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Third-ranked Linfield spanks No. 22 Chapman 52-14

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McMINNVILLE, Ore. -- Spencer Payne caught six passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns and Sam Riddle passed for 238 yards as No. 3 Linfield beat No. 22 Chapman 52-14 in non-conference football Saturday at Maxwell Field. The Wildcats also had three returns for touchdowns - a blocked punt, an interception and a punt.

The season-opener for both teams matched a pair of defending conference champions, the Wildcats who shared the Northwest Conference crown and the Panthers of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

On a hot, sunny afternoon, Linfield won its Homecoming game for the 19th straight year, scoring 45 straight points after Chapman had taken a 7-0 lead. It was the 13th time since the start of the 2013 season the Wildcats cracked the 50-point mark.

Linfield (1-0 overall) is at home again next Saturday against Redlands, another of the teams expected to challenge for the SCIAC title this fall. Kickoff is set for 12 noon.

On Saturday, Riddle completed 14 of 23 passes with one interception in his two and a half quarters, including going 10-for-14 for 194 yards and the two scores in the first half. Tavon Willis led Linfield rushers with 45 yards on 11 carries, and an offensive line breaking in three new starters helped the Wildcats attain 410 yards of total offense.

"They got after it," Payne said of the offensive line. "They came out hard and fast, stayed low for the most part, they got a push and that was exactly what we needed. They set the tone for our offense."

The Wildcats gave up a score on Chapman's opening drive but took control of the game by reeling off three touchdowns in a span of 11 minutes to finish the first quarter and start the second, aided by a pair of big special teams plays.

Down 7-0, Linfield's initial eight-play drive stalled at the Chapman 40 and the Panthers had a chance to seize momentum, but a punt by Kevin McClean was fumbled by Joe Mudie and the Wildcats' Franklin Lime recovered at the Panther 10-yard line. On the next play, Willis scooted over the right side and into the end zone to tie the game 7-7 with 9:23 left in the first quarter.

Chapman ran three plays and punted, and it took Linfield four plays to go 65 yards for the lead. A pair of Riddle passes covered most of the distance, hitting Erick Douglas III deep down the right side for 36 yards to the Panther 29, then from there finding Payne in the right side of the end zone for a 14-7 advantage with 5:37 remaining in the opening period.

Each team then had a three-and-out possession before Chapman moved from its own 5 to its 40 before having to kick. Linfield's Jason Farlow blocked William James' punt, plucked it from the turf and returned it 26 yards for the touchdown, putting the Wildcats up 21-7 with 13:28 to go in the half.

Linfield added another score before intermission, driving 68 yards in the final three minutes. The march began with a 26-yard swing pass from Riddle to Payne; it included a fourth-down completion to Brian Balsiger and a 21-yard toss to Douglas that put the ball at the Panther 6. From there, Payne took a short pass on the right side and scored to make it 28-7 at halftime.

"Initially we started off with the run game," Riddle said. "That just moves everything up, it makes them bring their safeties up and opens things up downfield. Our offensive line did a great job of opening things up."

By then, Linfield's defense had limited Chapman to just 76 yards and six first downs after the Panthers opening drive. The Wildcats didn't allow Chapman to cross the 50-yard line until its last drive of the half, when Lucas Alfonso's 49-yard field goal try fell short.

"It was just a good game to get going, because we had a rough week of practice," Linfield monsterback Skylor Elgarico said. "We're not really playing against Chapman. We're just playing against ourselves and trying to be better as a team. It was just a good first game to get going."

The Wildcats tacked on a field goal to open the third quarter, a 41-yarder by Michael Metter for a 31-7 lead. Later in the period, rover Keanu Yamamoto stepped in front of a Panther receiver and returned the interception 23 yards to make it 38-7, Linfield.

"That was really exciting," Yamamoto said. "I kind of took a gamble on the play and it turned out for the best."

It was Yamamoto's second interception return for a touchdown in his career, tying him for second on Linfield's all-time list. Metter moved into Linfield's all-time top 10 in point-after kicks made; his seven on Saturday give him 77, putting him in ninth place.

Linfield tacked on another score early in the fourth quarter when Kennedy Johnson returned a punt 77 yards down the left sideline for a 45-7 margin.

The Panthers had put Linfield on its heels on its first drive, going 75 yards in five plays in just over two minutes. Quarterback Andrew Chavez completed all four of his passes for 74 yards before Jeremiah McKibbins carried for the final yard and a 7-0 lead.

Chapman didn't get on the board again until Chavez hit Riley Guilbeault with a 26-yard pass, capping an 11-play, 75-yard drive and making it 45-14 with 8:31 left in the game.

Linfield backup quarterback Tom Knecht guided the Wildcats on their final scoring drive, capping it with an 18-yard pass to Zach Kuzens to put the Wildcats up 52-14 with 4:17 remaining.

Linfield monster Skylor Elgarico led the Wildcats with nine tackles, including one for lost yardage, and linebacker Jake Reimer had a pair of tackles for lost yardage among his 5 ½ tackles.

Chavez was 15-for-32 passing for 175 yards and a touchdown with one intercepted. McKibbins carried 12 times for 62 yards and a touchdown, while Panther wide receiver Sean Myers caught six passes for 46 yards.

CAT SCRATCH: In 2015, Linfield is trying for its 60th consecutive winning season; the Wildcats' streak, which began in 1956, is the longest in the history of college football at any level. During the streak, Linfield is 471-109-10 for a winning percentage of .807 ... Linfield is now 3-0 all-time against Chapman; the series started in 2014 with Linfield winning in the regular season at Chapman 21-14 and during the NCAA Division III playoffs at home 55-24 ... Linfield is now 60-37-4 in season-openers; that includes a record of 33-11-2 in season-openers played at home. The Wildcats have won five straight openers ... Linfield's all-time record at Maxwell Field is now 301-78-11, a winning percentage of .786; the Wildcats began playing on the site in 1928. Linfield's record at Maxwell Field during The Streak is 252-41-4, a winning percentage of .855. Since the start of the 2000 season, Linfield's home record is 78-10; since the start of the 2009 season, it is 36-2 ... Linfield head coach Joseph Smith, now in his 10th season, coached his 100th game as head coach Saturday; he has a record of 83-17, a winning percentage of .830; that's the highest winning percentage of any head coach in Linfield football history ... Saturday was a non-conference game. Since the start of the 2000 season, Linfield is 23-2 at home against non-conference opponents during the regular season ... Saturday was Linfield's Homecoming game; the Wildcats are now 64-20-3 in Homecoming games, having won 41 of the last 44. Linfield's first Homecoming game was in 1922, and it became an annual tradition in 1927.

Dec. 14: All times Eastern
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 24, Mount Union 16
@ Woodforest Bank Stadium; Shenandoah, Texas
Box Score Recap Photos
Dec. 8: All times Eastern
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 31, UW-Whitewater 14
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Mount Union 28, Johns Hopkins 20
Video Box Score Recap Photos
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