SPOKANE, Wash. - Visiting Linfield scored the final 17 points of the game, including the only touchdown in overtime, to pull out a 38-31 win over Whitworth and clinch the 2019 Northwest Conference football championship on Saturday in the Pine Bowl.
The 18th-ranked Wildcats improved to 7-1 overall and 6-0 in the NWC while the Pirates (5-3, 4-2) saw a 12-game home winning streak come to an end.
In a duel between the NWC's top quarterbacks, Wyatt Smith of Linfield completed 41 of 60 passes for 421 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. Whitworth's Leif Ericksen completed 28 of 52 passes for 280 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Linfield looked poised to make this game a runaway when the Wildcats ran out to a 21-7 lead in the first quarter. Smith completed a 12-yard touchdown pass to younger brother Colton Smith on the Wildcats' first possession. After Whitworth tied the game on Ericksen's 10-yard pass to Jerusalem To'oto'o, Smith completed a 40-yard touchdown pass to Keegan Weiss and an 11-yard shuffle pass to Artie Johnson to give the visitors a two-touchdown lead late in the first period.
Whitworth responded by outscoring Linfield 24-0 over the next two-plus quarters. First Nick McGill caught a double pass from Taylor Kolste for a 46-yard touchdown at the end of the first quarter. Then McGill was credited with his own 20-yard touchdown pass to Taylor Hall with four minutes left in the second. McGill threw into triple coverage, but Hall corralled a deflected pass for the Pirate touchdown.
Whitworth took its first lead of the game when Noah Alejado converted a 41-yard field goal on the Bucs' first possession of the third quarter. Later in the third, Bryce Hornbeck picked off Smith and returned the ball 35 yards for a 31-21 Whitworth lead.
Linfield got back on the scoreboard when Andrew Starkel converted a 22-yard field goal with 13:31 left in the game. The Wildcats pulled back into a tie when Smith and Johnson connected on another shuffle pass, this time from 10 yards with nine minutes to play.
Neither team threatened to score in the final minutes as both defenses came up big. Linfield took over on offense first in overtime and Smith converted a third and ten when Jacob Calo made a diving catch at the 11-yard line. Six plays later Smith threw the eventual game-winning touchdown pass to Colton Smith from two yards away.
Whitworth gained five yards in its overtime possession as the light faded to darkness in the Pine Bowl. Mana Kupihea broke up a fourth down pass to Nick McGill on the final play of the game.
Linfield outgained Whitworth 517-407, but the Pirates had a 3-2 edge in turnovers. Smith came into the game with only three interceptions all season, but Whitworth picked off Smith three times in the game, two by Hornbeck and one by Zach Hillman.
Iain Black had a career-high 18 tackles, including 3.5 for loss for the Whitworth defense. The Pirates sacked Smith four times in the game.
Whitworth will conclude the season next Saturday at Pacific (Ore.).
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