Final: Linfield 27, Pacific Lutheran 24
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The Linfield Wildcats held on to defeat Pacific Lutheran 27-24 Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs on a wet day at Maxwell Field.
Linfield (10-0) moves on to play North Central (Ill.) in the second round Nov. 24. The game is set for noon at Maxwell Field in McMinnville.
Pacific Lutheran outgained the Wildcats in yards, but the Lutes had five turnovers which stalled drive after drive, keeping Linfield in front. Pacific Lutheran did have one final chance to win or tie, but Dalton Ritchey's pass with 33 seconds left in the game was behind Kyle Warner on fourth down, and the Wildcats were able to escape with the win.
Linfield led 20-7 at halftime, but the Lutes cut the lead in the third quarter to 20-17, first on 21-yard touchdown pass from Ritchey to Lucas Sontra, then a 20-yard field goal by Jacob Schrader.
The Wildcats scored with 12:02 left in the game on a 10-yard interception return for a touchdown by Tyler Robitaille, increasing their lead to 27-17, but Ritchey brough the Lutes back once again, scoring on a 13-yard touchdown run with 5:25 left in the ballgame to give them a chance.
The Wildcats were forced to punt with 1:33 left, giving the Lutes the ball at their own 21.
Linfield sacked Ritchey six times.
Quarterback Mickey Inns threw for 210 yards but was intercepted for the first time since throwing two at Pacific Lutheran in September. It was also the first time this season that Inns did not throw for a touchdown.
Chad Cobrun rushed for two touchdowns for Linfield in the first half on direct snaps. Ritchey threw for 284 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted twice.
Warner caught 12 passes for 205 yards for Pacific Lutheran.
FOURTH QUARTER: Linfield 27, Pacific Lutheran 24
Whate happened: Linfield sacks Ritchey twice in a row. Forces a punt. Linfield has four sacks today. Close to their game average. They lead the country in sacks and tackles for loss. Linfield has the ball on their own 49 on third and short. Inns goes deep to Poppen for 30 yards. Just Linfield's fourth conversion on third down. Inns hitts Poppen again. Then he hits Evan Peterson at the 5, but Peterson fumbles and PLU recovers. Then, on PLU's first play, Ritchey throws it right to Tyler Robitaille, who takes it the 10 yards for the touchdown. PAT good.
On a big third down, Ritchey hits Warner at the Linfield 49 with 10:55 left in the game. Pass completion of 23 yards. He's four yards away from PLU's single-season record in receiving yards, I'm told. Check that, that was the record breaker by a yard.
Ritchey then pulls the old, "fumble forward and recover it yourself" play to get the first down on third and short. Fourth and 3 for the Lutes at the Linfield 31. PLU is thinking about going for it. Apparently the Lutes really don't have a field goal kicker. Their place kicker kicked the last one because it was so short, but the reporter from Tacoma says that they cut their main kicker. Ritchey goes to who else? Warner at the 22 for a 9-yard gain with 7:41 to go. Another third down up coming with 6 minutes left. They're taking a lot of time off the clock. Quick hand off up the middle. Short. Fourth and inches. A play to decide the game right here with 5:36 to go at the Linfield 13.
Here we go. The Lutes spread Linfield out. No back in the backfield. Ritchey keeps it the whole way and runs left. Getts teh first down. Gets the goaline. Touchdown. PAT good with 5:25 to go. Linfield 27, Pacific Lutheran 24.
Linfield takes over with5 minutes to go at their own 21. Third and 4 at their own 27. Big conversion here. PLU needs a stop. Inns hits Wiersma for the first down. Linfield stuffed on first and second down. Third-and-8 with 1:52 left. Inns goes deep to Poppen. He catches it but it's out of bounds. PLU forces the punt and it takes over at its own 22 with 1:33 left.
On their first play, Ritchey is sacked for a huge loss to the 10. Second and 23 from the nine. On second down Ritchey hits Warner for the short gain. Personal foul, face mask on Linfield. First down with 1:09 to go on the PLU 33. Almost intercepted on second down by Robitaille. Third-and-5 with 1:00 minute to go. Ritchey hits Herr for the 21-yard pass to the Linfield 41 with :51 seconds left.
Ritchey sacked by Brian Dundas at midfield. PLU forced to spike the ball. Fourth-and-16 with :33 to go in the game. This is the play for all the marbles.
Big play: Robitaille's interception. Gave Linfield the 10-point lead, which was just enough to hold off the Lutes.
Momentum swing: Ritchey's touchdown run. It was a big fourth down conversion that kept PLU alive and bought them just enough time to get one last possession.
Boxscore highlight: PLU outgained Linfield 339-249, but Linfield forced five turnovers and sacked Ritchey six times.
THIRD QUARTER: Linfield 20, Pacific Lutheran 17
Whate happened: Brandon James fumbles on a sketchy call. His forward progress had pretty much been stopped, but Linfield strips the ball and Forman recovers. That's PLU's fourth turnover of the game. Nothing doing though, for the Wildcats, and they punt it back to PLU.
Werner from Ritchey for 19 yards. He now has 7 catches for 111 yards. Pohren gets a screen pass from Ritchey for 15 yards. Now at the Linfield 21. Great play fake by Ritchey, hits a wide open Lucas Sontra for the 21-yard touchdown with 8:30 left in the third. PAT good. Linfield 20, PLU 14.
Wiersma called for his second holding penalty. Linfield now has four penalties for 40 yards. Below average for them. Wildcats forced to punt after the screen pass to Shaffer goes for 16 yards, but it's still 6 yards short of the first down marker. PLU takes over at the PLU 37.
Lutes driving again into Linfield terriotry at the 42. Big third down upcoming. Third-and-8 at the L40. Ritchey keeps and is stuff after a gain of 1-yard. Lutes are going to go for it on fourth-and-7 with 3:48 left in the third. Wow. Warner beats Michael Link and Ritchey lofts it up, and Warner comes down with it at the Linfield 2. 36 yards. Linfield does good on first and second down, and Forman bats away the pass to Kellen Westering on third down. Forces PLU to kick the 20-yard field goal. Good. Linfield 20, PLU 17 with 1:31.
Reporter from the Tacoma News Tribune says that to this point in the quarter, Linfield has 10 yards in the third quarter. PLU has really been holding on to the ball. Both scoring drives for PLU have gone four plus minutes. Cobrun stuffed on third down. Wildcats back in to punt. Repp kicks it to the PLU 30 with :04 left in the quarter. End of the quarter, PLU has a second-and-11 from their own 30.
Big play: Warner's 36 yard catch to the Linfield 2 on fourth down. Turns into three points for PLU.
Momentum swing: Ritchey's 21-yard TD pass to Sontra. It got PLU on the board in the second half and got them with one score of the Wildcats.
Boxscore highlight: Warner has nine catches for 164 yards. PLU has 252 yards. Linfield has 181.
SECOND QUARTER: Linfield 20, Pacific Lutheran 7
Whate happened: PLU driving, but Ritchey fumbles and Colin Forman comes out of scrum with it for Linfield. Inns hits Poppen for 17 yards to the 19. Critical holding penalty on Wiersma, then Inns has been rushed twice. Hit hard the first time, pass is shorted. Then he's sacked. First time we've seen that in a while. Kay sets up for the 42-yard field goal. Hits it. PLU 7, Linfield 6 with 7:09 in the second quarter.
Linfield gets a huge play. With 7 minutes left in the first half, Kealii Poomaihealani punches the ball out of Ritchey's hands. Dom Forrest recovers at the PLU 5. Two plays later, Coburn takes the direct snap and scores on the 4-yard run with 6:13 PAT good. Linfield 13, PLU 7. That's 10 points in 41 seconds for the Wildcats.
Forrest continues the defensive onslaught, intercepts Ritchey at the PLU 36. 'Cats knocking on the door once again. Inns two straight first down passes to the PLU 12. Inns, who never scrambles, gets a first down at the PLU 1. Then Coburn takes the Wildcat snap again and scores. PAT good. Linfield 20, PLU 7 with 3:22 left in the first half.
Linfield forces a PLU punt with 2:12. Madison is stuffed for a loss of five yards on the option. 'Cats gonna get the ball back. On the screen pass, Shaffer getst the first down but he fumbles and the ball miraculously stays in bounds where Tayler Angevine recovers on the Linfield 34.
Ritchey is sacked at the Linfield 41 with :46. PLU out of field goal range. Good hold by the 'Cats.
Big play: Ritchey's fumble. Linfield had just got within a point after Kay's field goal, and the fumble led to Linfield's first TD.
Momentum swing: Forrest's interception. If Linfield scoring twice in 41 seconds was one thing, Forrest's interception that led to Coburn's second TD solidified the momentum for Linfield.
Boxscore highlight: PLU has three turnovers and 93 yards of offense at the half.
FIRST QUARTER: Pacific Lutheran 7, Linfield 3
Whate happened: PLU wins the toss and defers. Wildcats receive the ball first. Inns is intercepted on his second pass of the day by Eric Hoium. Inns' pass was behind Deidre Wiersma and he tipped it. Then it fell right into the outstretched hands of Hoium. Linfield forces PLU to punt after right tackle Mike Maierhofer sacks PLU quarterback Dalton Ritchey on third down.
Cats go for it on fourth-and-2 at PLU's 42. Get it on the Wildcat formation with Chad Coburn. Linfield already has shown a few interesting wrinkles. Kay to attempt the 47-yard field goal with 7:13 to go in the first. He sneaks it through the uprights. Good. Linfield 3, PLU 0.
Pacific Lutheran drives on their next possession. Ritchey hits Kyle Warner for 26 yards to the Linfiled 38, then reels off a first down on the option their next play. Ritchey keeps on the zone read on the next play for a third consecutive first down, and then hits Warner for another first down to the 6. Niko Madison runs it in with 2:35 left in first for the touchdown, screaming all the way in. The PAT is good. Pacific Lutheran 7, Linfield 3.
Big play: Hoium's interception of Inns. It's the first time Inns has been intercepted since playing PLU in September. He had a string of 17 touchdowns and no interceptions up to that point.
Momentum swing: Ritchey's 26-yard pass. Gets PLU some momentum and leads to a TD.
Boxscore highlight: Both teams are pretty even in yardage. PLU 65. Linfield 75. Pretty even to this point.
Welcome to a rainy day at Maxwell Field in McMinnville. In 15 minutes No. 20-ranked Pacific Lutheran will take on No. 3-ranked Linfield in the first round of the Division III playoffs.
Lutes fans are in full force. When I was walking in, a very large man in full camo hunting gear was standing at the barrier as PLU special teams players ran out on the field. He screamed and yelled and waved his cowbell in the air. That was just for the special teams players. You can imagine the reaction for the rest of the team. The Lutes always travel well to Linfield.
Pacific Lutheran is in all whites. Linfield purple jerseys and white bottoms and white helmets.
One other thing before we get started, the NCAA (for some reason that remains a mistery) does not allow live blogging. This technically isn't a live blog, but just to save some unamned NCAA official torpedoing my laptop when I go to the bathroom, I'm going to switch the format a little bit.
The Linfield football team opens the NCAA Division III playoffs at noon Saturday at home vs. Pacific Lutheran.
It’s the first of what could end up being many games this postseason for Linfield. The Wildcats (9-0) are the top seed in their quarter of the bracket and one of the top two seeds in the tournament, meaning they could also have a potential home game in the semifinals, should they win in the first three rounds.
The winner of Saturday’s game will play either Cal Lutheran or North Central in the second round.
First, though, is Pacific Lutheran, a program rich with postseason success and one of Linfield’s most consistent rivals through the years. The Lutes (7-2) have not qualified for the postseason since 2001, but they are the only team besides Linfield west of the Mississippi River to have won a Division III championship.
“They’re right there with us and Cal Lutheran in terms of good, solid football teams,” Linfield coach Joseph Smith said. “If they get past us, they could probably win a couple of more games.”
Linfield beat Pacific Lutheran 31-24 in September in Puyallup. The Wildcats needed a late touchdown run from John Shaffer to go ahead. Smith said the Lutes present a dangerous challenge.
“It was a very closely contested game,” he said. “We have a lot of respect for them. They’re playing good football right now.
“If we do the same types of things we did in that game, we’ll be in trouble. We could lose, certainly.”
The Wildcats turned the ball over twice and also committed 11 penalties vs. the Lutes. Being penalized is something Smith has obsessed over since then, trying to hammer into his team that penalties will eventually catch up with them. After Linfield’s 51-17 win last week vs. Pacific, Smith was so fed up with them (Linfield committed nine penalties vs. the Boxers), he made them do a four-minute conditioning drill during their postgame huddle.
“I told our team on Friday and before the game and at halftime last week that I was completely tired of talking about penalties,” Smith said. “We had one goal in the second half (vs. Pacific), and that was to get no penalties. We went out and got six. So, um, it’s a big deal.”
Defensive end Brynnan Hyland said for their sake, players are listening, but some of the penalizations come from playing aggressive.
“It’s something we need to clean up,” Hyland said. “Coach always said this was something that was going to hurt us down the road, and now we’re down the road and it will hurt us soon.”
Smith joked that maybe he would just cut his guys loose.
“Maybe the next approach is to just go with it. See how many we can get and play like crazy, Miami (Hurricanes) style,” Smith said, referencing the University of Miami teams from the late 1980s and early 1990s that were known for being on the verge of out of control.
“That’s not really what we’ll do,” Smith said. “We’ll continue to address it and improve.”
Smith said a big challenge vs. Pacific Lutheran is the fact that they’ve already played each other this season. The Wildcats aren’t strangers to being rematched with a team in the first round (they’ve done it the last three seasons), but the Lutes come in with the motivation of want to even the score.
“It’s very hard to beat a team twice in the same season,” Smith said.
“In a sense it’s comforting,” linebacker Dominique Forrest said, “because we’ve played them before, but when you beat a team early you know they have that extra edge.
“They look good. They have playmakers. These guys are no joke and we have to respect them.”
The last time Pacific Lutheran and Linfield played in the playoffs, it was in 1992 in the NAIA playoffs. Linfield won 44-30 on its way to the NAIA championship game, which it lost to Findlay, Ohio.
“It’s been awhile since PLU has been in the playoffs,” Smith said. “And the last time we played them I believe I was playing. We want to duplicate the same results of that game.”
Big honors for Linfield
The Wildcats swept the top honors on the All-Northwest Conference team. Senior quarterback Mickey Inns was named the NWC Offensive Player of the Year, junior Dom Forrest was named NWC Defensive Player of the Year, and Smith was named NWC Coach of the Year for the fourth consecutive season.
Inns, who took over the starting job last year for Aaron Boehme, extended his career record at Linfield to 19-1 this year. He threw for 27 touchdowns, completing 60.5 percent of his passes. Inns threw five interceptions this season and hasn’t thrown one since September vs. Pacific Lutheran.
“Mick’s play was paramount in terms of steering the ship,” Smith said. “He has been phenomenal this year.”
Forrest led the Wildcats in tackles this season with 56. He had three sacks and two interceptions this season. Smith said it was a two-horse race between Forrest and defensive end Brynnan Hyland, who had 18 sacks this season for Linfield, leading the NWC.
“Both those guys were deserving,” Smith said. “Our defense dominated this season, and Dom was our leader, made a lot of calls and is very worthy of that.”