As the Northwest Conference and SCIAC champions tend to converge in the first round of the playoffs, it made sense to tie up their seasons and look forward to the playoffs together.
For some players, this was their final chance to play college football before they moved on to finishing their degree. Consequently, this week can feel bittersweet regardless of the result.
But without further adieu…
How the West Was Won
The Northwest Conference Championship
Linfield has been the dominant program in the Northwest Conference for a generation, and any imposition against that feels like David against Goliath. Linfield had the home-field advantage, and they are usually a top-10 program at the Division 3 level. However, this did not phase Whitworth.
Linfield was without Blake Eaton at quarterback, but Luke McNabb filled in admirably, leading the Wildcats to a quick 14-0 lead on passes to WR Colton Smith and his brother, RB Connor McNabb. To this point in the season, none of their opponents have been able to regroup and fight their way back. Yet, Whitworth quickly turned the tide and scored a 60-yard touchdown in the closing s econds of the first quarter to cut the lead to 14-7.
A back-and-forth second quarter would lead to a very poor punt from Linfield, that set up Whitworth at the Wildcats' 40 with 2:12 remaining.
A penalty and two plays later, the Wildcats tied the game with 1:13 left in the half as Austin Ewing called his own number for a 9-yard TD run.
Linfield would not accept going into halftime with the game tied and moved down to the Whitworth 23 and hit a 40-yard field goal as time expired in the half.
The Wildcats would add a touchdown in the third quarter on another Luke McNabb pass to Isaac Hoidal to take a 24-14 lead into the fourth quarter, seemingly in control of the game.
The final period was a new ball game. Whitworth opened with the ball and drove down the field to score on a Solomon Hines 7-yard run to finish a 13-play 87-yard drive with just under 10 minutes remaining.
Linfield followed this with a 4:33 drive that ended in a missed field goal that handed the ball back to Whitworth at their own 25 with 5:18 remaining.
A few plays later, the Pirates had a 4th & 4 at their 41 and converted on a 5-yard Ewing pass to Caelin Johnson. This momentum would carry them down to the Linfield 5-yard line before Ewing found his favorite receiver, Evan Liggett, for a touchdown that would give Whitworth the lead with only 29 seconds remaining. They would hold on to defeat Goliath and punch their ticket to the playoffs as the Northwest Conference Champion.
Ewing had some issues in the earlier stages of the game, with three interceptions. He also completed 37/52 passes for 338 yards and two touchdowns in addition to his rushing score. They struggled to run the ball throughout the game but made multiple plays when it mattered. Dillon Kuk was the true standout receiver on the day with 12 receptions for 154 yards with a touchdown.
Luke McNabb finished with 28/41 for 354 yards and 3 TDs with an interception. He added 41 net yards on the ground alongside 57 from his brother. It will be interesting to see how the Wildcats handle the quarterback situation between McNabb and Blake Eaton going into next season.
The SCIAC Championship
It was an odd sight seeing Wilson Field lit up by the midday sun, but that could not stop the Panthers from continuing to play excellent football since the calendar rolled over into October.
In their first meeting, Chapman shut out the Sagehens in Claremont as Luke Peterman made his first appearance in relief of an injured Tyler Pacheco. They have tried to focus on running the ball in the weeks since, but Peterman has steadily developed as a passer and truly blossomed in this game.
The Panthers burst out of the gates with scores on their first four possessions to take a 24-0 lead midway through the 2nd quarter as their defense continued to suffocate the rushing attempts of Grady Russo.
The Sagehens flipped the script out of halftime as they scored touchdowns on their first three possessions thanks to their passing game. Chapman could only add a field goal in the frame. Suddenly, it was a one-possession game with the score 27-20 going into the fourth quarter.
The 4th quarter saw Grady Russo be intercepted on all four of his possessions for the Sagehens, including twice in the endzone. Chapman freshman Roman Hardin had the first three interceptions of his career in this game.
Chapman also added two touchdowns in the frame to stretch their lead out of reach. With that 41-20 victory, the Panthers had completed their incredible turnaround. After a 0-3 start, the Panthers took the inaugural SCIAC Championship Game and earned a playoff berth.
Grady Russo was clearly the most dynamic option at quarterback for the Sagehens with moments of domination on the ground and through the air. The Chapman defense held him to only 17 yards on 11 attempts, which included lost yardage on three sacks. Schematically, it was odd to see that no other player had a rushing attempt in the game. The lack of a consistent running back was a problem during the season.
Through the air, Russo racked up 341 yards and three TDs on 23/41 passing. Six interceptions marred this performance, unfortunately. His inexperience at quarterback was a factor. Still, as a freshman, he flashed the ability to carry the program moving forward.
The Wimmer twins were his top targets on the day as Quinten caught 11 passes for 190 yards and 2 TDs while Sander had the other TD in his six receptions for 75 yards. COVID waiver rules should allow them to return for a 5th season and give the Sagehens a very dangerous core on offense.
As Luke Peterman has blossomed at quarterback, he kept pace with Russo, completing 18/24 for 307 yards and four touchdowns without a turnover. That has been the most crucial element of his game this season. He has yet to throw an interception on 88 attempts against nine touchdowns at a 68% completion rate. His top receiver on the day was Jason Bruce, who caught two touchdowns on his three receptions for 64 yards. Peterman distributes the ball well and generally avoids locking onto a single receiver over the course of a game.
The Chapman running game was strong enough, but they could only net 104 yards on 40 attempts. Gio Ursino was the sole productive running back, with 18 carries for 88 yards and a touchdown.
This season has been a victory of coaching and perseverance for the Panthers. Now, they must prepare to travel to Spokane in eastern Washington to face the Whitworth Pirates for the second time this season.
The Rest of the West
The SCIAC 3rd Place Game
The latter part of this season was rather dreary for a Bulldogs program that had looked so strong earlier this season but could not find enough performance from their quarterbacks after losing Tyler Tremain.
Jack Wilson and Jordan Ford combined to go 16/37 for 121 yards with an interception while taking three sacks. It was a lifeless performance, even with RB Tony Williams Jr attempting to carry the load with 20 carries for 71 yards.
Justin Edwards had an underwhelming performance for the Stags, turning his 25 carries into only 79 yards with a touchdown. They would not need much from their offense as Walter Kuhlenkamp would provide 223 yards and a touchdown on 16/25 passing with a touchdown. His two interceptions would not come back to haunt the Stags in the slightest.
The past two seasons have been rather frustrating for the Stags. Last season, they took a share of the SCIAC Championship based on their conference record. However, their season-ending loss to Pomona-Pitzer sent the Sagehens to the playoffs. This season, they had the best overall record in the SCIAC, tying Chapman for the best conference record. However, they finished in 3rd place due to losing both matches with the Panthers. They should be in the running for a conference championship again next season, but their playoff window may have passed them by.
The SCIAC 5th Place Game
The Leopards will have to find the positives to this season, not from how they started their final home game, but how they finished.
It had been a difficult season, but they kept grinding and played a solid and opportunistic game against the Kingsmen to bring the home crowd their only conference victory this year.
Brian Rudden started at quarterback again after showing promise last week and responded by going 23/36 for 225 yards and 2 TDs. He was sacked twice and lost a fumble in the first quarter that Cal Lutheran would eventually turn into a touchdown. This would be the Kingsmen’s sole score of the first half as La Verne would jump out to a 24-7 halftime lead.
That second quarter included a 92-yard interception return off of James McNamara. JP Andrade and McNamara played extensively in the game and combined to complete 26/52 for 327 yards and three TDs. Unfortunately, their three interceptions allowed the Leopards to overcome their yardage deficit in the game. This game was a sterling example of the importance of minimizing errors and executing situational football.
The result of this contest did not match the potential stories within it. It did reaffirm some prior opinions on both programs.
Mason Binning is a legitimate classic Air Raid-type quarterback with command of his offense. Puget Sound does not have the talent up front to adequately protect him to execute against most teams. His top receiver, Izaiah Jerenz, was fed the ball in pursuit of some Division 3 records. If Jerenz had 26 receptions, it would have set some single-game and single-season records. In the end, he topped out at 18 catches for 131 yards. This was still an incredible season for the 5th year senior who finished with 115 receptions for 1299 yards and 13 TDs in 9 games.
Binning finished the game with a line of 34/47 for 245 yards and an interception. Binning finished the season completed 267/422 passes (63.3%) for 2690 yards with 18 TDs and 10 INTs in 9 games.
Darius Chaffin did not have to do much as a passer for the Lutes, finishing with 162 yards on only 9/13 passing. This was a strong and steady ground performance as the team totaled 269 yards on 45 carries with all six touchdowns on the day. Chaffin and Raysen Motoyama each had 83 yards to lead the Lutes as Chaffin scored a TD on seven carries. Motoyama got into the endzone twice on 13 carries. With the Lutes returning 10/11 starters next year, they could be ready to make a playoff push like Whitworth this season.
Willamette gave up 60 points again as Lewis & Clark continued their late-season offensive explosion. Cruz Montana got the start at QB for the Pioneers in his final college game and took advantage. He completed 23/30 for 370 yards and 4 TDs. Montana was not even the only quarterback for Lewis & Clark in this game as the team combined for 517 yards through the air.
They were not nearly as proficient on the ground as usual, with Elijah Washington was limited to 78 yards on 16 carries. He did add two touchdowns.
It would be unfair to exclude the recipients of such an aerial attack as the Pioneers nearly had three 100-yard receivers. The trio of Desmon Holton (7 catches 151 yards TD), Ben Burnham (7 catches 138 yards), and Devon Guest (6 catches 94 yards TD) led the way.
For Willamette, they once again started Alex Rivera IV at quarterback. Seth Beach and Micah Ho'Omanawanui also saw time on the field. The three combined to go 14/29 for 160 yards with a TD, and INT. The only individual of interest on this day was RB Gabriel Herrera, who hit the century-mark with 107 yards and a TD on 13 carries. The Bearcats have a lot of questions to answer this offseason.
Max Richey was the surprising starter at QB for the Bruins, while Ryan Helt got the start for Pacific. Both of which went against the recent offensive success both programs had enjoyed.
Helt would only complete 3/7 for 31 yards before being replaced by Braeden Titus. This was the turning point of the game.
Max Richey played the entire game for the Bruins until the final seconds and performed at a high level. Richey had 314 yards on 20/28 passing and 4 TDs with an interception and had his Bruins up 21-0 before Braeden Titus entered the game.
A minute into the second half, Titus had the Boxers trailing 28-21 after scoring three touchdowns on his first three possessions. Titus completed 16/30 for 395 yards and 3 TDs with an interception of his own.
George Fox stretched their lead to 38-21, but Pacific pushed back and closed the gap to 45-42 with 4:22 remaining. That would be the end of the scoring. A stark contrast to their 14-9 contest in September.
Pacific had the game’s leading rusher in Brody Bantolina with 82 yards on 18 carries and 2 TDs on the ground. Isaiah Pitre (3 catches, 162 yards, and a TD) and Tyler Vargas (5 catches, 148 yards, and a TD) were explosive targets for Braeden Titus’s big day.
Elias Polanski was the Bruin receiver who stood out in this final game of the season, holding on to the ball through violent hits and playing with a ton of emotion. He caught two of Richey’s touchdown passes among his six receptions for 83 yards.
It is interesting how much these teams can change throughout the season and look like different squads by their final game.
Regular Season Final Standings
The Northwest Conference
- Whitworth Pirates (9-0, 7-0)
- Linfield Wildcats (8-1, 6-1)
- Pacific Lutheran Lutes (5-5, 4-3)
- Lewis & Clark Pioneers (5-5, 4-3)
- George Fox Bruins (4-6, 3-4)
- Pacific Boxers (2-7, 2-5)
- Puget Sound Loggers (3-6, 2-5)
- Willamette Bearcats (1-9, 0-7)
These standings are based on the integration of the two divisions following the championship and seeding matchups to finish the regular season and not tied to win-loss record.
- Chapman Panthers (6-3, 6-2)
- Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens (6-4, 5-3)
- CMS Stags (8-2, 6-2)
- Redlands Bulldogs (5-5, 4-4)
- La Verne Leopards (2-8, 1-7)
- Cal Lutheran Kingsmen (3-7, 2-6)
Chapman Panthers (6-3, 6-2) at Whitworth Pirates (9-0, 7-0) | Noon PT | Whitworth All-Access
Traveling from Orange, California, the Panthers must prepare for a potentially rainy game in Spokane, with temperatures unlikely to exceed the mid-40s.
As strong as the Pirates' offense has been this season, they have struggled over the past two weeks against George Fox and Linfield. They tied their season-low output against the Panthers in September, though they were victorious 24-17.
Chapman is a much different team, as their defense has become a force through the SCIAC season. During their 6-game winning streak, they have allowed 7, 0, 10, 10, 7, and 20 points.
This is a more evenly matched game than their records would indicate. If Chapman can handle the uncomfortable weather conditions, relative to Southern California, Chapman has a surprisingly high chance of winning.
In that September matchup, the Pirates still used Ryan Blair at quarterback at times, though Austin Ewing was the starter. They combined to go 21/34 for 283 yards and a TD while taking three sacks. Luis Salgado had a strong game on the ground with 95 yards on 18 carries. The Panthers defense had not quite come together at that point, improving in both run and pass defense.
The victor will play and likely have to travel to the winner of Illinois College at Wartburg. Illinois College has been one of the top offenses in Division III. Wartburg has not lost a regular season game since 2021 and was a final 4 team last season.
The upside of having the NWC and SCIAC champions paired in the first round of the playoffs is that the West Coast is guaranteed a representative in the round of 16. It is not an easy route to the round of 8.
Prediction: Chapman 27 Whitworth 23