PLU Gives Linfield Battle Before Falling, 35-20

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PUYALLUP - In a contest of nationally ranked teams battling for first place in the Northwest Conference football standings, the defending champion Linfield Wildcats held off the Pacific Lutheran Lutes, 35-20, on Saturday afternoon at Sparks Stadium.

Linfield came into the game ranked No. 12 in this week's national poll, while the Lutes were No. 22 in the same poll. The teams went at it on even terms through the first half before the Wildcats put the skids on PLU's offense in the second half.

With the win, Linfield improves to 5-1 overall and, at 4-0 in the Northwest Conference, appears to be on its way to back-to-back championships. After starting the season with five straight wins for the first time since the 1997 team started 6-0, PLU is now 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the conference. The Lutes close out their regular season schedule with conference road games at Lewis & Clark and Pacific, before hosting Willamette in the finale on Nov. 13.

There was much hype about today's game, and the two teams lived up to it with plenty of big plays on offense and special teams and lots of big hits on defense. The teams alternated three touchdowns each through the early part of the third period before the Wildcats finally broke it open with their fourth and fifth touchdowns of the day.

Linfield opened the scoring midway through the first period when Simon Lamson broke through the middle on a 17-yard touchdown run, capping a six-play, 54-yard drive. PLU returned the favor on the opening play of the second quarter when Jordan Rasmussen faked a handoff and sprinted untouched around the left end from one-yard out. The score capped an eight-play, 63-yard drive for the Lutes. 

The Wildcats then showed their explosiveness, scoring their next two touchdowns in quick fashion. They went ahead 14-7 on Aaron Boehme's 21-yard pass to Chris Slezak, capping a six-play, 74-yard drive that took just 1:21 off of the clock. After the Lutes knotted it at 14-14, Josh Hill returned a kickoff 69 yards to set up a two-play, 11-yard drive that ended up with Boehme and Slezak hooking up for the second time, this one from nine yards out.

The Lutes' second touchdown came at the end of an 11-play, 76-yard drive that ended when Rasmussen threw to Isaac Moog from 12 yards out. Facing a 21-14 deficit early in the third period, the PLU defense came up with a big play when Mike Wickens intercepted a Boehme pass and returned it 32 yards to the Linfield 21-yard line. On a fourth-and-10 from the 21, Rasmussen threw to Moog, who juggled the ball and then caught it after it was tipped by a defender. Linfield defensive end Eric Hedin, who had a big game for the winners, then blocked Nick Kaylor's extra point, making it 21-20 in favor of Linfield.

The Wildcats took the ensuing kickoff and put together their most impressive drive of the day, going 75 yard in eight plays and scoring when Boehme hit Chris Saunders in the back of the end zone from 11 yards out. The final score came two plays after a fumbled punt when Lamson broke several tackles on the way to a 28-yard scoring dash.

Linfield piled up 373 yards in offense, 195 of it coming in the opening half, and it finished with 21 first downs. The Lutes, who had 205 total yards at the intermission, ended up with 343 yards and 19 first downs. PLU was hampered in the second half when it lost its top receiver, Greg Ford, starting tight end Blake Gorle, and slotback Drew Griffin, to injury, that on top of slotback Kyle Whitford not playing because of injury.

Boehme had a solid day for the Wildcats, going 18-for-30 for 196 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Deidre Wiersma had six catches for 56 yards and Slezak added five for 77 yards and two scores. The running game netted 177 yards on 35 carries, led by Lamson with 124 yards and the two scores on 18 attempts.

For the Lutes, Rasmussen finished 23-for-39 for 269 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Moog, a senior wide receiver, had his biggest day as a collegian with 11 catches for 135 yards and the two touchdowns, while Tyler Christianson came off the bench to catch three balls for 34 yards. Alec Simmons had 72 hard-earned yards on 19 carries, and he also had three receptions for 29 yards. Ford finished with two receptions for 33 yards, giving him 33 consecutive games with at least one catch.

Sam Higgins had nine solo tackles, 10 overall, and also had an interception for the Linfield defense. Hedin came into the game with gaudy statistics, including 17 tackles for loss and 10 quarterback sacks, and he added to those numbers. He finished the game with eight tackles, including two sacks and four tackles for loss, two pass deflections and the blocked extra point. Sparky Gonzalez also had a pair of quarterback sacks among his five tackles.

Richard Isett had three tackles for loss and a quarterback sack among his team-leading eight tackles for the Lutes. Adam Schwander finished with seven tackles, followed by Michael Warsaw with six tackles, including a sack. Tayler Angevine and Steven McDonald both had five tackles for the Lutes.

- PLU -