Having seen the end of a 15-game Northwest Conference winning streak and carrying two losses when all of last year they had just one, coach Rod Sandberg reminded his players of a simple truth this week.
All is not lost.
“We’ve lost two games,” Sandberg said. “We don’t lose very much around here, and we don’t like to lose, and we play in a great conference, and if you don’t play well and you’re playing with freshmen and with injuries, you’ve got some challenges. … We’re just fired up to get back out and play.”
The Pirates (4-2 overall, 3-1 NWC) will do just that at 1 p.m. Saturday, when they host Pacific Lutheran, which has yet to win a conference game halfway through the slate. It is the first of two straight home games for Whitworth, which hosts No. 24 Linfield a week later.
Win both – as well as their finale at Pacific – and the Pirates would clinch at least a three-way tie for first place. Puget Sound (5-2, 3-1) beat Whitworth 34-23 last week but lost to Linfield (5-1, 4-0) earlier in the season.
The Pirates are 45-13 since Sandberg took over as head coach and haven’t lost more than twice in a season since 2014, when they went 6-4 in Sandberg’s first campaign at Whitworth.
Whitworth had won its last 23 matchups with Puget Sound. But in their loss last week to the Loggers, the Pirates were undercut by their two biggest issues this year: penalties (nine) and turnovers (four).
Their first three drives were particularly indicative, Sandberg said, when a holding call pushed the Pirates out of field-goal range and the next two ended near midfield because of fumbles.
On top of that, junior Connor Johnson (23 of 39 attempts for 288 yards) made his first career start at quarterback in place of the injured senior Leif Ericksen. With a number of players on defense out because of injuries – at one point four freshmen were playing in the front seven, Sandberg said – the short-handed Pirates weren’t able to overcome a minus-2 turnover differential.
“Bottom line: We didn’t play Pirate football, and we didn’t take care of the ball,” Sandberg said.
But Ericksen was back at practice this week and Sandberg said he was hopeful the senior would play against the Lutes. Junior Iain Black, who missed the last four games with an injury, is expected to start at linebacker.
The Lutes, who lost 55-13 at the Pine Bowl a year ago, rank last in the conference in total offense, averaging 255.5 yards per game.
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