Northwest Conference

In the rain and mud, Puget Sound scores late – and beats Pacific Lutheran, 6-2

At the University of Puget Sound, a thing exists called the Baker Bog.

It forms in the middle of the grassy field on the east side of Baker Stadium — between the 15- and 25-yard lines.

Because the area does not take kindly to the heavy mid-fall rainstorms, grass eventually gives way to mud, especially under heavy football-playing traffic.

And the Baker Bog certainly had a big say in the outcome of the 90th playing of the cross-town rivalry game between the Loggers and Pacific Lutheran University.

Stuck in skidding neutral for much of a stormy Saturday afternoon, the UPS offense finally found its footing, even if it was for only one fourth-quarter drive.

Quarterback Hans Fortune’s 18-yard strike to Brennan Schon with 4 1/2 minutes to go was the game’s only touchdown, and the Loggers edged the Lutes, 6-2.

It was UPS’s first win over PLU at Baker Stadium since 1979 — and it ended a nine-game skid in the series. It also meant the Loggers (5-2, 4-1 Northwest Conference) clinched their first winning season since 2006.

The Lutes (1-6, 1-4), who lost starting quarterback Cole Chandler to a shoulder injury for the entire second half, drove to the UPS 16-yard line behind backup Walker LaVoy with less than a minute remaining.

But on fourth down, tailback Marc Gallant was gobbled up by safety Matt Gilbert on a completion in the right flat for a short gain with 28.9 seconds remaining.

The Loggers take on second-ranked Linfield next week in McMinnville, Oregon, with a chance to tie for the conference lead.

But first, this was a victory coach Jeff Thomas would surely cherish. He watched his players trade hugs and smiles in the end zone, celebrating the biggest victory of his tenure.

“I thought our defense was going to do a good job all day. But, man, for our offense to come out and be so ineffective was a disappointment,” Thomas said. “Credit to our guys for believing in each other, and battling and just understanding that they were going to find a way to get it done at the end of the game.”

The east end of the field was a full-on display of football folly. Consider:

▪  Each team missed first-half field goal attempts — the Loggers’ Sawyer Petre from 44 yards out, and the Lutes’ Dallan Rodriguez on a 32-yard attempt.

And with 9:29 to go in the fourth quarter, Petre lined up for a go-ahead 22-yard attempt, only to watch as the snap bounced right to him. He picked up the ball and attempted to throw a touchdown pass that was knocked away.

▪  The Lutes took a 2-0 lead just 17 seconds into the second quarter when linebacker Isaiah Watkins leveled Tanner Diebold in the end zone on a pass play.

But the Baker Bog really came into strategy in the pivotal final minutes.

Nursing that 2-0 lead, the Lutes faced a fourth-and-inches play from their own 25 with less than seven minutes remaining.

PLU coach Scott Westering huddled his offense up, debating whether to go for the first down.

LaVoy and company returned to the field to go for it, but LaVoy, a freshman out of Montana, called timeout, and Westering finally settled on playing it safe, opting to punt it away.

“The problem we felt there — see the turf?” Westering said. “All it takes on a blast run play, or a quarterback sneak is for one guy to lose his footing.”

If the Lutes faced that situation on the other less chewed-up end of the field, would it have mattered in Westering’s decision-making?

“Yeah, you bet it would have,” he said.

UPS faced a fourth-and-6 with 5:25 remaining from its own 36-yard line.

Thomas did not hesitate to go for it — and it paid off. Fortune rifled a pass in Schon’s direction on a slant-in pattern, and the junior from Spokane went up to make a difficult catch in traffic for a 19-yard gain.

“It was huge,” Schon said. “After the type of game we were playing in this weather … we just kept fighting.”

Three plays later, Schon got a step on PLU’s Casey Ruether down the left sideline, and Fortune lofted a perfect pass for an 18-yard touchdown with 4:25 to go.

LaVoy — whom Westering said took five snaps with the first unit this week in practice — followed with a 52-yard drive, highlighted by a 22-yard strike to Beau Lockmer on fourth down, to get in position for a game-winning score.

But he threw three consecutive incomplete passes before his final short pass to Gallant.

“It was just a great, epic battle,” Westering said. “We had them on the ropes. They had us on the ropes. They made plays. We came back and made plays.”

PLU actually beat the Loggers on total offensive yardage (315 to 293), and had a huge advantage in time of possession, keeping it for 41:11 to the Loggers’ 18:49.

But the Lutes drove inside the UPS 20-yard line four times, and did not score.

“It was tough,” Westering said. “In some ways, we ran out of time.”

Todd Milles: 253-597-8442