Bryan Peterson hit Austin Ehlo with a 25-yard touchdown in the second overtime, then the pair connected again for the winning two-point conversion as Whitworth earned a 25-24 overtime thriller at Willamette in a Northwest Conference football game on Saturday afternoon at McCulloch Stadium.
The Pirates (3-5 overall, 2-2 NWC) won their second straight game after a 1-5 start and their first win over the Bearcats (3-5, 2-2) since 2007.
Regulation was a defensive struggle and ended 10-10. Whitworth scored on its first possession after Nic Brockhoff recovered a Willamette fumble at the Bearcats' 40 yard line. Eight plays later QB Bryan Peterson scored on a 15-yard run on fourth and three to give the Bucs a quick 7-0 lead.
Willamette tied the game early in the second quarter when Jamiere Abney rushed in from three yards away.
The both defenses really took over as each team found it hard to gain first downs, much less points. Both the Pirates and Bearcats finished with four turnovers each and the final one looked like it might prove as the difference.
Ehlo, who punted well all game, drilled a 56-yarder with less then seven minutes to play that returned by Willamette's Wendell Galvin from inside his own ten yard line. Drew Powell forced a fumble that was recovered by Chris Meyer at the Willamette 14 with 6:20 to play. Ehlo averaged over 41 yards on seven punts.
But the Bearcats did not allow a first down and Sean McNealley - forced into duty by an injury to Drew Goranson two weeks ago - converted his first career field goal from 25 yards for a 10-7 Pirate lead with 4:23 to play.
Willamette then went on it's best drive of the second half, marching to inside the Whitworth ten for first and goal with over a minute to play. But the Pirate defense stiffened again and Brockhoff sacked Bearcat QB Brian Widing for a six yard loss on third down. Kyle Derby kicked a 25-yard field goal as time expired to send the game into overtime.
Then the offenses came to life. Peterson converted a fourth down inside the Willamette five on Whitworth's first possession to give Ronnie Thomas a chance to score the first OT touchdown for the Pirates. But Willamette tied it 17-17 when Widing passed to Jake Knecht for a score on fourth and goal at the three.
Jake Turner then gave Willamette its first lead with a 23-yard run. The conversion made it 24-17.
But Whitworth wasted not time as Peterson lofted a pass that Ehlo caught in the endzone on the Pirates' first play from scrimmage. Whitworth head coach John Tully elected to go for two points and it paid off when Peterson again found Ehlo for the winning conversion.
Willamette outgained Whitworth 328-257 in the game. Thomas ran 24 times for 72 yards and a score while Peterson rushed 18 times for a net of 46 yards and one touchdown. Peterson completed 8 of 15 passes for 95 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Ehlo caught four passes for 83 yards with a score and he also threw a pass for 38 yards.
Widing finished 14 of 24 for 122 yards with a touchdown and an interception for Willamette. Knecht caught five passes for 59 yards. Turn ran ten times for 63 yards.
Ryan Loutsis had a big game on defense for the Pirates. He led all players with 13 tackles and had two tackles for loss. Jonathan Allan added ten stops, including a sack, and forced a fumble. Cailen Thomason intercepted his fifth pass of the season. Brockhoff had his sack among five tackles and a fumble recover. Solomon Walden also recovered a fumble for the Pirates.
Whitworth returns home to host 5th-ranked and unbeaten Linfield next Saturday in the home finale.