Lutes Close Out Season at Nationally Ranked Linfield
FOOTBALL THIS WEEK: Linfield (8-0 overall, 5-0 Northwest Conference) hosts Pacific Lutheran (3-5, 3-2) in a Northwest Conference game at Maxwell Field in McMinnville, Ore., Saturday, 1:00 p.m.
THE SERIES: Saturday's game will be the 59th meeting between Linfield and Pacific Lutheran, with the Wildcats holding a 33-21-4 advantage in the series. Linfield has won each of the last seven times the teams have met, the longest winning streak for either team in the series. The past two meetings have resulted in shutouts for the Wildcats, including a 45-0 victory last season that was the largest single-game point spread since the series began in 1933.
LAST YEAR: Linfield shut out Pacific Lutheran for the second straight year, beating the host Lutes, 45-0, in a game that brought an end to both teams' 2008 seasons on a sunny Saturday afternoon at Sparks Stadium. The Wildcats dominated play in recording their largest-ever victory over a Pacific Lutheran football team, smashing the former record of 29 points set in a 42-13 romp over PLU in 2005. The loss left Pacific Lutheran winless in five home games, the first time that has happened since the 1963 season. The Lutes also failed to win back-to-back games for the first time since the 1967 season. Linfield took the opening kickoff from its own 35-yard line to the PLU 24, where Scott Birkhofer's 41-yard field goal was blocked by Lutes linebacker Haden Gienger. That was about the only thing that went wrong for the Wildcats all game long, and the momentum turned on PLU's next possession when Bryce Comfort intercepted Michael Byrne's pass and returned to the PLU 44-yard line. The Wildcats drove to the 9-yard line from where quarterback Cole Franklin scampered around the right end. He fumbled the ball when hit by Gienger near the goal line, but Mychal Lemon fell on the ball in the end zone for Linfield's opening touchdown. The Wildcats added a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter to lead 21-0 at the half. Through the first 30 minutes of action, Linfield had accumulated 243 yards of offense while limiting PLU to just 51 yards, including a negative 22 rushing yards, on 22 plays. Things didn't get any better for the Lutes in the third period when Travis Masters broke several tackles and then ran away from the pursuit on a 71-yard scoring play just three minutes into the period. The Wildcats added a 37-yard pass from Franklin to John Torsey, a 48-yard field goal by Birkhofer, and a 24-yard run by Aaron Williams to close out their convincing victory over the Lutes. Linfield finished with 262 rushing yards, including 135 on just eight carries by Masters, and also had 202 passing yards. Masters caught five balls for 79 yards and was one of six different Wildcats receivers to make receptions. Linfield's defense limited Pacific Lutheran to only two net rushing yards on 22 attempts, and the Lutes wouldn't have gotten into positive yardage without Michael Byrne's game-ending 25-yard scramble. Byrne completed 27-of-43 passes for 195 yards with one interception. Slotback Drew Griffin, the Lutes' leading rusher with 30 yards on four carries, caught eight passes for 49 yards, and Kyle Whitford had eight receptions for 34 yards. Greg Ford finished with seven catches for 73 yards.
ABOUT THE COACHES: Scott Westering is in his sixth year as head coach at Pacific Lutheran, where he has compiled a 26-27 overall record. Scott joined the PLU coaching staff in 1981 after playing tight end for the Lutes under his father, Frosty Westering. Since 1983, Scott has served as the Lutes' offensive coordinator, helping PLU to two NAIA Division II and one NCAA Division III national championships, as well as four runner-up finishes. He has coached 11 first-team All-Americans, including the 1999 NCAA Division III Player of the Year, Chad Johnson. Scott was a captain and All-American tight end on the 1980 PLU team that won the Lutes' first NAIA national championship. He was inducted into the PLU Hall of Fame in 1998. For the Wildcats, Joseph Smith is 26-9 in is fourth season as head coach at Linfield. Smith served as an assistant at Linfield for 13 years, including seven seasons as defensive coordinator from 1999 to 2005, before taking over as head coach in 2006 when Jay Locey accepted a position as assistant head coach at Oregon State University.
ABOUT THE WILDCATS: The 2009 Northwest Conference champion Wildcats rank at or near the top of the conference in virtually every statistical category. Linfield boasts the league's leading rusher (Aaron Williams), passer (Aaron Boehme) and second-leading receiver (Trevor Patterson). Linfield leads the NWC in scoring offense (39.6 points per game) and ranks second in scoring defense (21.8). The Wildcats rank just behind the Lutes in passing offense, averaging 266.8 yards per game with a league-leading 21 touchdown passes and 3-1 touchodwn to interception ratio. Linfield boasts a turnover margin of +17 through eight games, eight turnovers better than Willamette for the NWC lead. The Wildcats' rushing game excels along with the passing game, with Linfield ranking second in the leauge in yards per game (177.2), yards per carry (4.7) and touchdowns (20), trailing only Willamette in all three categories. The Linfield rush defense ranks first in the conference, holding opponents to a mere 3.1 yards per carry and 104.8 yards per contest. The Wildcats average 444 yards per game on offense and a league-leading 6.3 yards per play, while holding opponents to 294.8 yards per game and only 4.3 yards per contest.
LAST WEEK: Pacific Lutheran's passing attack overcame wind and rain to defeat Menlo, 35-17, at Sparks Stadium. It was the Lutes' seventh straight win over Menlo after the Oaks won the first meeting between the two teams in 2002. Fumbles on Menlo's first two drives of the game gave Pacific Lutheran the momentum early on. After the PLU offense stuttered in the driving rain in its first possession, the Oaks got the ball on their own 29-yard line. On Menlo's first offensive play, Andy Sturza sacked quarterback Nick Ruhl and forced a fumble four yards behind the line of scrimmage. Erik Magnussen picked up the ball for the Lutes on the Menlo 22-yard line and ran it into the end zone to give PLU a 7-0 lead. An eight-play, 62-yard drive gave the Lutes their second touchdown and a 14-0 lead later in the first quarter, with the Lutes' third scoring drive came just before halftime on a 29-yard pass pass from Jordan Rasmussen to wide receiver Greg Ford in the corner of the end zone. Pacific Lutheran's Bryan Neumiller intercepted Nick Ruhl's pass at the Menlo 28-yard line 31 seconds before halftime, but Richard Isett's field goal 26-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left as time ran out and the Lutes wen into the half with a 21-0 lead. In the third quarter, Menlo took the kickoff and converted three third down plays on its way to an 11-play, 60-yard touchdown drive to close the gap to 21-7. After the Menlo defense forced a PLU punt, the Oaks offense once again gave the ball away when Dalton Darmody sacked Castillo, forcing a fumble that Tony Slater returned to the Menlo 25-yard line. Four plays later, Rasmussen once again found Ford in the end zone, this time from 11 yards out. The PLU defense held firm on Menlo's next drive, forcing a three-and-out and an Oaks punt, but Eddie De Leon's 58-yard punt was downed at the PLU 1-yard line. After Rasmussen rushed up the middle for a couple yards on first down, the PLU quarterback fumbled the ball out of the back of the end zone to give Menlo a safety and two points. On the Lutes' second possession of the fourth quarter, Rasmussen completed two passes to Ford for 49 yards en route to PLU's final score of the game. On second-and-21 from the Menlo 23-yard line, Rasmussen completed a short pass to Isaac Moog on the right side, who snaked his way through the Oaks defense for a touchdown and a 35-9 PLU lead with 9:38 remaining in the game. Menlo's next drive proved to be its longest of the game, as the Oaks took the kickoff and marched 77 yards down the field on nine plays to score their second touchdown with 5:59 left to play. Castillo completed a two-yard pass to Lance Walkup on first-and goal to give the Oaks their second score. Shaun Souza rushed to the left side for a two-point conversion to push the Oaks to within 18 points of the Lutes.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK HONORS: Senior safety Andy Sturza earned Northwest Conference Defensive Player of the Week recognition for his performance last Saturday against Menlo. Sturza finished with a team-high nine tackles, forced a fumble that was returned for touchdown on Menlo’s first play from scrimmage and recovered a fumble on Menlo’s next possession, setting up the Lutes for a 35-17 victory.
ACADEMIC ALL-DISTRICT HONORS: TJ Suek, a sophomore defensive back and punter, has earned Academic All-District 8 recognition as announced by the College Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA). Suek, from Longview, was named to the College Division first team as a defensive back. Suek has a 3.35 grade point average and has not yet declared a major.
LUTES ON THE AIR: All Pacific Lutheran football games may be heard in the Puget Sound area on KLAY 1180 AM with Steve Thomas calling the action and Karl Hoseth handling the color commentary. The games may also be heard online at www.klay1180.com.
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