SPOKANE -- Two key fumbles may have been the difference between a frustrating loss and a season-charging upset for Whitworth in a 30-20 non-conference football loss to visiting Redlands on Saturday afternoon at the Pine Bowl.
Redlands, 2-0 and ranked 17th in the latest D3football.com poll, turned a fumble on a Whitworth kick off return right before halftime into a quick touchdown for a 21-7 lead. Then the Pirates' most promising drive of the fourth quarter ended deep in the Bulldogs' territory with eight minutes to play.
Redlands quarterback Chad Hurst vexed the Pirate defense all game, completing 22 of 37 passes for 268 yard with four touchdowns and one interception. He also ran for 77 yards on only five carries to post 345 yards of total offense.
Whitworth starting quarterback Bryan Peterson had an outstanding first half, completing 12 of 14 passes for 121 yards with two touchdowns, but he was injured on the Pirates' final play of the second quarter - a nine-yard touchdown pass to Austin Ehlo that pulled Whitworth within 21-14. He would not return to the game.
Redlands took a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter when Hurst completed a 13 yard pass to tight end Greyson Alman to complete a 69-yard drive.
The Pirates answered with an 80-yard possession, culminated by a three-yard lob from Peterson to Ehlo to tie the game 7-7 with 6:16 to play in the first half.
Taylor Irwin caught a 23-yard touchdown from Hurst over the middle with 2:43 to go before halftime to put Redlands back up 14-7. And that is where the first big fumble occurred. Whitworth returnee Cailen Thomason was ruled to have fumbled at the Whitworth 23 yard line despite television replays showing his knee had touched the ground first. Hurst took quick advantage - throwing to a wide-open Taylor Chapatte on the Redlands' side line for a 21-7 Bulldog lead with 2:31 to go.
But Whitworth came right back down the field, led by Peterson's quick passes. His touchdown to Ehlo was a one-handed catch on the side of the endzone by the redshirt freshman with 55 seconds left in the half.
But that was more than enough time for Redlands to stretch the lead once more. The Bulldogs got to the Whitworth 18 where strong-legged Kevin Grady converted a 35-yard field goal with three seconds to go that gave Redlands a 24-14 lead at the half.
With Peterson injured on his final pass to Ehlo, fellow freshman QB Zac Hill took over for the Pirates in the second half.
Scott Carr intercepted a deflected pass by Hurst early in the third quarter and Whitworth was able to go 33 yards to pull within 24-20 after a blocked extra point. Tailback Ronnie Thomas carried for 18 yards on the drive and scored from one yard out.
But Redlands moved 80 yards back down the field. On first down at the Whitworth 14 yard line, Hurst threw a pass that looked like it would be intercepted. But the ball bounced off of the Pirate defender's arms and into the air, where Kyle Romero got under the ball and caught it for a 14-yard touchdown. The Bulldogs went for two points, but Hurst was tackled before he could get off a pass.
Whitworth's next two possessions ended deep in Redlands' territory and neither ended in points for the Pirates. The drive that followed Redlands' final touchdown ended at the Bulldogs' 20 when Whitworth turned the ball over on downs. Then the Pirates got inside Redlands' territory again, but Hill was stripped of the ball by Bulldog defender David Williams and Arlando Brown recovered for Redlands at the 35 yard line with 8:00 to play.
Whitworth got the ball one more time, but only got to midfield before three straight incomplete passes led to a turnover on downs.
Redlands finished with 428 yards of offense - 268 through the air and 160 on the ground. Hurst's favorite receiver was Irwin, who caught eight balls for 99 yards and his score. David Woolbert ran 12 times for 41 yards.
Whitworth had 368 yards of offense - 259 yards passing and 109 rushing. Hill finished 10-23 for 87 yards in the second half. Jake DeGooyer caught eight passes for 112 yards, while Ehlo finished with six catches for 88 yards and the two touchdowns. Thomas ran 20 times for 75 yards and a score.
Jordan Garcia led the Redlands defense with 10 tackles, including two for losses of six yards.
Paul Miller had eight tackles for Whitworth, while Fernando Noriega was in on seven stops.
Whitworth will play its third straight home game next Saturday when the Pirates take on Menlo College in the final non-conference game of the season.