McMINNVILLE, Ore. – A game-saving block of a field goal by Tyler Steele preserved a 30-27 victory for the fifth-ranked Linfield Wildcats, who weathered a tumultuous NCAA Division III playoff game against California Lutheran Saturday at Maxwell Field.
Linfield (10-0) advances to play Wesley (Del.), a 35-28 winner over Hobart (N.Y.) on Saturday. The host site for the second-round game will be revealed Sunday at 3 p.m. PST by the NCAA.
Cal Lutheran (8-2) ended its season as it has each of the last two, with a playoff loss to the Wildcats at Maxwell Field.
Josh Hill ran for 146 yards and Mickey Inns threw for three touchdowns to spark the Wildcats past their West Region rivals.
Defensivley, linebacker Tim Edmonds made a career-high 12 tackles for the Wildcats. Safety Drew Fisher was credited with eight tackles, including one that ended resulted in a four-point swing, providing for the winning margin for the 'Cats.
Outgained in the game 444-296 and held scoreless in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats persevered, reaching the NCAA's second round for the third straight season. Though Linfield gave up four longs plays of greater than 30 yards, the Wildcats held the Kingsmen out of the end zone when it counted.
Linfield built a 20-3 cushion, only to watch as Cal Lutheran rallied back. In the opening minutes, Christian Hanna intercepted CLU quarterback Jake Laudenslayer inside Kingsmen territory and the Wildcats quickly converted the miscue into points with a 30-yard field goal by Josh Kay.
Moments later, Fisher picked off Laudenslayer and returned the ball to the CLU 38. When Linfield's drive stalled, Kay made it 6-0 with a 42-yard boot with 6:19 left in the opening quarter.
Cal Lutheran got the ball back and marched 12 plays before settling for Peter Keks' 40-yard field goal, making the score 6-3 with four seconds left in the quarter.
Linfield went in front 13-3 on the ensuing possession after Mickey Inns threw 13 yards to Buddy Saxon for the touchdown.
The Kingsmen drove to the Linfield 28 midway through the second quarter, but the Wildcats held on a third-and-8 play and Keks' 45-yard field goal try was well short.
Punter Jordan Walker pinned the Kingsmen at their own 1 and again the Wildcats defense forced a punt, giving Linfield the ball at midfield. Nine plays later, Inns passed 8 yards to Deidre Wiersma for the touchdown. Kay's extra point made it 20-3 as the teams headed to the halftime locker room.
The Kingsmen found the end zone on the final play of the half, snipping the Wildcats' lead to 10. Laudenslayer launched a 38-yard Hail Mary as time expired, connecting with Eric Rogers in a crowded end zone melee. The extra point by Keks pulled the Kingsmen to 20-10.
Linfield outgained CLU 188-150 through the first two quarters.
The Kingsmen got the ball back to start the third quarter. On the second play, halfback Daniel Mosier was racing down the right sideline for an apparent touchdown, but Fisher chased him down with shoestring tackle, putting the ball at the Linfield 17. Inspired by Fisher's gutsy tackle, the Linfield defense held CLU without a touchdown and Keks was brought on to boot a 20-yard field goal.
Another Linfield drive stalled, but Kay nailed a 43-yarder to make it a two-possession game with 4:02 left in the third quarter.
The Kingsmen crept closer, scoring on Laudenslayer's 5-yard run that capped a three-play, 72-yard drive that was aided by a pass interference penalty in the end zone.
The Wildcats responded with heavy doses of Hill. The junior tailback ran 11 and 24 yards to the CLU 14 before Inns tossed him a screen pass for a touchdown. Linfield went back in front 30-20.
Linfield's first turnover came in the fourth quarter but it proved costly as Justin Haulcy-Bateman returned a tipped ball 14 yards for a Cal Lutheran touchdown with 13:27 left in the game. The extra point again pulled the visitors within three, 30-27.
The Wildcats dodged a bullet with 6:22 to play when Kek's 49-yard field goal attempt was short.
The Kingsmen converted a key third-down play with a Statue of Liberty play to Mosier that spotted the ball at the Linfield 40. CLU ran the same play down to the Linfield 5, but a holding penalty backed the ball up to the 19. On third down, Laudenslayer's screen pass to Mosier was stuffed by Dominique Forrest. Kek's 38-yard field goal with 30 seconds left was blocked by Steele, setting off a wild celebration.
Inns, who began the game 0-for-4 passing, finished with 17 completions in 27 attempts, good for 152 yards and three TDs. Wiersma and Saxon each pulled in five catches for the Wildcats.
Rogers had six catches for 82 yards. Laudenslayer totaled 249 yards passing on 23-of-40. Mosier gained 112 yards rushing on 18 carries.
'CAT SCRATCH: The home team has prevailed all seven games in the series. . . Linfield was 5-of-5 inside the red zone. . . Keks was 2-for-5 in field goal attempts. . . Kay went 3-for-3. . . with 14 field goals this season, Kay moved up to No. 2 on Linfield's single-season field goals list, four shy of equaling the school record of 18 set by Garrett Wales in 2004. . . the teams combined for just 101 in the first quarter with CLU netting 65. . . with many students away for the holiday break, Saturday's attendance was 1,552. . . Walker averaged 38.8 yards per punt, including two that were downed inside the CLU 20.