Coach Rod Sandberg told his Whitworth Pirates football team this week that their season is half over.
That half went well, to say the least: 8-0 overall, 6-0 in the Northwest Conference, and a playoff bid in hand.
Although his math isn’t quite correct, even granting the Pirates a five-game run all the way to the Division III championship game, the essence of his point remains: Whitworth still wants to accomplish much more than it already has.
“We haven’t played exceptional the past three weeks,” Sandberg said. “We’re guaranteed two games and up to six in the second half of our season, and we’ve got one goal: to win it all. So if we want to do that, then we need to start playing well and playing to our potential, and make this season last as long as possible.”
That starts Saturday in Salem, Oregon, with a regular-season finale at the Willamette Bearcats (1-7, 0-6).
While they have already earned the conference’s automatic playoff bid, the Pirates would like to hoist the trophy at McCulloch Stadium as the outright champion of the NWC.
Sunday, the Pirates will learn their opponent and the location of their opening-round game, the first time they’ve reached the postseason since earning at at-large bid in 2015.
Only three teams in the West Region are undefeated (Whitworth is third in this week’s rankings). While there’s a chance a team from another region could end up in the West bracket, a win today would almost certainly assure Whitworth at least one game at the Pine Bowl.
Sandberg said he hasn’t looked at the rankings (the Linfield Wildcats, whose only D-III loss came at Whitworth, are ranked fifth). He’s focused on the Bearcats, whose lone victory (25-6) came in Los Angeles at winless Occidental.
Sandberg said there’s a lot that the Pirates didn’t do well in last week’s 38-28 victory over Lewis & Clark. Quarterback Leif Ericksen threw three interceptions. For the fifth time this season, the Pirates racked up more than 95 penalty yards.
“We didn’t play Pirate football,” Sandberg said. “We made it harder on ourselves. A lot of things that we did stopped our drives or kept their drives alive. We hurt ourselves a lot.”
The Pirates played the first half against Lewis & Clark without junior starting offensive linemen Kurt Blackman and Dylan McGillen. After reviewing film from the previous week against Pacific (Ore.), conference officials suspended both for unsportsmanlike conduct.
This week the Pirates will be without injured senior defensive lineman Charlie Ball and senior starting safety Shai Pulawa, who suffered a high ankle sprain against Lewis & Clark. Sandberg hopes treatment and rest will have both ready for the playoffs.
Senior Garrett McKay needs two receptions and 110 receiving yards to break Whitworth’s career records in those categories. In 41 games, McKay has 247 receptions for 2,933 yards.
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