The lights went up on the University of La Verne's season as it made its season debut against Whitworth, but the visiting Pirates proved opportunistic in taking a 45-20 victory over the Leopards Saturday evening in Ortmayer Stadium.
La Verne trailed 31-20 before Pirates broke the game open with a pair of scores in the final 2:06 to provide the final margin of victory. Offensively, the Leopards outgained the Pirates on the day, but were hampered by four turnovers.
A crowd of nearly 2,000 were on hand for the Grand Re-opening of Ortmayer Stadium along with the nuance of night football in the facility.
Whitworth's defense and special teams used the big play to its advantage, as the Pirates returned a kickoff and two interceptions for touchdowns. Whitworth's De' Hall picked off a pass and returned it 33 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to give the Pirates a 24-13 lead. Nick Brockoff added an interception return of 37 yards late in the game for the game's last score.
"We played an opponent with good experience and great coaching, and they took advantage of the mistakes we made and they made us pay," said Leopard head coach Chris Krich. "We need to help ourselves by not making mistakes. That being said, I was encouraged by our effort."
Whitworth scored first on a pass from Bryan Peterson to Jake DeGooyer resulting in a six-yard touchdown with 3:37 remaining in the first quarter. The Leopards got on the scoreboard midway through the second quarter when a 14-play drive resulted in an Alex Miller field goal with 7:09 to go in the half.
La Verne (0-1) took its only lead of the game when Matt Biggers capped off a seven-play, 48-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run to grab a 10-7 advantage. The lead would be short-lived, as Whitworth's Danny Welstad returned the ensuing kickoff 61 yards for a score to propel the Pirates back on top by a 14-10 margin.
Miller's second field goal of the game, this time from 36 yards, drew La Verne within 14-13 early in the third quarter. Whitworth's Robert Thullen later countered with a field goal from 26 yards with 7:31 to go in the third, extending the lead back to 17-13.
Less than a minute later, Hall returned the interception for a score that gave the Pirates a 24-13 cushion.
The Whitworth special teams struck again early in the fourth quarter when it tackled La Verne punter Jeremy Brown at the Leopard six-yard line. Three plays later Austin Ehlo hauled in an eight-yard pass from Peterson in the back corner of the end zone, giving the Pirates a 31-13 lead.
La Verne continued to pressure the Pirates with a 65-yard drive consisting of seven plays, capped by Carter's one-yard pass to John Lilly to bring the Leopards to within 31-20 with 9:47 to play.
The Leopards forced Whitworth to punt twice, but could not close the deficit as the Pirate defense held La Verne on two consecutive possessions. With over two minutes remaining, Thomas eluded the Leopard tacklers for a 75-yard touchdown run down to extend the lead back to 38-20.
Two plays after the kickoff, Brockhoff picked off a Leopard pass and returned the interception 37 yards for the final score of the game.
The La Verne offense showed production in the contest, outgaining Whitworth 390-252 in the game. Carter came off the bench to complete 20 of 36 passes for 229 yards with one interception and one touchdown. He also ran for 52 yards on 13 carries. Biggers totaled 69 yards on 17 attempts and a score. David Kain and Jonathan Lilly had four catches each.
Peterson completed 12 of 31 passes for 154 yards and the two touchdowns. Thomas totaled 135 yards on 27 carries. DeGooyer finished with seven catches for 93 yards, while Ehlo caught two passes for 38 yards. Whitworth improved to 3-0 on the season.
La Verne continues non-conference action next week as it travels to the Bay Area to take on Menlo College in a 12:00 pm kickoff.