The Northwest’s Last Stand – D3 Playoffs

Dive into the exciting clash between Whitworth and Wartburg, discover standout players, insights, and the exciting future of West Coast college football.

Photo of Whitworth vs Wartburg during the D3 Playoffs
Source: Whitworth Athletics

As the SCIAC season ended in its entirety last week, the Northwest Conference’s season ended on the road as well. This was a great season for the Whitworth Pirates program and any opportunity to show that Linfield is not the only team of value on the West Coast is a positive for football in the region.

Whitworth Pirates 20 | Wartburg Knights 42

The first quarter had signs of the way this game would go that were not apparent on the scoreboard. On their opening possession of the game, the Pirates faced a 3rd & 1 from the Wartburg 38. However, their rush attempt lost 2 yards, and the subsequent 4th & 3 pass attempt hit the turf, resulting in a turnover on downs. The Knights would march down the field on their first drive for a touchdown though Whitworth would respond late in the first quarter but a missed extra point would find the score 7-6 to open the second quarter.

Special teams issues for Whitworth would arise as their first punt of the second quarter was blocked, but the Pirates forced a Wartburg fumble on the resulting drive. Their offense would once again be buried deep in their own territory and a poor punt set up Wartburg at the Whitworth 42 and the floodgates would open.

Even when Whitworth had strong enough field position to flip the field, they ended up with punts of 23 and 32 yards, and a failed 4th & 12 from the Wartburg 36 led to the Knights scoring on the final play of the half for a 28-6 lead.

Wartburg would add two more touchdowns in the 3rd quarter and while Whitworth responded with two of their own in the 4th it really had no bearing on the game.

For the game Whitworth actually succeeded at limiting Wartburg RB Hunter Clasen as he only had 82 yards on 18 attempts though he did score two touchdowns. The Pirates were able to force QB Nile McLaughlin to beat them, and unfortunately he did. McLaughlin completed 25/31 for 352 yards and 4 TDs as he spread the ball around well and hit on TDs of 73 and 48 yards in the third quarter. Seven players recorded a reception with six of those going over 30 yards led by WR Drake George with 9 receptions for 124 yards and 2 TDs.

The Knights defense suffocated the Whitworth ground game as Luis Salgado and Solo Hines combined to turn their 13 attempts into only 20 yards as their line was overmatched by the Wartburg front. Pass protection was serviceable with only one sack recorded.

For QB Austin Ewing, his aggregate stats on the day were strong with 296 yards on 34/48 passing with 3 TDs though he did have an interception as well. While they managed to move the ball at times, penalties and special teams issues prevented them from scoring. As large of a gap as there was in the score, the game had the potential to have gone in a very different direction had a few plays tilted in the Pirates favor.

As for Wartburg, they move on to face Wisconsin-Whitewater to play for a spot in the final 4. This game should be viewable through the American Rivers Sports Network at Noon CT on Saturday, December 2.

On the completion of their 10-1 season, Austin Ewing completed 72.1% (233/323) of his passes for 2,967 yards with 26 TDs and 6 INTs. His top receivers were Dillon Kuk (55 receptions 912 yards 12 TDs in 10 games) and Evan Liggett (53 receptions 848 yards 7 TDs in 11 games). On the ground, Luis Salgado totaled 124 carries for 717 yards and 9 TDs while being supported by Solo Hines with 442 yards on 79 carries with another 9 touchdowns.

Looking back on the regular season, both conferences of the West Coast have enough internal balance to make for entertaining football and both had their champion and playoff representatives determined in the final week of the season - this cannot be said of other very top-heavy conferences.

There is variation in the broadcast quality, but the overwhelming trait is the lack of commercial breaks. The timing rules are tight and flow well with many games finishing under 2.5 hours without feeling rushed or unnaturally shortened due to some sort of running clock rule.

These games demand your undivided attention, much like being in attendance, as opposed to the notorious commercial-kickoff-commercial sequence in FBS and NFL games, which can leave spectators with several minutes of downtime.

It is also interesting finding players who began their college career at the Division 1 level but come to Division 3 for some reason or another to finish their time in college. This trend appears most prevalent among quarterbacks, with players like DeMontre Thomas II (George Fox from Portland State), JP Andrade (Cal Lutheran from Ohio State and Jackson State), and Austin Ewing (Whitworth from Southern Utah) being notable examples from this season

The two quarterbacks of the Northwest Conference that are the most interesting to watch going into next season are Darius Chaffin of Pacific Lutheran and Mason Binning of Puget Sound.

Chaffin is a dual-threat quarterback listed at 6’ 175lbs who was fairly inconsistent this past season, but he has a high ceiling and finds his deep options well. He needs to cut down on interceptions and sacks, but he is capable of consistently producing 200+ yards through the air and 80+ yards on the ground. The Pacific Lutheran Lutes may be positioned to make a similar jump to the top of the conference as Whitworth did this season.

The Puget Sound Loggers are much more unlikely to make a big jump next season but their fortunes will likely come down to the play of their offensive line. Mason Binning is heading into his 4th season at Puget Sound and the 6’2” 180lbs passer showed flashes of being a high level classic Air Raid-type quarterback, but he could not be adequately protected against the better programs in the conference to execute the offense. His best traits that I have picked up on are his ball placement and decisiveness; he can execute the quick/short game very well. With the expansion of arena football towards the Pacific Northwest, he may have the tools to find a home at that level in the future.

Looking towards the SCIAC, the most exciting quarterback prospect moving forward may be Grady Russo at Pomona-Pitzer. He came into the season as primarily a wide receiver, but injuries led to him eventually becoming the starting quarterback as a true freshman. His athleticism made him the centerpiece of the offense with a rushing yardage high of 175 against Cal Lutheran and a huge game through the air in the SCIAC Championship Game against Chapman with 341 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Sagehens should look to move forward with Russo as their starting quarterback and the prospect of him developing into a more refined quarterback is exciting for their future.

More discussions about the SCIAC will come later. With many 7 p.m. Pacific Time starts in the conference, there are more evening viewing opportunities available during the early Fall than people might realize.