Linfield clinches 57th consecutive winning season
McMINNVILLE, Ore. – Mickey Inns passed for 261 yards and career-high five touchdowns and No. 3 Linfield pounded Northwest Conference rival Whitworth 54-14 on a crisp fall afternoon at Maxwell Field. Saturday's Homecoming victory pushed Linfield's record to 5-0, assuring the Wildcats of their 57th winning season while extending the program's remarkable all-divisions record for sustained success.
The three-time defending NWC champions overwhelmed Whitworth during the opening three periods, building a 54-0 advantage while outgaining the Pirates 524-75 in the game's first 45 minutes. The Linfield offense enjoyed its most productive day by far, turning eight of its 15 drives into touchdowns and converting half of its third-down opportunities.
Sparking the defensive effort was freshman defensive tackle Marq Randall, who ended the game with a team-high seven tackles. Nick Pietrzyk, Jordan Giza and Billy Simon each contributed five stops. KeAlii Poomaihealani made four tackles, two for sacks accounting for 18 yards in losses.
An interception by Brandon Funk of a Bryan Peterson pass deep in Pirates' territory set up the game's first score. Funk's pickoff spotted the ball at the Whitworth 18 and Inns needed just one play to find Deidre Wiersma on a 13-yard touchdown toss. Whitworth went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, and after a short punt, Linfield tailback John Shaffer ran eight yards for a touchdown. The extra point by Josh Kay made it 14-0 with 2:26 remaining in the quarter. The Pirates ran 14 plays in the first quarter, netting a paltry 17 yards in the process.
The Wildcats opened up the second quarter with an immediate score when Inns threw a picture-perfect 31-yard spiral to Charlie Poppen that put the Wildcats up 21-0. Linfield added one more score before the end of the half as Wiersma pulled in his second touchdown of the day from eight yards out.
Linfield handcuffed the Pirates to just 29 yards and three first downs I the first half. Peterson was sacked him four times before intermission, including two by Poomaihealani. In his first career start, Shaffer rolled up 97 of his game-high 108 rushing yards in the first quarter, despite wearing a padded cast that protected a fractured right hand.
The floodgates opening up in the third quarter when Inns and the Wildcats rang up three more scores over a six-minute stretch. Inns tossed two scoring strikes, including a 28-yard missile to David Sigler and an 8-yard dagger to Zach Young that effectively put the game out of reach at 41-0. Reserve quarterback Josh Yoder came replaced Inns and led the Wildcats on back-to-back scoring drives — one a 52-yard pass to Evan Peterson and a 6-yard toss to Derek Priestly with 1:14 left in the third quarter.
The Pirates averted the shutout with a couple of meaningless touchdowns against Linfield backups in the final quarter. Austin Ehlo broke the drought with a 6-yard reception from Peterson with 6:00 to play and D.J. Tripoli ran 20 yards for another score with just over a minute left on the clock.
Linfield outgained Whitworth 585-225, including a 355-142 differential through the air. Nine different Wildcats carried the ball as Linfield rushed for a season-high 230 yards.
Inns completed 23-of-32 throws without an interception and the Wildcats' offensive line did not surrender a sack. Linfield's backup quarterbacks were sparkling in their brief appearances. Yoder competed 5-of-5 for 78 yards and a touchdown. Third-stringer Matt Yarbrough was 3-for-3 for 16 yards.
Thirteen Wildcats were credited with receptions in the game and five different players caught touchdowns. Poppen's five catches for 68 yards and Peterson's four receptions for 86 yards topped the statistical summary. Wiersma finished with four catches for 40 yards and two scores while Lucas Jepson had four catches for 39 yards.
'CAT SCRATCH: Saturday's Homecoming attendance was 3,596. . . after their opening drive, three Whitworth possessions netted minus-14 yards. . . the Pirates managed 29 yards in the first half and just 75 through three quarters. . . Whitworth came into the game averaging 31.5 points and 378 yards of offense. . .Pirates tailback Ronnie Thomas, the NWC's second-leading rusher, was averaging 126.6 yards on the ground but departed with 16 yards rushing on 14 carries. . . Linfield won its Homecoming game for the 15th straight season. . . about 75 former Linfield football players welcomed the team to the field during the annual Walk of Honor. . . Florida State ranks second behind Linfield with 35 consecutive winning seasons while Mount Union is third on the active list with 34 straight winning campaigns.
NEXT: The Wildcats travel to Portland Saturday to play the Lewis and Clark Pioneers at 1 p.m. at Griswold Stadium.