PUYALLUP, Wash. — Linfield has a theme for the 2002 season, "Leave No Doubt," and the Wildcats made that point with an exclamation mark on Saturday, beating the host Pacific Lutheran Lutes 35-21 in a Northwest Conference game played at Sparks Stadium.
The Wildcats, who entered the game ranked No. 22 in the American Football Coaches Association Division III Top 25 poll, pounded the PLU defense for 330 rushing yards on 63 carries in handing the Lutes, No. 20 in the AFCA poll, a conference-opening loss for the third consecutive season.
It was also the Lutes' second straight loss at home, the first time that they have lost their first two home contests in a season since 1976. That year, Pacific Lutheran suffered defeats to Puget Sound and Willamette before defeating Pacific and going on to finish the season with a 6-4 overall record. In addition, the 14-point defeat was Pacific Lutheran's largest losing margin at home since the 1996 season opener when the Lutes fell to Western Washington, 34-17.
The Linfield offense dominated the line of scrimmage and a trio of Wildcat running back ran roughshod through the Pacific Lutheran defense. David Russell, who came into the game as Linfield's leading rusher with an average of 122 yards per game, had 116 and a touchdown on just 16 carries. Marty Williams, the team's second-leading rusher, gained 86 yards and scored two touchdowns on 19 carries. Neither player led the Wildcats in rushing, however, as Thomas Ford picked up 147 yards and scored one time on 22 carries. Ford came into the game with 63 net yards on 12 carries.
With the running game clicking behind a big offensive line, Linfield had to pass only 10 times, quarterback Tyler Matthews completing five for 62 yards. Tight end Luke Buchheit had four catches for 53 yards. The Wildcats' dominance was apparent on the field and in the statistical column where Linfield ran 73 plays for 392 total yards while controlling the ball for 37:11. The PLU offense, meanwhile, ran 53 plays for 242 net yards and had the ball just 22:49.
The visitors took the lead at the 6:53 mark of the first quarter on a 1-yard run by Russell, capping a 41-yard drive set up by an Eric Hillison interception, the first of two against PLU quarterback Tyler Teeple. The Lutes got right back into game as Scott Peterson returned the ensuing kickoff 64 yards to the Linfield 27-yard line. PLU scored 10 plays later with Chris Pitzer sweeping right end for 5 yards and the score.
The Wildcats scored 13 unanswered points to take a 21-7 lead, getting 24- and 21-yard field goals from Garrett Wales and a 17-yard touchdown run by Williams. At that point, the Wildcats had outgained the Lutes, 217 yards to just 22. Pacific Lutheran, however, put together a six-play, 74-yard drive to cut its deficit to 21-14 at the half. Teeple connected with Kyle Brown on a 21-yard scoring pass, Brown out-leaping the Linfield defender for the ball in the end zone.
Pacific Lutheran was more efficient on offense in the third period, gaining 135 yards, but Teeple's second interception ended the Lutes' first drive of the period. Teeple threw into double coverage and Ray Lions intercepted the ball at the Linfield 1-yard line. The Wildcats responded with a 99-yard scoring drive in eight plays, capped by Ford's 1-yard run. Russell had the big play on the drive, dashing 62 yards down the sideline in front of the Linfield bench before finally being dragged to the turf 1 yard short of the end zone.
The Lutes came back with their most impressive drive of the game, going 92 yard in 17 plays while using 7:43 of the clock. Ryan Simpson bulled over from the 2-yard line with 22 seconds left in the third quarter, cutting the Lutes' deficit to 28-21. Linfield returned the favor with a game-clinching drive in the final period with Marty Williams scoring from two yards out to cap a 12-play, 78-yard drive. The touchdown came with 2:28 to go, and the Linfield defense held the Lutes on downs to dash any miracle comeback hopes by the home team.
For the second consecutive season, Pacific Lutheran faced Linfield without the services of two-time all-conference running back Aaron Binger. The junior missed the game with a partially collapsed lung suffered in PLU's 35-10 victory over Chapman on Sept. 21. Last year, Binger was out with a concussion, but the Lutes still beat the Wildcats, 31-20, in McMinnville.