PUYALLUP – Gusty conditions stifled the offense early, but the 16th-ranked Pacific Lutheran football team scored four consecutive second-half touchdowns to pull away to a 41-21 rivalry win over Puget Sound Saturdayafternoon at Sparks Stadium.
Pacific Lutheran improved to 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the Northwest Conference, while Puget Sound fell to 1-6 overall and 0-4 in conference play. The Lutes head to Spokane next week to close out the 2013 regular season against Whitworth, looking to secure their second eight-win season since 2001.
Saturday was a packed day at Sparks Stadium, with the Lutes taking on their cross-town rivals and honoring 17 graduating players on Senior Day. Pacific Lutheran also honored members of the United States Armed Forces with Military Appreciation Day, and PLU’s Welcome Weekend helped make for a festive atmosphere and full stands.
The Lutes struggled in the first half as winds hindered the passing game and the UPS defense aimed for a rivalry upset. PLU’s defense stepped up to the challenge, limiting Puget Sound to just over 100 yards of total offense in the first three quarters, but the Loggers took advantage of two very short fields to claim a 14-7 lead early in the second half.
“They came over and battled us,” PLU head coach Scott Westering said. “They gave us all we could handle. But the game was about defense for us, and our defense, how well they played, gave us lots of opportunities. ”
A Connor Cummings punt return set the Lutes up for their first score early in the second quarter, as the Lutes took possession at the Logger 19-yard line and scored three plays later on a 9-yard pass from Dalton Ritcheyto Kyle Warner. Special teams helped set the staged for UPS’ first touchdown as well, as the Loggers tipped a PLU punt late in the second and began their drive at the PLU 34-yard line. Two consecutive first-down completions by Braden Foley led to a 9-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Miller with only five seconds showing on the clock.
Early in the third quarter, a fumbled punt attempt gave the Loggers even better field position. Puget Sound got the ball first-and-10 at the PLU 15, and it only took two plays for the visitors to claim their first lead of the game when Kupono Park carried it in from one yard out. With the Lutes lined up to play into the wind for the final 15 minutes, scoring in the third quarter gained a greater sense of urgency.
“This wind blowing today made a huge impact on the game, a huge impact on us offensively,” Westering said. “We needed to make some hay, if you will, in the third quarter, score-wise, because we knew it would be a battle going into that wind in the fourth quarter.”
Pacific Lutheran did just that following UPS’ second touchdown drive. Ritchey connected on all three of his pass attempts and added a 4-yard rush as he marched the PLU offense 69 yards down the field in four plays for his second TD-pass to Warner. After Joel Anthony forced a UPS fumble on the next drive and Jordan Patterson recovered for the Lutes, PLU had a short field of its own with a chance to reclaim the lead.
PLU kept the ball on the ground for all five plays of its next possession, covering 25 yards and taking the 21-14 lead on a 3-yard Niko Madison touchdown. The Lutes finally hit a big play in the final minutes of the third quarter, as Madison caught a short screen pass from Ritchey and took it 50 yards to the UPS 13. Two quarterback rushes later, Ritchey broke into the end zone for his first of three rushing scores on the day and the Lutes had a 28-14 lead entering the final quarter.
The Lutes scored twice more in the final period. Ritchey kept the ball on the final three plays of the Lutes’ 26-yard drive, including the 5-yard TD to make it 34-14. After two of the Loggers’ previous three drives ended with turnovers-on-downs, Foley dropped a 45-yard third-down pass to Peter Bell in the end zone to push UPS’ point total to 21 and nearly triple the Loggers’ yardage total.
One final Ritchey rushing touchdown ended the scoring for the Lutes, as Ritchey totaled 70 yards and three scores on 18 carries one week after scoring three rushing touchdowns for the first time in his career. Ritchey also passed for 196 yards and a pair of scores, accounting for five of the Lutes’ six trips to the end zone.
“It’s a pretty tough deal to have to defend the kids that we have, and on top of that have to defend a running quarterback that really wants to take it and run with it,” Westering said.
Madison led all players in both rushing (73) and receiving (88) yards, totaling 161 yards while scoring one touchdown. Patterson was all over the field for the Lute defense, totaling 10 tackles with 3.5 for-loss, one fumble recovery and 1.5 sacks. Dalton Darmody added seven tackles as the PLU defense limited UPS to eight first downs and only two rushing yards on 27 carries.
Foley threw for 184 yards and two touchdowns, but the Lutes sacked the UPS quarterback five times, and he accounted for a total of negative-24 rushing yards on nine carries. Chris Beaulaurier and Jacob Wuesthoff tied for the game-high tackle total with 11 apiece, and Max Mirande finished with 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.