Pacific Lutheran University coach Scott Westering knew his team was going to rely heavily on the play of three seniors: Dalton Ritchey, Kyle Warner and Niko Madison.
He didn’t imagine they’d be this effective despite being the primary focus of opposing teams’ game plans.
They led the Lutes to a 42-27 victory Saturday against the University of Puget Sound to push the Lutes streak against the crosstown rival to nine consecutive games, including wins in 26 of the past 27 meetings.
Ritchey threw for 265 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another 80 yards. Warner had 142 receiving yards and three touchdowns — all in the second half. And Madison ran for 137 yards and a touchdown and had a one-handed, fourth down receiving score on the Lutes’ opening drive.
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“We’ve been playing together for a while, so we kind of know how each other is going to play and it really lets us click a little better,” Madison said.
UPS (3-4 overall, 2-3 Northwest Conference) entered the game hoping to move above .500 and closer to top-seeded Linfield, which suffered its first loss of the season Saturday in a 31-28 upset by Willamette.
And just maybe beat its crosstown rival for the first time since 2005?
“I didn’t even know it was an eight-game streak,” Loggers coach Jeff Thomas said. “It could be nine, it could be 90 – all we worry about is making the plays today.”
Westering agreed with Thomas, saying his team wasn’t concerned about what the game meant as far as the PLU/UPS rivalry.
“I know the outer circle wants to make this a huge rivalry with all the in-town and city champs stuff, and that is OK,” Westering said. “But that has never been how we have looked at this game. … We truly believe about the faceless opponent and the old adage of, it’s a new game week in and week out.”
Still, Loggers quarterback Braden Foley, UPS’ all-time leading passer who finished 28 for 54 for 302 yards and three touchdowns, was hoping to add a victory against the Lutes to his record-breaking résumé.
“This is one I’ve always wanted to win,” said Foley, who also led the Loggers with 46 rushing yards. “But hats off to PLU. That’s a great team, it was a great game and a fun game to play in.”
Foley’s 53-yard strike to Kevin Miller and a subsequent two-point conversion cut Pacific Lutheran’s lead to 14-11 with a minute left in the first half. And the Loggers were going to get the ball to start the third quarter.
But PLU (5-2, 3-2) turned that three-point lead into a 35-11 cushion in the fourth quarter thanks to Madison’s 22-yard rushing touchdown with 13 seconds left in the first half and a pair of TD connections from Ritchey to Warner.
Ritchey led PLU’s late first-half charge with a seven-play, 71-yard drive highlighted by a 20-yard sideline pass to Warner and an option pitch to Madison for the 22-yard score with 13 seconds left.
“The goal was to get out of bounds and that’s what I was looking for,” Madison said. “But we had some really good blocks down field so that really opened up a lane and I took the chance.
“It was really important for us to get the momentum back. And that’s what the touchdown gave us.”
And the Lutes never gave it back.
Ritchey hit Warner for a 19-yard touchdown on PLU’s first drive of the third quarter, and found the Tumwater graduate again eight seconds into the fourth on a 31-yard connection.
“They maximized their opportunities,” Thomas said. “That’s the hallmark of the Pacific Lutheran/Puget Sound game is that somebody is going to make a big play. And unfortunately, this week they made the majority of those big plays.”
Foley tried to bring the Loggers back, hitting Miller, who finished with 10 receptions for 122 yards, for his second touchdown catch of the game on their first drive of the fourth quarter. UPS then got a 28-yard field goal from Sawyer Petre to cut the lead to 35-20.
But Ritchey then hit Warner, again, for an 18-yard touchdown to end the threat.
“They are great players and along with that they are great young men,” Westering said of Madison, Ritchey and Warner. “We knew kind of coming into the season that they were going to be the three guys we are going to ride. And I’ll be darned, week in and week out, with teams scheming against them and trying to take them away – this is just a tribute to them and their play.”