COMING UP: Pacific Lutheran, winner of five straight games, closes out the 2012 regular season schedule this Saturday when it plays the Menlo College Oaks in a non-conference game in Atherton, Calif. Kickoff is slated for noon. PLU is 6-2 overall and 5-1 in the conference. Menlo enters the game with a 4-5 overall record.
COMMON OPPONENT: The Lutes and Oaks have one common opponent this season -Linfield. The Oaks lost to the host Wildcats, 30-9, and the Lutes dropped their home game to the Wildcats, 31-24.
FOLLOW THE LUTES: You can listen to PLU football action throughout the year in the Tacoma area on KLAY 1180 AM with Steve Thomas and Karl Hoseth calling the action. The broadcasts are also available online on the KLAY website (www.klay1180.com). Additionally, listeners can access the PLU football broadcasts on the PLU athletics website at www.golutes.com, then clicking on Listen Live and following the link.
VIDEO STREAMING: You can view a live video stream at the following link - http://client.stretchinternet.com/client/menlo.portal#.
NATIONAL POLLS: For the first time this season, Pacific Lutheran has broken into one of the two major Division III football Top 25 polls with a No. 24 ranking in the D3football.com poll. The Lutes received 35 points in the American Football Coaches Association "others receiving votes" category.
BRAND NEW - REGIONAL POLL: Pacific Lutheran moved up two spots to No. 6 in the NCAA Division III football regional rankings released on Wednesday, Nov. 7. The Lutes leaped over Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference schools Bethel and Concordia-Moorhead, both of whom lost last weekend.
SERIES HISTORY: Pacific Lutheran and Menlo have met each year since 2002 with Menlo winning that initial contest, 32-29, in Atherton, Calif. Since then, the Lutes have nine straight victories in the series, including last year's 14-6 decision in Puyallup.
LAST YEAR: Safety Sean McFadden intercepted a tipped pass in the end zone with 16 seconds remaining in the game, sealing Pacific Lutheran's 14-6 win over Menlo at Sparks Stadium on Oct. 15, 2011. Following a touchback on a punt into the end zone, the Oaks started a drive from their own 20-yard with 2:30 remaining in the game. Quarterback Matthias Pelasasa completed a 16-yard pass to Robert Adan on a 4th-and-12 play from the Menlo 18-yard line and later gained two yards on a 4th-and-1 from the Menlo 43-yard line to keep the drive alive. Completions of 25 yards to Michael Alexander and 15 yards to Daniel Stevenson moved the ball to the PLU 11-yard line, prompting a Lutes timeout. Pelasasa tried to hit a receiver across the middle, but linebacker Mike Warsaw got his hand on the pass, deflecting it high into the air to McFadden, who cradled the ball and then fell to the ground for the touchback. All of the game's scoring came in the first half. In fact, the Lutes scored on their opening drive when Niko Madison culminated a five-play, 87-yard drive with a 10-yard sweep around right end. The drive got a big boost when quarterback Zack Halverson bought himself some time in the pocket before delivering a bomb to Alex McDiarmid for a 60-yard catch-and-run on the first play from scrimmage. The extra point try sailed wide left. Menlo knotted the score at 6-6 with 5:39 left in the opening quarter when Pelasasa hit Alexander with a 12-yard touchdown pass. The play capped an eight-play, 57-yard drive for the Oaks. The extra point kick went wide right. Pacific Lutheran got a short field on what proved to be the game-winning drive when cornerback Justin Whitman intercepted Pelasasa at the Menlo 33-yard line. PLU converted a pair of fourth down plays on the drive, Halverson hitting Kyle Warner for eight yards on a 4th-and-4 and later finding Lucas Sontra for the necessary three yards on a 4th-and-3 to the Menlo 9-yard line. A Menlo pass interference penalty moved the ball to the 2-yard line, and Halverson lofted the ball to Warner, a freshman wide receiver who caught his first collegiate touchdown pass. PLU converted for two points when McDiarmid made a nice catch of Halverson's pass in traffic. The total offense was very close as the Lutes ended up with 272 yards on 62 plays compared to 271 yards on 64 plays for the Oaks. Halverson was 13-for-29 for 201 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for the Lutes, hitting nine different receivers, led by Warner with three catches. Pelasasa was 15-for-23 for 170 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Oaks. Adan was his favorite target, finishing the game with eight catches for 105 yards. Brandon James gained 44 tough yards on 17 carries as the Lutes compiled 71 net rushing yards. Nick Acosta had 75 yards on 20 carries for Menlo, which finished with 101 yards on the ground. Defensively, McFadden had eight tackles and the big interception, while Warsaw had seven tackles and a tackle for loss. The Lutes finished the game with five quarterback sacks.
SCOUTING THE OAKS: When the Lutes take the field on Saturday, they will feel as though they are playing the Willamette Bearcats, only wearing blue jerseys. That's because Menlo is coached by Mark Speckman, who made his Fly Offense famous while at Willamette University. The Oaks are also running the fly, which in one regard is an advantage to a PLU defense that has experience defending the unique offense. The Menlo web site lists team statistics through eight games, though the Oaks have played nine contests this season. Keep that in mind when you view these stats. The Oaks average 222.8 rushing yards and 129.5 passing yards per game. Brandon Bell is the team's leading rusher with 544 yards on 65 carries, an average of 8.4 yards per carry, but Bell is not listed on the team's two deep. Jake Fohn, listed as the starting running back, has 343 rushing yards on 57 carries. Michael Alexander, who plays the flanker or Fly position, has 270 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He's also one of the top receivers with 26 receptions for 326 yards. Wide receiver Robert Adan has 28 grabs for 354 yards and three TDs. Quarterback Matthias Palasasa is 84-for-127 (66 percent) for 1,018 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. Defensively, outside linebacker Devon Johnson leads the team with 48 tackles, including 5.5 tackles for loss, and has two of the team's six interceptions. Inside linebacker Marcus Alvin and defensive tackle Anthony Ramirez both have 42 tackles, nose guard Greig O'Connor leads the team with nine tackles for loss, and defensive tackle Camyar Meshkaty leads the team with four quarterback sacks.
LUTE NOTES: Pacific Lutheran rides a five-game winning streak into the weekend and has scored 41 points in three of its past four wins. The Lutes average 33.0 points and 404.5 yards per game while giving up averages of 21.8 points and 338.2 yards per contest. The Lutes have moved toward more of a balanced attack in recent weeks, though they still average nearly twice as many yards passing as rushing. The running game averages 145.5 yards, led by senior Brnadon James with 60.2 per game. Senior fullback Cody Pohren, who two weeks ago compiled a career-high 100 yards against Puget Sound, averages 31.6 yards per game. PLU has rushed for 19 touchdowns this season, six by sophomore Niko Madison, five by quarterback Dalton Ritchey, and four each by James and Pohren. Ritchey, a sophomore, is 147-for-243 this season (60.5 percent) for 2,066 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He ranks 33rd in passing yards per game (258.2) and 36th in total offensive yards (2,066). Sophomore wide receiver Kyle Warner has 50 receptions for 911 yards (18.2 yards per catch) with seven touchdowns. With 113.9 receiving yards per game he ranks 12th in all of Division III football. With 911 receiving yards he ranks 18th nationally, and his 6.25 receptions per game puts him 50th in Division III football. Sophomore slotback Daniel Herr has 23 carches for 226 yards and sophomore tight end Lucas Sontra has 16 grabs for 167 yards. Defensively, senior linebacker Jordan Patterson lead the team with 55 total tackles, including 8.5 for losses of 33 yards. Sophomore safety Greg Hibbard is second with 52 tackles, junior safety Sean McFadden has 42, and junior nose tackle Mychael Tuiasosopo is next with 37, including 8.0 for losses of 32 yards. He also has 3.5 quarterback sacks. Junior linebacker Ben Kaestner leads the team with 9.5 tackles for losses of 45 yards and also with 5.5 quarterback sacks for 35 yards among his 36 total tackles. As a team the Lutes have picked off 19 opponent passes, led by senior cornerback Tayler Angevine with five. Junior cornerback Jonny Volland has four interceptions, and the Lutes have gone "pick six" with three of those interceptions with senior linebacker Eric Hoium, Angevine and Tuiasosopo doing the honors. Additionally, the PLU defense has scored a touchdown in the form of Doug Sullivan's fumble return against Puget Sound. Angevine is tied for 14th (0.71) and Volland is tied for 34th (0.57) in interceptions per game in Division III national stats. With three fumble recoveries, sophomore cornerback Connor Cummings is tied for 14th nationally, and sophomore defensive end Doug Sullivan is tied for 47th with two.
ABOUT THE COACHES: Scott Westering is in his ninth year as head coach at Pacific Lutheran, where he has compiled a 45-34 overall record. Scott joined the PLU coaching staff in 1981 after playing tight end for the Lutes under his father, Frosty Westering. Scott served as the Lutes' offensive coordinator from 1983-2003, 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. Mark Speckman is in his first season at Menlo after achieving remarkable success in 14 seasons as head coach at Willamette University. Under Speckman, the Bearcats were an impressive 82-59 (.582) in 14 seasons, including an outstanding 47-28 (.627) in Northwest Conference play. Additionally, Willamette enjoyed five conference championships and five national playoff berths. He was named Northwest Conference Coach of the Year in 1999 and 2008, as well as being recognized as the 2008 Regional Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association and D3Football.com.
PATTERSON HONORED: Junior middle linebacker Jordan Patterson recorded 14 tackles, including 1.5 quarterback sacks, against Whitworth last Saturday and earned Northwest Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors.
NATIONAL PLAYOFFS?: Not to get the cart before the horse, but with a win on Saturday the Lutes would put themselves into consideration for an at-large berth in the Division III national playoffs. A loss, on the other hand, would certainly eliminate them. The Division III playoffs features four eight-team regional brackets with 24 of the spots going to conference champions. Linfield has already wrapped up the Northwest Conference's automatic berth. One spot is given to an independent, and that leaves seven berths for "Pool C" conference runners-up. That pool is filled on a national, not regional, basis, but with one of Division III's top strength of schedule, PLU has to figure into the conversation.
LAST WEEK: Scoring touchdowns on four of its first five possessions, Pacific Lutheran built an early lead and cruised to a 35-14 Northwest Conference football win over the visiting Whitworth Pirates last Saturday at Sparks Stadium. The victory was the fifth in a row for the Lutes, who finished their Northwest Conference season with a 5-1 record, good for at least second place in the NWC. PLU put together scoring drives of 65 and 62 yards in the opening quarter to take a quick 14-0 lead. Niko Madison's 2-yard scamper around the right end ended a 10-play game-opening drive and came 4:25 into the contest. After a Whitworth punt, the Lutes took just four plays to go 62 yards, scoring on Cody Pohren's 1-yard bulldoze into the end zone. The key play in the drive came on a 48-yard pass from Dalton Ritchey to Brandon James that ended with James being tackled at the 1-yard line. By the end of the first quarter PLU had 165 total yards to just 27 for the Pirates. The Lutes started their next drive at the Whitworth 45-yard line after Jordan Patterson sacked Bryan Peterson for a nine-yard loss on a fourth-and-one play from the PLU 46. On the sixth play of the drive, PLU made it 21-0 on another Madison scoring run, this one from seven yards out. While Pacific Lutheran was scoring touchdowns, the Pirates struggled on offense, ending their first two possessions on a punt and on downs. The next possession seemed to spell further disaster when Ronnie Thomas fumbled the ball and PLU's Derrik Larsen recovered at the Whitworth 10-yard line. PLU got the ball to the 1-yard line, but Madison was stopped just inches short of the end zone and the ball went over to Whitworth. That's when the Pirates put together their first drive of the game, moving the ball all the way down to the PLU 37-yard line before Larsen intercepted Peterson. The pick, the team's 18th of the season, set up Pacific Lutheran's next scoring drive. A 44-yard pass from Dalton Ritchey to Kyle Warner provided most of the yards, and Ritchey finished it by hitting Warner for a 10-yard score with 2:44 left in the half. Nick Kaylor's fourth consecutive point after kick made it 28-0 at halftime. Whitworth put together the game's most sustained drive for the only score of the third quarter. Starting at their own 31-yard line, the Pirates used 17 plays and took 8:35 off the clock, capping the drive on a 1-yard pass from Peterson to Austin Ehlo. Pacific Lutheran responded with an eight-play, 78-yard drive, with Ritchey and Warner hooking for the second time, this one for 47 yards and the score. The Pirates added the game's final touchdown with 7:52 remaining on Peterson's 26-yard pass to Connor Williams, ending a 67-yard drive. Williams made a nice grab and spun away from a couple of defenders to complete the scoring play. The Lutes, who had a 286-86 advantage in total yards at halftime, finished the game with 479 yards of offense, including 199 rushing and 280 passing. Whitworth had a much better second half and ended up with 294 yards, including 189 through the air. For the Lutes, Brandon James carried nine times for 88 yards and he added four receptions for another 80 yards. Madison had 55 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while Warner ended the game with five catches for 127 yards and two scores. Ritchey was 15-for-27 for 280 yards one one interception. Defensively, inside linebacker Jordan Patterson had 14 tackles, including 1 1/2 quarterback sacks. Greg Hibbard added eight tackles, and Ben Kaestner had a sack among his seven tackles. Larsen had a fumble recovery and interception and Sean McFadden had an interception late in the game for the Lutes.
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