As college rivalries go, Pacific Lutheran University and the University of Puget Sound never will be confused with, say, Georgia versus Florida. While spirited, the mood before kickoff and after the final gun is more convivial than combative.
For 59 minutes Saturday afternoon at Sparks Stadium, the Lutes and Loggers sustained the low-key tradition of a series that began in 1931. The opponent they reviled wasn’t each other but, rather, wind gusts that turned every punt, pass and kick into an adventure.
But then, with 50 seconds remaining in a game PLU would win, 41-21, Lutes coach Scott Westering called for a play that displeased UPS coach Jeff Thomas. His team leading 34-21, Westering declined to have quarterback Dalton Ritchey take a knee at the Loggers’ 2-yard line. Instead, Ritchey rambled into the end zone for an inconsequential score.
Were the Lutes piling on? The case could be made, and Thomas made it to Westering afterward. For the seniors at UPS, Thomas said, their prevailing memory of the rivalry will be giving up a salt-in-the-wound touchdown on the Lutes’ final snap.
Thomas and Westerning never raised their voices, and ended up shaking hands, but it was clear they were on different sides of an ageless football debate: When is too much too much?
“We had a friendly conversation,” said Westering, who sought out Thomas after speaking with the Lutes on the field. “It just philosophically broke down to the fact we agreed to disagree. That play at the end had absolutely nothing to do with rubbing it in.”
Westering merely wanted to give senior fullback Va’a Logotala a chance to score his first career touchdown.
“We had the ball down there and in the ebb and flow and competition of the game, we got a chance to ram it in one time for him,” Westering said of the call – an off-tackle blast for Logotala. “But we had a bad snap, and Dalton just kind of took it into the end zone and fell in.
“If it happened, it happened,” continued Westerning, referring to Logotala’s career-first touchdown. “If it didn’t, time would have run out and we wouldn’t have scored. We wouldn’t have hurried up and run another play. We gave it one shot.”
Thomas wasn’t concerned about PLU’s seemingly harmless motives.
“I don’t care why it happened,” he told Westering. “It happened.”
The Lutes, who gained national acclaim under Westering’s late father, Frosty, long have been known as a team that considers gaudy scoreboard totals on Saturday secondary to the ambition of achieving something more noble through football.
“I’ve gotten a letter from one of the schools in our conference,” Westering pointed out. “The chancellor thanked us for keeping the score what it was.”
Westering’s determination that a senior starter enjoy the thrill of scoring a touchdown for the first time was understandable.
But when Ritchey ended up participating on his fourth touchdown play of the day – he threw for three other scores – Thomas’ dismay was understandable, too.
Reasonable minds can agree to disagree. It’s possible to engage in a debate in which a nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong. And if the debate is between college football coaches, it’s imperative they use civil voices and shake hands.
Aside from the controversy of the Lutes’ last touchdown, Saturday followed expectations: It took a while, but PLU (7-1 overall, 4-1 in the Northwest Conference) weathered both the severe wind and a fired-up UPS (1-6, 0-4) playing for nothing more than rivalry-game bragging rights.
Despite an offense that finished the afternoon with 26 rushing yards – technically, minus-2 rushing yards because sacks are regarded as running attempts by the NCAA – the Loggers took a 14-7 lead with 10:52 remaining in the third quarter. Sparks Stadium, well-represented by Lutes fans in the home-side stands, became quiet.
A defeat to UPS almost certainly would have scuttled any plans for the Lutes to return to the Division III playoffs for the second consecutive season.
Then Ritchey went to work. The junior from Onalaska hooked up with wide receiver Kyle Warner for three completions on a quick, wake-up-call scoring drive culminated by Warner’s 19-yard reception in the right corner of the end zone.
In less than three minutes, the momentum shifted, and it shifted emphatically. The Lutes tacked on two more touchdowns in the quarter, and another midway through the fourth, to put the game out of reach at 34-14.
Although UPS’ 21-point effort suggested otherwise, the PLU defense was dominant, limiting the Loggers to three first downs before they put together some too-little and way-too-late fireworks in the fourth quarter.
Then came the strange finish, in clock-killing time, when a broken play deprived a Lutes’ fullback of his first career touchdown – and gave Thomas the impression they were running up the score.
“I wanted to apologize to him,” Westering said, “and I wanted him to apologize to his team for me. Because it matters. It matters to me absolutely.
“As I told Jeff, we would never try to pour points on anybody, much less a crosstown school. We never, ever look at UPS as a rival. It had nothing to do with that. Some rivalries, that’s all it’s about.”
Scott Westering and Jeff Thomas agreed to disagree, and then they shook hands.
The world didn’t hinge on their philosophical impasse Saturday, no problems were solved, but isn’t that one way to start?
No. 16 PACIFIC LUTHERAN 41, PUGET SOUND 21
Turning point: After the Loggers took a 14-7 lead on Kupono Park’s 1-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter, PLU responded on a five-play, 69-yard drive. Quarterback Dalton Ritchey capped it with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Warner to tie the game. The Lutes went on to score two more TDs in the third quarter.
Player of the game: Ritchey passed for 196 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and added 70 rushing yards and three scores. The Lutes are 14-4 with Ritchey as the starting quarterback.
Stats and stuff: The Lutes outgained UPS in rushing yards, 177-2. Niko Madison, the Northwest Conference’s top rusher, led PLU in rushing (73) and receiving (88) yards. ... Two PLU punting gaffes (17-yard punt in first half, a fumbled snap in second half) set up the Loggers’ first two touchdowns
Next: Both teams are on the road Saturday for 1 p.m. games – PLU at Whitworth and UPS at Linfield.