Pacific Lutheran’s football team needed a four-touchdown performance from quarterback Dalton Ritchey to put away Willamette last season.
This time around, the senior only needed the first half to duplicate that offensive output.
Ritchey threw three touchdown passes in the first quarter, PLU piled up a school-record 686 yards of offense and the Lutes hammered the visiting Bearcats, 56-14, in a Northwest Conference matchup Saturday at Sparks Stadium.
“It was just one of those unique games where everything was clicking for us,” PLU coach Scott Westering said. “This program has always told its player to celebrate the success of others. Well, today we had a lot to celebrate.”
Ritchey completed 15 of 22 passes for 302 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 143 yards on 14 carries, highlighted by a 10-yard TD run in the second quarter.
“This was probably the finest game of his career,” Westering said about Ritchey’s six TD performance. “Statistically, he was impressive. Stats will always jump out, but even more than that was his decision making. That’s what stood out to me. When to throw the ball away. When to tuck it and run. He made all the right decisions.”
PLU, which saw its playoff hopes take a major hit in last week’s 31-28 loss to Pacific, improved to 4-2 overall and 2-2 in the NWC.
“I am just so proud of this team,” Westering said. “Last week’s loss pretty much took us out of the playoffs. We have 26 seniors on this team. Players who have been a part of national playoff teams. For them to come out and play this way is really is a tribute to their character.”
Tumwater graduate Kyle Warner caught two passes for 111 yards and a score, while teammate Lucas Sontra pulled down three touchdowns in the rout.
The balance attack also included 343 rushing yards with Niko Madison running for 141 yards and a score on 16 carries, helping PLU surpass the program record of 653 yards of offensive gained against Whitworth in 1970.
The Lutes had 338 total yards of offensive with Ritchey having a hand in 286 of those yards (208 passing and 78 rushing) to post a 28-7 lead at the half.
Willamette (4-2, 2-2) needed just five plays to grab a quick 7-0 advantage a little more than 2 minutes into the contest.
Dylan Jones, two weeks removed from running for a program-record 350 yards in a 61-45 loss to Whitworth, peeled off a 57-yard run on the third play of the game.
Lutes defensive back Connor Cummings prevented the touchdown, pulling Jones down at the PLU 3, but that proved to only postpone the score as quarterback Trent Spallas scored two plays later on a 2-yard scoring plunge.
Willamette’s lone scoring drive in the first half totaled 74 yards. The Bearcats would need the remainder of the half to equal that total, finishing the half with 148 yards. They were unable to cross the Lutes 40 on their final four possessions before the intermission.
PLU scored on all three of its drives and produced 202 yards of offense in the first quarter to grab a 21-7 lead.
Ritchey torched the Willamette defense last season, running for a career-best 158 yards in PLU’s 35-24 victory, and while he didn’t rely on his legs until the second quarter — he rushed for 124 of his 143 yards in the second and third quarters combined, the Lutes used the threat of Ritchey taking to the ground to their advantage early in the first quarter.
On the Lutes’ first TD, Ritchey briefly showed the defense an option run before dropping back and hitting Warner on a 47-yard touchdown.
PLU went right back to the same play two drives later with Warner hauling in a 64-yard pass, snagging the reception at the Willamette 30 and tiptoeing down the sideline before diving into the endzone.
Warner would be called out of bounds at the 4-yard line. Sontra pulled down his second TD pass of the game two plays later to close out the first quarter.
The big plays continued for PLU in the second half — Ritchey tossed scoring strikes of 43 and 33 yards to Fernando Barrett and Sontra, respectively, and Madison added a 64-yard TD run to push the lead to 49-7 before the reserves took over.
A team commit nine turnovers.
Unfortunately for Thomas, his Loggers were that sloppy holding onto the football in a loss at the Pine Bowl in Spokane.
Seven of them were interceptions thrown by three different UPS quarterbacks — starter Braden Foley (one interception, two fumbles), and reserves Hans Fortune (five interceptions) and Tanner Diebold (one interception).
Foley was pulled with just under six minutes remaining in the first half after his last fumble off a sack by Whitworth’s Alex Myrick.
At that point, the game — which UPS led 16-14 early in the second quarter after a Pirates’ safety — was still close.
But what happened on the Loggers’ first two offensive series of the second half were back-breakers.
Trailing 28-23, UPS (3-3, 2-2 in NWC) drove 69 yards to the Pirates’ 7, and had first-and-goal. After three consecutive Fortune incompletions, Sawyer Petre’s 24-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
Whitworth (5-3, 3-2) went 93 yards the other way in just over three minutes, and scored on Bryan Peterson’s 30-yard touchdown strike to Connor Williams to build its lead to 35-23 at the 9:08 mark.
Again, the Loggers took the football and marched to the Whitworth 7. On fourth down, Fortune’s pass was picked off by defensive end Danny Welstad, a Peninsula High product, and returned 97 yards for a score — and a 42-23 lead.
“They dropped their defensive end back in coverage,” Thomas said. “We didn’t see him.”
Thomas said Foley would be his starter for next week’s showdown against PLU.