In typical Pacific Lutheran University team-first fashion, Travis McMillion deflected all credit.
But through the first half of the Northwest Conference season, the Lutes safety has proven to be the biggest ballhawk in the league.
McMillion picked off two Ryan Knowlton passes, including one he returned 32 yards for a touchdown just 56 seconds into the game, and the Lutes locked up Willamette, 30-10, at McCulloch Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
PLU dominated by keeping possession of the football for 37 minutes, 24 seconds by amassing 225 rushing yards on a wet field. Backup quarterback Cole Chandler passed for a touchdown and rushed for a pair of scores in the victory.
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“Our running game today was extremely effective,” PLU receiver Kellen Westering said. “When you have three guys (Marc Gallant, Darin Hardgrove, Chandler) who run the ball so well, the playbook opens up.”
McMillion turned this game quickly in PLU’s favor.
Facing a third-and-8 on the first offense series, Knowlton tried going long on a deep out route. The PLU junior from Onalaska saw the pass coming the whole way, and broke first on it.
“Pretty much the way the ball was thrown, I undercut it and ran up the sidelines,” McMillion said. “Nobody touched me.”
Chandler went around left end on a 14-yard run for a touchdown early in the second quarter, giving the Lutes a 17-0 lead.
McMillion intercepted his second pass of the game with less than three minutes remaining in the first half, setting up Chandler’s 1-yard scoring pass to Westering, and the Lutes led 24-0 at halftime.
McMillion now has a conference-best four interceptions this season, with three of them coming in the past two games.
“I feel pretty confident out there, but out defensive line is getting a great pass rush, which is putting pressure on the quarterback,” McMillion said.
PLU hosts Whitworth in a key NWC showdown on Saturday in its homecoming game at Sparks Stadium.
At Whitworth 56, Puget Sound 32: As expected, these two offense put on quite a show, combining for 1,114 total yards.
And both quarterbacks — Whitworth’s Ian Kolste (355 passing yards, three touchdowns) and UPS’s Hans Fortune (496 passing yards, four touchdowns) — combined for 105 attempts.
The two biggest differences in the outcomes were UPS turnovers (two interceptions) and Whitworth big plays.
The decisive play was Jordan Pride’s 97-yard kickoff return for a score near the end of the first half — right after UPS scored on a field goal.
Pride’s long return with 4:12 remaining in the half extended the Pirates’ lead to 21-10.
“That took the wind out of our sails,” UPS coach Jeff Thomas said. “It was a huge momentum punch on us.”
The Loggers scored right before the first half ended on Fortune’s 28-yard strike to Brennan Schon — and took the ball to start the second half.
But the UPS offense went three-and-out and Whitworth followed with a nine-play, 51-yard scoring drive, capped by Duke DeGaetano’s 2-yard touchdown run, and the Pirates led, 42-24.
“By that point, the offense knew it needed to keep serve with Whitworth,” Thomas said. “We did not get off to a good start in that half.”
Schon caught 14 passes for 221 yards in his return to hometown Spokane.