McMINNVILLE, Ore. – A highly anticipated contest between nationally-ranked NCAA Division III football teams never materialized into a competitive game as Whitworth University could not overcome five turnovers in a 38-9 Northwest Conference football loss at Linfield College on Saturday.
The 8th-ranked Wildcats improved to 2-1 thanks to a pair of interception returns for touchdowns and two long touchdown passes from Troy Fowler to J.D. Lasswell.
The 14th-ranked Pirates fell to 3-1 despite nearly matching Linfield in total offense.
The tone was set on the first series when Linfield’s Duke Mackle returned an interception 56 yards for the first score of the game.
Whitworth was able to pull to within 7-6 early in the second quarter on a pair of Rehn Reiley field goals, from 20 and 33 yards, respectively.
The Wildcats scored their second TD with a big play as Fowler found Lasswell open for a 63-yard hookup on third and 14. Three plays later the ‘Cats had the ball back when Ian Kolste was sacked and fumbled at the Whitworth 28 yard line. It took Linfield only four plays to score again as back up QB Aiden Wilder ran in from two yards out to give the Wildcats a 21-6 lead.
Whitworth got deep into Linfield territory late in the first half, but the Wildcats stuffed the Pirates on fourth and one at the 20 yard line with 43 seconds left.
Linfield took the opening possession of the second half 65 yards in ten plays before Willy Warne kicked a 27 yard field goal for a 24-6 lead.
The Wildcats forced a punt and again drove deep into Pirate territory. But Brian Lee recovered Wilder’s fumble at the Whitworth two yard line to briefly prevent a score. The relief was short-lived because one play later Jake Reimer intercepted Kolste at the six and waltzed into the endzone for the Wildcats’ second defensive touchdown of the game and a 31-6 lead.
Reiley’s third field goal of the game, from 32 yards out, capped a 49-yard Whitworth drive and pulled the Pirates to within 31-9 with 1:08 left in the third quarter. They would get no closer.
Linfield capped its day when Fowler and Lasswell connected for the second time, this time from 37 yards away, to finish off a 75-yard drive.
Kolste, the NCAA DIII leader in passing efficiency coming into the game, finished 32 of 63 for 267 yards with three interceptions and no touchdowns. He was sacked three times for 17 yards. Garrett McKay caught seven balls for 65 yards while Michael McKeown had six catches for 79 yards. Nick Kiourkas extended his streak with at least on pass reception to 35 games in a row. He caught three passes for 25 yards. Mason Elms, Tariq Ellis and Griffin Hare combined to rush for 85 yards on 17 attempts.
Fowler completed 8 of 17 passes for 201 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for Linfield. Lasswell finished with three catches, including two TDs, for 122 yards. Chidubem Nnoli ran for 137 yards on 18 carries.
Linfield outgained Whitworth 379-365, but averaged 5.8 yards per play to only 4.0 for the Pirates. The Wildcats finished with a 5-2 advantage in turnovers as Whitworth lost two fumbles.
Chad Wilburg led the defense in tackles (7) and tackles for loss (3 for minus 17 yards). Shai Pulawa picked off his first pass of the season and was in on six tackles.
Whitworth will look to bounce back when the Pirates host George Fox University next Saturday during Homecoming/Hall of Fame Day in the Pine Bowl.