PARKLAND – The 10th-ranked Pacific Lutheran football team travels nearly 2,000 miles east this weekend to conclude its 2013 nonconference schedule with a road game against Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Kickoff is set for 12 p.m. (CST) at Carson Park.
In a fun bit of trivia, the Lutes' trip to Eau Claire marks the furthest east the EMAL football team has been since the 1999 NCAA Div. III National Championship game, when the Lutes claimed their most recent national title with a 42-13 win over Rowan in Salem, Va. Since then, PLU has made five trips to Minnesota, one to Iowa and two to River Falls, Wisc., which is 70 miles west of Eau Claire.
Pacific Lutheran is 2-0 in 2013 after dominating Redlands in a 35-14 win in last week's home opener at Sparks Stadium. Saturday's game will be PLU's final nonconference tune-up opportunity, as the Lutes open Northwest Conference play with a bang next weekend with a road game against No. 2 Linfield. PLU has climbed one spot in each week of the rankings, beginning the season ranked 13th and reaching the top-10 for the first time this week.
One week after accounting for four touchdowns and nearly 300 total yards, Dalton Ritchey passed for 306 yards and three scores on 19-of-34 passing to lead the PLU offense to 21 first downs and 474 total yards. Kyle Warner caught five passes for a game-high 137 yards and a pair of scores, while Kellen Westering tallied six catches for 78 yards. Niko Maidson ran for 118 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Pacific Lutheran totaled 474 yards of offense for an average of seven yards per play. The trio of Ben Kaestner, Dalton Darmody and Jordan Patterson led the Lute defense with seven tackles apiece as PLU limited Redlands to only 232 yards and forced three turnovers and seven three-and-outs.
Waiting for the Lutes in Wisconsin is an 0-2 Wisconsin-Eau Claire team that is fresh off a narrow 17-14 loss against Saint John's last weekend. The Grizzlies have yet to secure a win during the 2013 season after taking losses against a pair of Saints in Thomas and John. Wisconsin-Eau Claire finished the 2012 season with a 4-6 record overall – 4-3 in conference play – and placed fourth in the WIAC.
The Grizzlies return several all-conference players from last year's team. Leading the offense is senior Joel Sweeney, who has run for 322 yards and three touchdowns in the Grizzlies' first two games. Also returning for Wisconsin is second team defensive player Sean Graham, who leads the team with 18 tackles. The Eau Claire defense has tallied 14 tackles-for-loss in two games, while the Grizzlies' offensive line has yielded 10 sacks.
Saturday's game will be the first meeting between the two teams, and longtime Lute announcer Steve Thomas will be on hand to bring the live play-by-play to the radios and mobile devices of PLU fans in Tacoma and across the country. Fans in Tacoma can tune to KLAY 1180 AM, and fans everywhere can listen online by following the links on the PLU Athletics website www.golutes.com.