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October 29, 2011

Pioneers Rally to Knock off Pacific Lutheran, 34-32

PUYALLUP - Lewis & Clark College ended a couple decades of frustration on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Sparks Stadium, rallying from a 13-point halftime deficit to beat Pacific Lutheran, 34-32, in Northwest Conference football action.

The surprising Pioneers, who just a couple of seasons ago were annual inhabitants of the Northwest Conference basement, improved their record to an unblemished 7-0, including a 4-0 record in the conference. Pacific Lutheran lost for the second straight week and is now 4-3 overall and 2-2 in the NWC.

Lewis & Clark put an end to a 16-game losing streak to the Lutes that dated back to 1990, and it did so with an impressive offensive display in the second half. After managing just 82 total yards through the game's first 30 minutes, the Pioneers added 282 yards in the second half to finish the game with 364 yards. Of their six second half possession, not including a kneel down to end the game, the Pioneers scored on four of them.

A lot of that second half yardage came via the ground game as quarterback Keith Welch and tailback Joevonte Mayes sliced through the PLU defense. Mayes gained 97 of his 116 net yards in the second half, while Welch ended up with 48 on 20 carries, though he had to recover from a negative nine rushing yards in a first half in which he was bottled up by the PLU defense. Welch also was effective throwing the ball in the final half with 103 yards and he finished with 168 yards on 15-for-31 accuracy with one touchdown and two interceptions.

The game started like many in the series between the programs as the Lutes scored on their first two possessions. They took the opening kickoff and drove 65 yards on five plays with Zack Halverson hitting Dalton Ritchey on a 41-yard scoring pass. Ritchey did most of the work, taking a short pass and breaking several tackles on his way to the end zone.

PLU scored in a hurry on its next possession when Alex McDiarmid got behind the defense and Halverson found him for a 68-yard score.

Lewis & Clark made some noise in the second quarter, going 66 yards on 13 plays before Curtis Shirey swept the left end and tiptoed down the sideline from nine yards out. the Lutes got the score right back, however, going 60 yards on 11 plays before Halverson and Ritchey connected for the second time, this one from seven yards. The missed extra point kick made the score 20-7 at the half, but not many in the stands would have seen coming what was to transpire in the final 30 minutes.

The teams traded touchdowns in the third period, L&C scoring on a 24-yard pass from Welch to Shawn Evans to cap a 60-play drive, while PLU scored on Daniel Herr's 11-yard sweep to cap a 69-yard drive. Entering the final period, the Lutes were on top 26-14 and seemed well on the way to their 17th straight win in the series.

The Pioneers responded with three touchdowns in the final quarter, starting with Welch's 15-yard pass to Andrew Frisina at the end of a 12-play, 83-yard drive. The PAT made it 26-21 in favor of the Lutes.

Lewis & Clark took the lead with 7:32 remaining on a 5-yard Mayes run that capped a 53-yard drive set up when the Pios held the Lutes on downs. The two-point pass attempt failed, but the Pios had their first lead of the game at 27-26.

Needing a score to regain the lead, the Lutes instead gave the ball away at their own 37-yard line when a fake punt was easily sniffed out. The Pioneers made the most of that opportunity when Shirey scored his second rushing touchdown, this time from 10 yards, giving the visitors a 34-26 advantage with 1:49 remaining.

The Lutes had one last chance to tie it, and Herr's 33-yard kickoff return to the L&C 48-yard line set them up in good position. Halverson completed five straight passes to move the ball to the L&C two-yard line. After three incompletions and facing fourth down, Halverson connected with Kyle Warner for the touchdown with 30.4 seconds left. Halverson's two-point pass attempt to Jon Zeglin was batted away, however, keeping L&C on top 34-32.

Pacific Lutheran's attempt at an onside kick was grabbed by Chris Kelly, who returned the ball to the PLU 21-yard line, and the Pios ended the game with Welch's kneel down.

The Lutes actually finished with a 435-364 advantage in total yards, with 364 of those yards coming through the air. Halverson was 26-for-39 with four touchdowns and one interception. Ritchey, formerly a back-up quarterback recently converted to wide receiver, had seven catches for 104 yards and two scores to lead the Lutes. PLU managed just 71 net rushing yards on 29 carries.

Angus Blair had eight tackles and forced a fumble for the Pioneers, while PLU linebacker Steven McDonald led all players with 10 tackles, two quarterback sacks totaling 19 yards. Adam Schwander had nine tackles and PLU's other sack.

The Lutes return to action at 12:30 p.m. next Saturday when they host the Pacific Boxers at Sparks Stadium.

- PLU -