McMINNVILLE, ORE. - A 38-yard game-tying field-goal attempt by CLU sophomore kicker Peter Keks was blocked with 33 seconds remaining as No. 8 CLU's comeback attempt fell short in a 30-27 road loss to No. 5 Linfield on Saturday afternoon.
Box Score: LIN 30, CLU 27 - F
The Cal Lutheran Kingsmen never stopped believing - even though history was against them, even though they trailed big, even though Linfield fans were already discussing future opponents before the kickoff.
But it still ended up being just more of the same for CLU, only this time in more dramatic fashion.
For the third consecutive year, CLU lost to Linfield in the first round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs.
The Kingsmen (8-2) rallied from a 17-point first-half deficit for a chance to send the game into overtime, but Linfield's Tyler Steele extended CLU's Maxwell Field misery by extending his hand to block the kick by Keks.
"Everybody on this team always feels like we have a shot. It doesn't matter how many points are on the other scoreboard. We always know we are going to keep playing our game," CLU senior running back Daniel Mosier said. "We never felt out of it and never hung our heads and we are not going to hang our heads now."
The loss was CLU's fourth straight at Linfield in the last three seasons, including a season-opening setback in September.
CLU's major emphasis in the rematch was avoiding turnovers, but senior quarterback Jake Laudenslayer threw back-to-back interceptions on CLU's first two offensive possessions of the game.
However, CLU's defense limited the damage by holding Linfield (10-0) to only two field goals.
Linfield quarterback Mickey Inns increased Linfield's advantage to 20-3 with touchdown passes to Buddy Saxon and Deidre Wiersma in the second quarter.
But CLU carried some momentum into halftime when Laudenslayer connected with 6-foot-4 junior wide receiver Eric Rogers on a 38-yard Hail Mary pass in the end zone with no time remaining on the clock to cut CLU's deficit to 20-10.
Cal Lutheran senior safety Dennis Clay makes a tackle in the first half of CLU's playoff game against Linfield.
"In my opinion, college football is based a lot of times on momentum and we had the momentum in the second half," said Mosier, who rushed for 112 yards on 18 carries and caught six passes for 44 yards. "That was a big momentum play and that is what kept us involved for the rest of the game."
The Kingsmen pulled to within 23-20 on a 5-yard touchdown run by Laudenslayer two plays after he connected with Frankie Jones on a 47-yard pass.
But Linfield answered when Josh Hill caught a screen pass for a 14-yard touchdown to restore Linfield's lead to 30-20.
CLU senior defensive back Justin Haulcy-Bateman returned an interception 14 yards to draw CLU to within 30-27 in the fourth quarter and set the stage for the final kicking drama.
Keks watched his 49-yard field goal attempt to tie fall short with 6:22 remaining in the game, and his chance at redemption from 38 yards was knocked down in the waning seconds to set off a wild celebration among the Linfield fans.
"From where I was standing it looked like the trajectory was a little bit low and they got a little bit of push on the interior," CLU head coach Ben McEnroe said. "But it was nothing we shouldn't have been able to handle."
Laudenslayer finished 23 of 40 for 249 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed 15 times for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Rogers caught eight passes for 82 yards and a touchdown, but was severely hobbled in the second half with injuries to his ankle and knee.
Just like he did in the season opener, Linfield's Josh Hill tormented the CLU defense. The junior running back had 146 yards rushing and made a key catch on fourth-and-1 that led to a Linfield touchdown in the first half.
"We put ourselves in a position a couple of times to play for the tie or play for the win, but I think a lot of credit goes to Linfield's defense, especially in the first half," McEnroe said. "They did a nice job forcing turnovers and they defended well. We weren't able to get any momentum until the second half on both sides of the ball."
The loss left CLU still searching for the program's first NCAA playoff victory.
Although the margin was closer than in the previous meetings at Maxwell Field, it didn't make the Kingsmen feel any better or worse.
"It doesn't matter if we lose by 100 or lose by one, it still stings," McEnroe said. "There is not a good way to lose, so we will sit on this in the offseason and go back to recruiting on Monday. We have already started, and our goal is to play these guys in the playoffs again."