For all the hours of intense video-watching, and game-planning debate the week of football games, what happened on the Pacific Lutheran University sideline on Saturday might surprise you.
After seeing another sluggish start from his offense, Lutes coach Scott Westering went right to quarterback Dalton Ritchey. He sternly stared into his facemask, and he demanded his junior to do one thing.
Tell a joke.
Anything to relax the huddle.
After not scoring for almost 71/2 quarters, the 15th-ranked Lutes turned on the jets late in the first half, mainly fueled by the ground game.
They finally pulled away from Lewis & Clark, 42-21, at Sparks Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Running back Niko Madison rushed for a career-high 188 yards on 21 carries. It was the school’s best single-game effort since 2010 when Alec Simmons ripped California Lutheran for 225 yards to power a 35-21 home victory for the Lutes.
Whether or not it was a huge part of the game plan, the rushing attack was the focal point in the second half. The Lutes amassed 247 yards, the fifth-highest total since Westering took over as head coach in 2004.
Yet at the start, some of the issues that had plagued the offense – center-quarterback exchange, turnovers and little semblance of the patented big play – cropped up again.
PLU’s first drive stalled after Ritchey fumbled the snap and recovered it for a 7-yard loss.
After Ritchey threw an interception on the team’s fourth drive – Lewis & Clark’s Boyd ripped the football from PLU receiver Kyle Warner in the end zone – that is when Westering approached him.
“I told him, ‘Do me a favor, when you go back out there, tell the guys a joke,’ ” Westering said. “He had to just lighten up.”
Because Ritchey doesn’t know many funny wisecracks, Westering recommended one.
“He told me one, and I said, ‘Scott, that isn’t a good joke,’ ” Ritchey said with a big smile. “Scott has got some bad ones. I don’t have any good jokes, but Scott has all kinds of groaners.”
The ploy worked. PLU quickly turned a 7-0 deficit into a lead in a three-minute span.
The Lutes tied it on Madison’s 4-yard touchdown scamper with 61/2 minutes remaining in the first half.
And after the Pioneers were held to a three-and-out, Ritchey led the offense 41 yards for another score – topped by his 13-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Warner at the 3:31 mark.
“Coming off last week (a 29-0 loss at No. 2 Linfield), we wanted to see where we were at. And I think when we walked out there it was like walking on ice – tentative,” Ritchey said. “But we figured out, ‘Hey, let’s do our thing.’ ”
PLU got 177 of its 247 rushing yards in the second half, riding Madison, speedster Kelly Morgan (49 yards, two touchdowns) and even Ritchey on option-read runs.
Morgan scampered 48 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter to give the Lutes (4-1 overall, 1-1 NWC) a 21-7 lead. And Ritchey finished off the quarter with a 5-yard scoring strike to tight end Lucas Sontra on fourth and goal to push it to 28-7.
“Once we got the run game going, it opened up a lot of options for passing,” Madison said. “Dalton had a much better game once we were able to get the ball rolling.”
Ritchey said while the showing in the final 21/2 quarters Saturday was a step in the right direction, the offense has to be better with a rejuvenated Pacific team coming to Puyallup next weekend.
“We are going to have to flip the switch and get going,” Ritchey said, “because Pacific isn’t going to wait for us.”
At Pacific 56, Puget Sound 14: In the span of 41/2 minutes in the first quarter, the Loggers went from possibly starting with a lead on the road, to falling behind 14-0 – and it got worse at Lincoln Park Stadium in Forest Grove, Ore.
As a result, the Boxers are off to their first 6-0 start in school history.
UPS held the Pacific offense on its first drive, took over and drove to the Boxers’ 34.
A week after booting a school-record 51-yard field goal against Lewis & Clark, Sawyer Petre lined up for another one to try to give the Loggers an early lead. He missed with 9:15 remaining in the first quarter.
Pacific drove 66 yards on eight plays, and took a 7-0 lead on P.J. Minaya’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Fukumoto.
And 41 seconds later, the Boxers’ lead grew to 14-0 when Brandon Harms picked off a Braden Foley pass and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown.
It was the start of an ugly day for UPS (1-3, 0-2), which committed five turnovers and had 12 penalties.
Foley did throw a pair of second-half touchdown passes – one to Kevin Miller (12 yards in third quarter) and the other to Brennan Schon (25 yards in the fourth quarter).firstname.lastname@example.org