PUYALLUP - Pacific Lutheran built a 35-0 lead in the third period and withstood a furious fourth quarter Pacific rally to defeat the visiting Boxers, 35-24, in a Northwest Conference football game played Saturday afternoon at Sparks Stadium.
With the victory, PLU improved to 5-3 overall to assure itself of back-to-back winning seasons. The Lutes are 3-2 in the conference. Pacific, in its second year of collegiate football after a 19-year hiatus from the sport, finishes its season with a 1-8 overall record and a 1-5 mark in the conference.
The Lutes dominated the Boxers through the first half in building up a 28-0 lead at the intermission. Quarterback Zack Halverson, one of 19 seniors introduced prior to the game on Senior Day, was 13-for-14 for 263 yards and four touchdowns in the first 30 minutes. His touchdown passes covered 41 yards to senior Alex McDiarmid, 19 and 2 yards to Lucas Sontra, and 69 yards to senior Tyler Bowen.
The ground game accounted for 93 first half yards, including 38 on four carries by Zack Baldwin, as the Lutes piled up 356 yards to 89 for the Boxers.
PLU added a touchdown six minutes in the third quarter on another Halverson aerial, this one covering 32 yards to Kyle Warner, to make it 35-0. Pacific finally got on the board at the 5:12 mark of the third period when Moses Villareal-Gomez converted a 28-yard field goal after the Lutes turned the ball over deep in their own territory on a bad punt snap.
The final quarter featured three onside kicks, two of which scrappy wide receiver Blake Anthony recovered for Pacific, and a passing frenzy by second string Boxers quarterback P.J. Minaya. It also led to some uneasiness in the PLU side of the grandstands.
Minaya drove the Boxers 65 yards in 10 plays and hit Matt Nyberg with a 3-yard scoring pass to make it 35-10. PLU's Matt Johns recovered the first of the Pacific onside kicks, but the Lutes were forced to punt after failing to pick up a first down. After getting the ball at their own 15-yard line, the Boxers went 85 yards in nine plays, scoring on Minaya's 2-yard pass to Bryce Kershner with 2:40 remaining. Minaya scrambled 22 yards on a 3rd-and-13 to highlight the drive.
That made the score 35-17, and when the Anthony came up with the ball at the bottom of a scrum on the next onside kick, the Boxers were again in business. This time they drove 55 yards on nine plays for the score. Minaya hit a sliding Nelson Kawai with a 19-yard pass to the 2-yard line, and after a false start penalty moved the ball back five yards Brian Taylor caught a 7-yard scoring aerial.
With 40 seconds left on the clock and still needing two scores, Pacific again recovered the onside kick, Anthony coming up with the ball at the bottom of a scrum of players. On the first play from scrimmage, Minaya just missed connecting with Jordan Fukumoto, who had gotten behind the PLU secondary, and the game ended six plays later on Minaya's incomplete pass into the end zone.
When all was said and done, the Lutes had the 35-24 victory.
PLU ended the game with 438 yards of offense, including 336 through the air. After his hot start, Halverson finished 18-for-26 for 336 yards with a career-best five touchdowns (one from the school record) and no interceptions. Dalton Ritchey caught four balls for 39 yards to lead a group of nine different receivers with at least one catch each.
The Lutes ground game netted 102 yards on 29 carries, with Baldwin's halftime numbers of 38 yards on four carries leading the way.
After managing slightly more than 12 minutes of possession in the first half, Pacific had the ball for 21:07 of the final 30 minutes. Minaya was 23-for-34 for 223 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Fukumoto had eight receptions for 83 yards, Nelson Kawai added six catches for 89 yards, and Nyberg had five gabs for 42 yards. Of Pacific's 43 net rushing yards, Minaya had 35 of them on five carries.
The Boxers finished with 369 yards of offense and 24 first downs to 19 for the Lutes. They also enjoyed nearly seven minutes more than the Lutes in time of possession.
Senior linebackers Michael Warsaw and Adam Schwander led the Lutes with nine and eight tackles, respectively. Another pair of seniors, end Erik Magnussen and linebacker T.J. Suek, both had a pair of quarterback sacks.
PLU plays its final game of the season next Saturday when it takes on the Willamette Bearcats at McCulloch Stadium in Salem, Ore.
- PLU -