One sequence changed the University of Puget Sound football team’s fate.
It not only cost the Loggers their large lead, but all momentum — and ultimately led to a stunning 44-17 Northwest Conference loss to Pacific University at Baker Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Junior Warner Shaw, the Boxers’ dual-threat quarterback, rushed for three touchdowns, threw for another and led Pacific to 44 unanswered points after their offense sputtered for the first 23 minutes.
During that span, UPS coach Jeff Thomas could not have imagined a better start in front of an energized homecoming crowd. The offense was sharp, efficient and eating up gobs of time. The defense all but shut down Pacific’s power rushing attack.
The Loggers drove into Pacific territory on their first four series, coming away with two touchdowns and a field goal.
The last one was on quarterback Braden Foley’s scrambling 12-yard touchdown run with 7 minutes, 53 seconds to go in the first half.
And the Boxers, who were held to just 39 yards and two first downs on their first four drives, were forced to punt from their own 22-yard line after UPS took its biggest lead.
Then the game-changing play occurred.
Nathan Suyematsu’s punt was well short of where wide receiver Kevin Miller — who earlier had a 52-yard return to set up Foley’s score — stood near midfield.
“The short kicks are always tough,” Miller said. “It is tough to maneuver your way through those guys to communicate with your team, and let them know what is going on with their backs to the football.”
Miller tried to by yelling from where he stood. He said crowd noise drowned out his instructions to Steven Branham, another wide receiver who was blocking a few yards ahead of him.
That was apparent — Branham never looked up or attempted to get out of the way.
“We wanted Miller to … get closer to the football,” Thomas said. “At that point, (Branham) had no idea. He wasn’t even cognizant to be ready to listen to Kevin.”
The punt landed, took one hop and skidded off Branham’s leg.
Two Pacific players pounced on the live ball so the Boxers could retain possession at the Loggers’ 45.
Nine plays later, Shaw recovered his own fumble in the end zone for a touchdown to trim the UPS lead to 17-7 with 2:37 to go in the first half.
The damage was done. The UPS offense went three-and-out over its next four drives. And when the Boxers added another touchdown with 20 seconds remaining in the half — Shaw’s 24-yard strike to Darin Kamealoha — they had all the steam, even as they trailed 17-14 at halftime.
“We had never been there before. It was the first time we had been up big, and we did not capitalize on that going into the half,” Thomas said. “They showed why they went 7-2 last year, and we showed why we are still growing into a successful program.”
Shaw’s 8-yard scoring run with 7:21 to go in the third quarter proved to be the game winner.
With his 219 total yards — 205 passing — Foley, a senior out of Bothell, became the school’s all-time leader in total offense, eclipsing Andy Carlson’s mark of 5,506 yards, set in 2005. Foley now has 5,690 yards.
But not even he could get the Loggers’ offense back on track in the second half. Twice, UPS was turned away with no points inside the red zone — the last at the Boxers’ 6 on an incompletion with 8:56 to go.
“When you are up 17-0, you have the game in your hands,” Foley said. “And to give it away like that — all those unanswered points — it hurts you deep.”
Warner (leg) came out of the Linfield loss early. Coach Scott Westering wasn’t sure the Tumwater High School product was going to suit up. He did — and hauled in two touchdowns (14, 17 yards) in the first 111/2 minutes of the game as PLU built a 14-0 lead.
Running back Niko Madison also scored, but it was backup Darin Hardgrove who got loose for a 93-yard run. Hardgrove paced the Lutes with 133 rushing yards on seven carries.