Elated, Pacific University football coach Keith Buckley knew the ramifications of a college football win of this magnitude.
It also all but ended Pacific Lutheran University’s bid for a third consecutive NCAA Division III national tournament appearance.
After the Boxers took the lead for good, the 18th-ranked Lutes’ offense had one more chance to respond — and didn’t. Pacific held on for a 31-28 Northwest Conference victory in Forest Grove, Oregon — its first win over PLU since 1972.
It was also the Boxers’ first victory over a top-20 opponent since restarting football in 2010.
“This is a big win,” Buckley said. “There’s no way around it.”
The Lutes were playing catch-up most of the afternoon, but finally took their first lead, 28-24, on Dalton Ritchey’s 1-yard touchdown pass to Lucas Sontra with 6 minutes, 38 seconds remaining. PLU had gone 79 yards in 10 plays to take the lead.
The key play came on Pacific’s next drive. Facing a third-and-11, quarterback Warner Shaw rolled out to his right and threw to Jakob Lawrence in the flat. The receiver sprinted up a seam and gained 22 yards for the first down.
Three plays later, the Boxers took the lead for good, 31-28, on Lawrence’s 18-yard touchdown reception with 4:09 remaining.
“That was a tough thing for us – we could get them off the field on third downs,” PLU coach Scott Westering said.
PLU (3-2, 1-2 in NWC) got a first down on its final series, but it ended at its own 38-yard line on a fourth consecutive Ritchey incompletion — the last one on a pass too high for receiver Kyle Warner.
The last time the Boxers (3-2, 3-0) beat PLU was 1972 — the late Frosty Westering’s first season — in a 9-7 victory. The Lutes had won 17 games in a row in the series.
It was because UPS (3-2, 2-1) had won its first NWC game away from Baker Stadium under fifth-year coach Jeff Thomas.
But it wasn’t easy against the first-year Bruins of Newberg, Oregon, who were driving for a go-ahead score before cornerback Nasser Abdelrasul made the game-clinching play — a 78-yard interception return for a touchdown near the start of the fourth quarter.
On fourth-and-7, quarterback Grant Schroeder tried throwing an out-route pattern right at the first-down marker that Abdelrasul read perfectly. He stepped in front of the receiver and darted down the field for the score.
He also had a game-changing interception in the opening game against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
“He’s made the two plays of the year on that side of the ball,” Thomas said.
After George Fox cut the deficit to 19-14 on Schroeder’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Brad Lander with less than 101/2 minutes to go, UPS senior Connor Savage returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a score.
UPS has three wins, its most since 2008. It was the Loggers’ first road NWC victory since a 69-31 win at Lewis & Clark in 2007.
“Guys are having a lot more fun on the bus,” Thomas said.