Scoring touchdowns on four of its first five possessions, Pacific Lutheran built an early lead Saturday afternoon and cruised to a 35-14 Northwest Conference football win over the visiting Whitworth Pirates at Sparks Stadium.
The victory was the fifth in a row for the Lutes (6-2), who finish their Northwest Conference season with a 5-1 record. Whitworth dropped to 6-3 overall and 2-3 in the NWC.
PLU put together scoring drives of 65 and 62 yards in the opening quarter to take a quick 14-0 lead. Niko Madison's 2-yard scamper around the right end ended a 10-play game-opening drive and came 4:25 into the contest.
After a Whitworth punt, the Lutes took just four plays to go 62 yards, scoring on Cody Pohren's 1-yard bulldoze into the end zone. The key play in the drive came on a 48-yard pass from Dalton Ritchey to Brandon James that ended with James being tackled at the 1-yard line.
By the end of the first quarter PLU had 165 total yards to just 27 for the Pirates.
The Lutes started their next drive at the Whitworth 45-yard line after Jordan Patterson sacked Bryan Peterson for a nine-yard loss on a fourth-and-one play from the PLU 46. On the sixth play of the drive, PLU made it 21-0 on another Madison scoring run, this one from seven yards out.
While Pacific Lutheran was scoring touchdowns, the Pirates struggled on offense, ending their first two possessions on a punt and on downs. The next possession seemed to spell further disaster when Ronnie Thomas fumbled the ball and PLU's Derrik Larsen recovered at the Whitworth 10-yard line.
PLU got the ball to the 1-yard line, but Madison was stopped just inches short of the end zone and the ball went over to Whitworth.
That's when the Pirates put together their first drive of the game, moving the ball all the way down to the PLU 37-yard line before Larsen intercepted Peterson. The pick, the team's 18th of the season, set up Pacific Lutheran's next scoring drive. A 44-yard pass from Dalton Ritchey to Kyle Warner provided most of the yards, and Ritchey finished it by hitting Warner for a 10-yard score with 2:44 left in the half. Nick Kaylor's fourth consecutive point after kick made it 28-0 at halftime.
Whitworth put together the game's most sustained drive for the only score of the third quarter. Starting at their own 31-yard line, the Pirates used 17 plays and took 8:35 off the clock, capping the drive on a 1-yard pass from Peterson to Austin Ehlo.
Pacific Lutheran responded with an eight-play, 78-yard drive, with Ritchey and Warner hooking for the second time, this one for 47 yards and the score.
The Pirates added the game's final touchdown with 7:52 remaining on Peterson's 26-yard pass to Connor Williams, ending a 67-yard drive. Williams made a nice grab on the play and spun away from a couple of defenders to complete the scoring play. It is his sixth touchdown of the season on six receptions.
The Lutes, who had a 286-86 advantage in total yards at halftime, finished the game with 479 yards of offense, including 199 rushing and 280 passing. Whitworth had a much better second half and ended up with 294 yards, including 189 through the air.
For the Lutes, Brandon James carried nine times for 88 yards and he added four receptions for another 80 yards. Madison had 55 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while Warner ended the game with five catches for 127 yards and two scores. Ritchey was 15-for-27 for 280 yards one one interception.
Thomas led the Whitworth running game with 88 yards on 22 carries, and Peterson was 19-for-32 for 189 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Jake DeGooyer had a game-high nine catches for 88 yards.
Danny Welstad, Scott Carr and Kainoa Raguindon all had six tackles for Whitworth, and Jesse Bresser had five tackles and an end zone interception.
The Pirates will finish their season next Saturday at home against Lewis & Clark. PLU will close the regular season with a non-conference game at Menlo looking to qualify for an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs.