PUYALLUP, Wash. – Duke DeGaetano ran for a ten-yard touchdown, his third of the game, with 41 seconds to play to cap a stunning fourth quarter rally for visiting Whitworth in a 45-41 Northwest Conference football win at Pacific Lutheran on Saturday afternoon at Sparks Stadium.
The Pirates (5-1 overall, 3-0 NWC) completed the largest fourth quarter comeback in at least 25 years, rallying from a 17-point deficit with just under 12 minutes to play in the game. The Lutes (3-2, 2-1) had taken a 41-24 lead with 11:45 to play in the game on Carson Ketter’s 93-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Whitworth QB Ian Kolste drove the team quickly for a score, covering the final five yards himself with a scramble run with 9:38 to go.
The Pirates’ chances at a comeback appeared to take a devastating blow when a converted on-sides kick was disallowed by the officiating crew after a long deliberation. The crew determined that the potential receiver was not allowed an opportunity to catch the ball.
But the Whitworth defense responded, forcing a quick PLU punt. Kolste then moved the Bucs 82 yards in 11 plays to pull Whitworth within 41-38 with 4:56 to play. DeGaetano powered in from two yards out to complete the drive.
The Pirate defense needed another stop and got it. PLU gained one first down before the Lutes punted with 3:41 to play. The fair catch was made at the Whitworth 16-yard line.
With so much time left on the clock, the Pirates did not have to throw the ball every down. DeGaetano ran for 55 of his career-high 172 yards on the final drive. DeGaetano burst up the middle for 16 yards on the only third down of the possession. On second and five at the PLU ten yard line, DeGaetano cut left just past the line of scrimmage and avoided three defenders on the way to the endzone.
Kolste completed 47 of 65 passes for 349 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Garrett McKay caught 12 of those passes for 103 yards, while Kevin Thomas had ten catches for 54 yards. Both caught a touchdown pass from Kolste.
The game, played under threat of a major rain and wind storm that never materialized, started explosively. Both teams scored on their first two possessions. Lute QB Jon Schaub ran in from five yards away for the first score and then found Kellen Westering over the middle for a 70-yard pass for the second PLU touchdown.
DeGaetano opened Whitworth’s scoring with a five-yard run and Kolste hit Thomas from five yards for the second Pirate score.
PLU had a chance to break the game open in the second quarter. The Lutes took a 21-14 lead on an eight-yard TD pass from Cole Chandler to Westering. After forcing the first punt of the game, which resulted in a short field after a high snap on the punt, PLU scored two minutes later on Chandler’s three-yard run.
Already leading by two scores, the Lutes forced another Whitworth punt and took the ball deep into Pirate territory before Schaub was sacked for a loss of 12 on fourth and two.
The Pirates took advantage of the swing in momentum and scored on Kolste’s 44-yard pass to McKay with 2:24 remaining in the second period to get within 28-21 at halftime.
Whitworth took the opening possession of the second half and drove to the PLU 15 before getting pushed back to the 18. Rehn Reiley converted a 35-yard field goal into a strong wind to pull the Pirates to within 28-24.
Later in the third quarter Chandler scrambled on third-and-11 at the Whitworth 31 yard line, going all the way for a touchdown to stretch PLU’s lead to 35-24. Whitworth responded with a fast-moving drive that went to the PLU 13-yard line. But on first down, Kolste’s pass toward Nick Kiourkas was picked off by Ketter on the three yard line and he raced all 97 yards untouched for the score. Even after a missed extra point, PLU had taken a 17-point lead (41-24) in the fourth quarter. It was Kolste’s first interception since the second week of the season (153 passes). Kolste established new career highs for completions and attempts.
Whitworth finished with a 528-427 edge in total offense. Luke Peterson led the Pirate defense with 14 tackles, including a seven-yard sack and three total tackles for loss. LJ Benson added six stops and prevented a PLU touchdown with an interception deep in Pirate territory. Connor Tangeman contributed six tackles, including two for losses totaling 15 yards.
PLU has been using two QBs all season and it was no different today. Schaub completed 10 of 12 passes for 151 yards and one touchdown. Chandler finished 8-12 for 99 yards with one TD and an interception. Chandler also led the Lutes with 69 yards rushing on 14 attempts with two scores. Westering caught eight passed for 143 yards, including two touchdowns.
Whitworth will now take its five-game winning streak into a showdown with defending NWC champion Linfield College next Saturday in the Pine Bowl.