yards to the Wildcats (8-0, 5-0 NWC), UPS trailed only 13-0 at halftime at Baker Stadium in its home finale this season.
But Linfield quarterback Mickey Inns got hot in the second half. He threw all three touchdown passes after halftime, and finished with 422 passing yards total.
The Loggers (0-8, 0-5) just could not get anything going offensively. Quarterback Braden Foley was sacked five times. Tailback Austin Wagner accounted for the team’s only score – a 19-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.