Linfield rolls L&C, clinches title, NCAA berth
McMINNVILLE, Ore. – Mickey Inns passed for four touchdowns, two to Buddy Saxon, and fifth-ranked Linfield put the squeeze on Northwest Conference upstart Lewis & Clark, thumping the Pioneers 47-14 on a rain-soaked Saturday at Maxwell Field.
The Linfield defense did its part, too, holding the high-octane Lewis & Clark offense to 96 first-half yards and a pair of meaningless second-half touchdowns in the final tuneup prior to next weekend's NCAA Division III playoffs.
The Wildcats (9-0, 6-0 NWC) clinched the program's third straight NWC title outright and 35th overall and will learn their first-round playoff opponent Sunday afternoon.
The Pioneers (7-2, 4-2 NWC), which began 7-0, ended the most successful season since 1963 with back-to-back defeats.
"Today we bounced back nicely," said Wildcats coach Joseph Smith. "When we take care of the football and don't make mistakes, we're tough team to beat. I really like how we prepared and played this week."
With defenders Drew Fisher and Brian Dundas each turning in six tackles, the Wildcats handcuffed L&C dual-threat quarterback Keith Welch, limiting the shifty quarterback to 198 yards passing and 49 rushing.
Inns threw for 286 yards on 20-of-30 passing, including six to Evan Peterson and five to Deidre Wiersma. Saxon finished with three catches for 38 yards, two of which went for scores.
Linfield scored on its first six possessions to take a 34-0 lead by intermission. The only time in the first two quarters that the Wildcats were held scoreless came when they took possession with less than a minute to go in the half and let the clock run out.
It took the Linfield offense a few possessions to hit full stride, as the 'Cats settled for field goals of 25 and 27 yards by Josh Kay after their first two drives stalled at the Pioneer 8- and 10-yard lines.
Lewis & Clark entered the game averaging 38.1 points and a conference-best 466.1 yards per contest, but the Wildcats held the Pioneers to three-and-out situations on its first two possessions.
After settling for consecutive field goals, Linfield finally found the end zone on its third drive as Josh Hill bulled in from six yards out to cap an 11-play, 67-yard drive. Kay's conversion made it 13-0 with 3:36 left in the opening quarter. Hill ended the game with 131 all-purpose yards, including 111 rushing.
Lewis & Clark responded with its finest drive of the first half, moving from its own 35-yard line to the Linfield 5-yard line in just five plays and threatening to get within a touchdown. The Pioneers' Curtis Shirey then appeared headed for the end zone as he swept around the right side, but he lost the ball reaching for the goal line and Linfield defensive end KeAllii Poomaihealani fell on the ball in the end zone to squelch the threat.
Linfield then strengthened its grip on the game. The Wildcats went 80 yards in 12 plays, making it 20-0 when Inns found Wiersma in the center of the end zone for a three-yard scoring pass with 10:41 left in the second quarter.
By halftime, the Wildcats had added touchdowns of nine yards on a pair of passes from Inns to Saxon, covering nine yards with 7:37 remaining in the half and 10 yards with 4:50 to go in the second quarter.
As the 'Cats were rolling up 333 yards in the first half, the Linfield defense had limited the Pioneers 96 yards and three first downs. Lewis & Clark had gone without a first down until just over a minute remained in the first quarter.
The Wildcats extended their lead to 37-0 early in the third quarter. Welch was hit trying to pass and Linfield recovered the fumble at the Pioneer 23-yard line, setting up Kay's 41-yard field goal.
The Pioneers finally got on the scoreboard with 4:43 left in the period as Welch found Andrew Frisina for a 28-yard touchdown pass. Linfield answered immediately, as Billy Simon returned the kickoff 33 yards to the L&C 29, and on the next play Inns hit Wiersma down the middle for a touchdown and a 44-7 lead.
Lewis & Clark closed the scoring 21-yard catch-and-run by Evan Stanbro from Dustin Dailey with 11:27 left to play.
"Particularly in the first half, they had a hard time getting anything going on offense," said Smith. "Our defense played well, controlling the line and making good strong tackles."
Joe Kopp-Anderson totaled a game-high nine tackles for the Pioneers. Angus Blair chipped in with eight stops.
Shirey caught eight passes for 131 yards. The Pioneers finished with 128 yards rushing, 125 of it coming in the second half.
'CAT SCRATCH: Saturday's attendance was 2,285. . . a total of 24 senior players were lauded during pregame festivities. . . Linfield defeated Lewis & Clark for the 34th consecutive time with the Pioneers' last victory coming in 1974. . . Linfield outgained the Pioneers 203-68 in the first quarter but only 477-347 for the game. . . L&C was whistled for 10 penalties in the first half and finished the day with 13 for 107 yards . . Lewis & Clark converted just 3-of-10 third-down conversions.
AHEAD: Linfield awaits word of its first-round NCAA playoff opponent. . . the announcement comes Sunday at 3 p.m. Pacific time on NCAA.com.