McMINNVILLE, Ore. - Cal Lutheran football will have to wait at least one more year to earn the program's first NCAA playoff victory following Saturday's first round 42-26 loss to Linfield College. Despite a program record performance from sophomore wide out Eric Rogers, a four-TD rushing performance from Wildcat running back Simon Lamson led the high-scoring Linfield offense.
Unfortunately for the Kingsmen it was more déjà vu from the playoff game one year ago, rather than the previous meeting in which Cal Lutheran defeated Linfield 47-42 in the regular season opener.
Although the result may have been similar to the year prior, fourth year head coach Ben McEnroe believes this team and the program are headed in the right direction.
The main difference between then and now; today both teams ran the ball 40 times with the Kingsmen being held to just 73 yards and two TDs, while the Linfield ran wild for 197 yards and four scores.
Cal Lutheran rivaled the opposition's passing attack with quarterback Jake Laudenslayer finding favorite target Eric Rogers 11 times including a pair of scoring grabs. This first came on 39-yard pass that Rogers ran the final 20 yards to the end zone to open the scoring in the first quarter.
True to form for the third straight meeting CLU scored the opening points, but LC found the silver lining amongst the cloudy McMinnville environment as defensive lineman Eric Hedin deflected and redirected the Kingsmen extra point attempt wide of the left upright.
After Hedin wreaked havoc with a team-high 11 tackles in the season opener, he again found success in the playoffs leading the Wildcats defense with 10 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and three sacks.
While he spearheaded the Linfield defense, the offense also continued recent trends by scoring 14 straight unanswered points to take over the lead. In the previous two games following an opening score by CLU, the LC offense scored 38 and 28 points unanswered, respectively.
The overriding themes of a fast-paced first half that featured five scoring drives of under two minutes in length included the Linfield connection of Aaron Boehme and Buddy Saxon, along with a steady dose of the running game.
Boehme and Saxon hooked up nine times for 103 yards and two touchdowns, while Lamson ran 21 times for 99 yards and four scores in all on Saturday.
After Rogers hauled in his second touchdown catch of the game with 1:36 left in the first half pulling the Kingsmen to within 14-12, the Wildcats responded with a sub-minute drive ending with a Lamson touchdown just before halftime.
That scoring drive was the first of three consecutive scoring possessions which essentially put the game out of reach.
The Kingsmen defense came up with stops and big plays early on, including several first quarter tackles from linebacker Jacob Norlock. The team's season leading tackler wrapped up a team-leading 10 and forced the lone Linfield turnover with second half interception.
Both quarterbacks threw one interception as the only turnovers for either team, but both finished with very productive afternoons. Laudenslayer finished with over 300 yards and a pair of scores, with a majority going to Rogers.
Rogers set a new program record in receiving yards becoming the first player to surpass the 200-yard barrier, finishing with 11 catches and 216 yards.
Boehme put up similar numbers going 21-of-34 for 281 yards and two touchdowns, both going to a single target in Saxon. The wide out finished with nine catches for 103 yards. In the previous meeting Boehme went for 361 yards and four TD throws, but also tossed three interceptions and lost a fumble in contributing four of the team's season-high five turnovers that day.
Linfield (9-1) is now undisputed this season after avenging its only loss the year and will likely travel to the state of Minnesota to take on the University of St. Thomas in the second round.
Cal Lutheran finishes its season 8-2 and made back-to-back NCAA playoff appearances for the first time in program history.