Pirates pummel La Verne in California

Despite acquiring over 6,200 miles of travel in its first three games of the season, the Whitworth football team is off to a strong 3-0 start on the road. The Bucs tackled the University of La Verne Leopards on the Leopards’ home turf last Saturday night, 45-20. Saturday was the third time in three weeks the Bucs have taken on a home team playing in its season opener. This weekend made for back-to-back weekend trips for the team to southern California.

“Being able to go 3-0 on the road is really huge and gives us a lot of confidence, especially for home games,” freshman defensive end Danny Welstad said. “And if we can win on the road that shows us a lot about our team and about how strong we are.”

Whitworth was first on the board in the first quarter when sophomore quarterback Bryan Peterson tossed a short 6-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Jake DeGooyer. La Verne answered in the second quarter with back-to-back scoring drives, taking the 10-7 lead.  The Leopards’ only lead of the game lasted for mere seconds because Welstad came up big for special teams and returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, sending the Pirates to the locker room at half in the lead, 14-10.

“Obviously the kickoff return was kind of the highlight of my night,” Welstad said. “It was a big moment. Kind of an out-of-body experience. Playing defense I didn’t think I was going to score anymore (because I played running back in high school), so having that happen is probably something I’ll remember for my entire collegiate experience.”

La Verne opened the third quarter with a field goal, but the Bucs controlled the rest of the half. Following a 26-yard field goal by freshman kicker Robert Thullen, sophomore defensive back De’ Hall lit a spark for Whitworth that blazed the rest of the night with a 33-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Special teams came through for the Pirates again in the fourth quarter when sophomore defensive end Christian Doucette forced and recovered a fumble on a La Verne punt, giving Whitworth prime field position on the Leopards’ 8-yard line. Three plays later, Peterson connected with sophomore wide receiver Austin Ehlo in the end zone to give the Bucs a substantial 31-13 lead. La Verne answered with a long drive, resulting in a touchdown, which cut the lead to 11.

The rest of the game was all Whitworth. In a handoff from Peterson on third and short, senior running back Ronnie Thomas took off for a 75-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter.  Twenty seconds later, sophomore linebacker Nic Brockhoff returned a pick 37 yards for another Pirate touchdown giving Whitworth the 45-20 lead with less than two minutes left in the game.

On a slow offensive night for the Bucs, Peterson completed just 12 for 31 passes, for 154 yards, while the Leopards outgained the Pirates 392-252.  Defense and special teams accounted for half of Whitworth’s touchdown. DeGooyer led the team with 93 receiving yards, while Thomas netted 144 yards rushing. Ehlo’s first two catches of the season came Saturday for a combined 38 yards and a touchdown, after he returned from an injury.

Currently Whitworth is tied for first place in the Northwest Conference with Linfield College based on non-conference performance. NWC conference play begins Sept. 29.

“Hopes are pretty high,” Welstad said. “Everyone is feeling pretty good.”

Whitworth starts its season 3-0 on the road for the first time in more than 50 years. The Bucs will finally take the field at the Whitworth Pine Bowl this Saturday, Sept. 22, at 1 p.m. as they host the Panthers of Chapman University.

“We’re hoping we get a lot of people to come out because we’ve been traveling a lot,” Welstad said. “The more people show up the more energized we’ll be.”

Sena Hughes Staff Writer

Contact Sena Hughes at shughes15@my.whitworth.edu