Story by Justin Gimse – Photos by Rocky Ross
The sun was shining and the Pacific Lutheran Pep Band was rolling steady at Sparks Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 30. It was time for the annual crosstown showdown between the Lutes and the University of Puget Sound Loggers. To many around Tacoma, the game is still the big rivalry event of the year. For others, it’s just another game on schedule.
This tends to happen when one team (PLU) has won 27 out of the last 29 meetings between the two teams.
When legendary head coach Frosty Westering and his Lutes edged the Loggers by a score of 13-10 at the Tacoma Dome in 1983, it marked the beginning of a huge shift in the crosstown rivalry. Westering began his head coaching career with a 1-7 record against the Loggers. After a four-year break from the game, the Lutes were a vastly different program under Westering, which included national championships and title game appearances.
Since that 1983 game, PLU was 30-4 against the Loggers, and frankly, the games were usually blowouts. So, if you run into someone around town, and they tell you they really don’t think the game offers up much of a rivalry, it’s hard to blame them considering those sort of statistics. However, if you can get a word in edgewise, let them know that despite the decades of beat downs, the Loggers are still the top dog around town, historically.
Despite the recent 23-13 defeat, the Loggers still own the all-time series lead with a record of 45-41-5. I know it’s hard to believe, but this rivalry series used to be flipped completely the other way. When Westering took over the PLU program, the Lutes were 10-34-5 against the Loggers.
If the past two meetings were going to be any sort of indicator, the 2017 matchup was going to be a good one, and it was. After defeating the Lutes 6-2 in 2015 in a torrential rain, the Loggers came into the 2016 game riding high, with an offense that was making an appearance on the national radar. PLU would pull off an amazing comeback, scoring three touchdowns in the final four minutes of the fourth quarter to snare a 31-20 victory.
With recent meetings adding to the intrigue, the game looked to have quite a bit of flavor for the local football fans and alumni in attendance.
When coaches talk about how they’re going to win a football game, one of the most important items is turnovers. If they can limit coughing the ball up to their opponent, their team is going to be in a good position to win. Of course, there are turnovers and then there are mammoth turnovers. The Loggers suffered one of the regular type, and two mammoth ones. With the final point spread at just 10 points, there’s no way to bring up this game without first mentioning the takeaways by PLU.
The Lutes needed just 58 seconds and two plays to get on the scoreboard after taking the game’s opening kick-off. When quarterback Cole Chandler connected with Brady Winter for a 63-yard touchdown pass, the PLU faithful were beside themselves. UPS would take over on their own 30-yard line and lightning struck for the Lutes again, as UPS quarterback Tanner Diebold was intercepted on a short pass by the Loggers’ Tabby Yu. The Lutes would then push the ball to the 19-yard line before getting hit by a holding call, which pushed them back to the 29-yard line, and PLU would ultimately surrender the ball on downs.
When UPS took over at their own 29-yard line, the Loggers’ offense really began to click as they rolled up a 71-yard drive in 10 plays. Diebold would earn some payback with a 13-yard scramble into the end-zone, knotting the score at 7-7 with 4:57 remaining in the first quarter.
The Loggers would then roll the dice with an onside kick, which they recovered on their own 43-yard line. It felt as though there was a momentum swing going on at Sparks Stadium. After marching the ball down to the PLU six-yard line, lightning struck again for the Lutes. Puget Sound’s Duncan Varela had the football squirt out of his arms and just into the end-zone. The ball was picked up by PLU’s Carson Ketter, and the Ocean Shores native was off to the races down the UPS sideline and into the end-zone. The run spanned 100-yards officially, but it had the weight of a 400-yard touchdown run. The Lutes now led 14-7 entering the second quarter.
Suffice it to say, there was some serious hitting going on in this game. If folks had even half of a thought that these players didn’t want this game like no other, they weren’t watching this contest.
PLU would tack on another touchdown midway into the second quarter when Chandler connected with Jacob King for an 11-yard touchdown, giving the Lutes a 20-7 lead. The ensuing possession by the Loggers was an absolute grinder that left them empty-handed. Starting their drive at their own 29-yard line, the Loggers would roll-up an 18-play, 59-yard drive that was capped by a missed 28-yard field goal by UPS’ Dre Kristensen. The drive took nearly seven minutes off of the clock, and on the flipside, the Lutes were now riding high.
The two teams played to a stalemate for the first 11 minutes of the third quarter. UPS was then able to mount a successful drive that put some sizzle back into the game. After driving to the PLU 16-yard line, Diebold lofted a pass to the left side of the end-zone, where Dusti Harrison made an outstanding over-the-shoulder grab for the score. After a missed kick, the score was now 20-13 in PLU’s favor with just 1:13 left in the third quarter.
It was not a kind fourth quarter for the Loggers. With both defenses playing at full-tilt, there was some bend in their play, but neither side was going to break. The UPS offense got as close as the PLU 14-yard line before Diebold suffered two consecutive sacks, leading to a 45-yard missed field goal with just 4:34 left in the game.
On the ensuing drive, the Lutes would chew nearly all of the time off the clock, capping their 10-play, 70-yard drive with a 20-yard field goal off the foot of Alex Brost. Down 10 points with 50 seconds remaining, the Loggers were going to need a bit of a miracle.
Instead, lightning struck for the Lutes one last time, as Diebold was intercepted by Anthony Bautista and that was all she wrote for the Loggers.
Up next for PLU is a road trip to Pacific on Saturday, Oct. 7. The Lutes will then return home to face Whitworth at Sparks Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 14 at 1 p.m. UPS will look to rebound on Homecoming Weekend against Lewis & Clark on Saturday, Oct. 7 at Baker Stadium. Kick-off is also at 1 p.m., and the festivities will include a 50th anniversary celebration of the sensational 1967 Loggers’ football team.