University of Puget Sound

Even with record-setting seniors leaving, UPS future bright on offense

Quarterback Hans Fortune is on track to own seven Loggers’ single-season and career passing marks.
Quarterback Hans Fortune is on track to own seven Loggers’ single-season and career passing marks. jbessex@gateline.com

No football coach in America would be disappointed by the development of the University of Puget Sound offense this season.

The seniors have ruled the roost.

Quarterback Hans Fortune comes into the Loggers’ final home game Saturday against Linfield on track to own seven Loggers’ single-season and career passing marks.

The noteworthy ones include career yardage (6,656 yards, set by Braden Foley in 2014; Fortune has 6,330) and career touchdowns (Foley with 57 TDs; Fortune has 53).

“(Fortune) should have been a higher-level recruit,” UPS coach Jeff Thomas said. “What separates him from what Braden or Duncan (White) did … is his desire to put us in the right play. His study off the field is unrivaled in the amount of film he watches each week.”

One of the team’s better rushing seasons in a pass-heavy attack was spearheaded by two injury-plagued seniors — Austin Wagner and Max McGuinn. Wagner has overcome two serious injuries to pace the backfield with 401 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

Wide receiver Brennan Schon is already the team’s single-season receiving record-holder — and still has a chance to reset that mark (1,076 yards) this season. He has 797 yards with two games remaining.

Other starting receivers Steven Branham and Dustin Harrison have also been valuable to the passing attack.

In all, nine UPS regulars on offense will be making their final Baker Stadium appearance Saturday.

“As we got really going last year, our offense was a strong suit,” Thomas said. “To go up six points per game, and about 60 yards rushing a game as an improvement over last year … is a credit to our seniors.”

Yet, take a quick peek into the near future — especially to how the offensive backfield should form — and it should bring about optimism:

▪  The times Tanner Diebold has made an appearance on the field at quarterback, it’s been easy to spot him. He’s been the one with the hair coming out of the back of his helmet.

In the past two seasons, Diebold has been utilized primarily as a change-of-pace quarterback who can take off and run.

Diebold, a La Verne, California, product, should have the starting job all to himself next season as a senior.

Thomas offers a very different scouting report on Diebold from what folks have seen in person.

“Tanner is a pocket passer with blazing-fast speed,” Thomas said. “His arm strength is better than Hans. He has massive hands, so he can really grip the ball and spin it. It whistles when he throws it.”

Thomas noted that when intra-team scrimmages are held, Diebold is usually the star of the show.

“We’ve been pretty slow at quarterback, so with (Diebold), a lot more variety and creativity will take place in the run game and the pass game,” Thomas said.

“We have zero questions about what we have at quarterback.”

▪  If speed is what you like, the Loggers will also have it at tailback next season.

Paul Thomas has seen a handful of carries this season as a freshman from Fresno, California. He has gained 84 yards on 19 carries.

But his style is easy to differentiate from Wagner or McGuinn: Thomas has the classic bouncy hip swivel and low center of gravity great running backs display.

“Right now, (Thomas) is the guy to beat,” Jeff Thomas said. “We have guys improving, but Paul has put himself in a really good spot.”

Out of Selma High School, Paul Thomas decided to attend Fresno State University and not play football.

But after one year, Thomas put his name out on a recruiting service where the Loggers discovered him.

“He is able to make cuts going full speed,” Jeff Thomas said. “We’ve had nothing like him before.”

No. 7 LINFIELD COLLEGE (6-1, 5-0 NWC) at PUGET SOUND (3-4, 1-4)

1 p.m. Saturday, Baker Stadium, Tacoma

Series: Linfield leads, 29-12-1. The Wildcats have won the past 26 meetings, including a 72-3 win last season in McMinnville, Oregon.

What to watch for: The Wildcats just earned longtime coach Joseph Smith his 100th career victory last week in a 50-14 win over George Fox. QB Sam Riddle (141-205, 2,142 yards, 27 touchdowns) has settled down after an up-and-down, non-conference slate. … The difference between this Wildcats squad and recent ones is they don’t have an elite defensive-line disruptor who forces opposing quarterbacks to throw before they are ready. That should give UPS quarterback Hans Fortune (235-372, 2,523 yards, 21 TDs) a better chance to move this offense into more scoring positions.

What’s at stake: After finishing 6-3 last season, the Loggers would like to upset Linfield in order to avoid falling into a guaranteed losing record.

TNT pick: Linfield, 56-21.

LEWIS & CLARK (0-7, 0-5 NWC) at PACIFIC LUTHERAN (4-3, 3-2)

1 p.m. Saturday, Sparks Stadium, Puyallup

Series: PLU leads, 39-10-1. The Lutes have won the past four games, including a 26-7 win in Portland last season. At one point, PLU had a 16-game winning streak against the Pioneers.

What to watch for: A week ago, the Lutes won a dramatic 31-20 game over Puget Sound. A week from now, they will travel to conference powerhouse Linfield. This seems like a good week for the team to catch its breath. The PLU offense is banged up: Quarterback Cole Chandler (shoulder) is done for the season and as many as three linemen might sit this one out. The good news is that senior Jon Schaub (shoulder) should return to share time at quarterback with third-stringer Walker LaVoie, who engineered the fourth-quarter comeback against the Loggers. LaVoie won his only career game as a starter against the Pioneers in 2015. But this feels like a game in which the Lutes’ defense, ranked No. 2 in the conference in total yards allowed (356.6 ypg), should take control.

What’s at stake: The playoffs are out, but PLU can clinch its sixth winning season in the past seven years with a win.

TNT pick: PLU, 37-17.

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