Near midfield, wide receiver Kellen Westering laid face down on the turf, seeing stars.
For much of the second half, his Pacific Lutheran University offense was also seeing the same fuzzy blur.
But something happened in the final five minutes — the Lutes stood tall to the relentless challenge cross-town rival Puget Sound was issuing.
PLU scored three touchdowns in the final 3 1/2 minutes to stun the Loggers, 31-20, in a thrilling Northwest Conference showdown at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup.
hird-string quarterback Walker LaVoie rallied the offense. He threw three touchdowns, including two scores in a 1:56 span in the final minutes.
The last one — a lofted 23-yard pass in the right corner of the end zone that Westering went up high to pull down against tight coverage — gave the Lutes the lead for good, 24-20, with 98 seconds to go.
UPS fumbled on the first play of its next drive for a turnover, leading to Darin Hardgrove’s punctuating 17-yard, up-the-gut touchdown run at the 1:08 mark for a 31-20 lead.
Those final five minutes, coach Scott Westering admitted his offensive staff was trying to find ways to get LaVoie going consistently.
“We weren’t quite making up plays, but we were fusing and mutating plays together — and it worked,” the longtime Lutes coach said. “Walker executed it.”
LaVoie was never expecting to see the field. He got limited practice snaps with the first-team offense because Cole Chandler — who started in place of injured Job Schaub (shoulder) — took most of them.
But on the Lutes’ third offensive series of the game, Chandler got driven to the turf after a play. He clutched his right shoulder and went to the sideline. He never returned.
The Loggers had their own struggles scoring points, but were sparked by a Michael Andris’ 26-yard field goal at the end of the first half to cut PLU’s lead to 10-3.
It started a run of 20 unanswered points by UPS — the last coming on Hans Fortune’s 27-yard touchdown strike to Brennan Schon down the left sideline to give the Loggers a 20-10 lead with 6:10 remaining.
“I thought we had taken control of the game on defense,” UPS coach Jeff Thomas said. “All we needed to do was get the ball back to our offense.”
PLU needed to make something happen, and quickly. LaVoie did, completing a 31-yard pass to Kellen Westering on the Lutes’ next drive.
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But when Westering was taken down from behind, his head hit the turf hard. And he stayed down motionless amid a sudden hush.
“(My vision) wasn’t black, but I saw some stuff,” the senior said.
LaVoie still led the offense 74 yards for a score – his 9-yard touchdown strike to tight end D.J. Winter to cut it to 20-17.
With PLU having only one timeout remaining, all the Loggers needed was one first down to seal a victory.
And on second down, Fortune delivered a ball to Dustin Harrison in stride that would have essentially done just that.
But Harrison dropped it, and the Loggers went three-and-out on offense.
“About a passing offense, the old-school people will say, ‘Anytime the ball is thrown, two of the three things that happen are bad things,’ ” Thomas said. “Today you saw that. We had drops on passes we don’t usually have.”
PLU took over on its own 48-yard line with 2:26 remaining — and reached the 23 on a roughing-the-passer penalty.
On the next play, Westering — who passed the battery of concussion tests on the Lutes’ sideline — returned to see the decisive pass came his way.
“The whole game, they did a great job of keying in on me,” Westering said. “I just saw the ball and thought, ‘It is my ball or no one’s ball.’ I kind of Randy Moss’d them.”
Hardgrove finished with a career-high 120 yards for PLU. LaVoie was 13 of 22 for 181 yards. The Lutes overcame three turnovers.
Their losses to Trinity, Whitworth and George Fox this season came in the final minutes of games. Same thing against UPS last year as well.
“The difference this time,” Thomas said, “was they had Westering.”