Wildcats sack Kingsmen, advance to play at St. Thomas
McMINNVILLE, Ore. – Eric Hedin was a one-man wrecking ball on defense, Simon Lamson scored four times and the No. 8 Linfield Wildcats delivered a fatal knockout punch to the 16th-ranked California Lutheran Kingsmen Saturday afternoon, winning 42-26 in the opening round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
The Wildcats (9-1) handed the visiting Kingsmen their second-straight first-round playoff exit and atoned for their only loss of the season, a 47-42 defeat Sept. 11 at Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Linfield, champion of the Northwest Conference, advances to the second round of the 32-team Division III playoffs where they'll meet unbeaten St. Thomas (11-0) in St. Paul, Minn. Cal Lutheran, champions of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, ended its season at 8-2.
Hedin registered three quarterback sacks and piled up three other tackles for loss among his 10 total tackles. He also blocked a PAT attempt and was responsible for one quarterback hurry.
Lamson gained 99 yards on 21 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns in each half. Linfield led 21-12 at the intermission.
Cal Lutheran drew first blood when wideout Eric Rogers scored on a 39-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Jake Laudenslayer on the Kingsmen's first drive.
The Wildcats took a 7-6 lead at the 5:26 mark of the first quarter. Quarterback Aaron Boehme weaved his way for 17 yards on second down to the CLU 27, then found Buddy Saxon wide open in the right corner of the end zone. The extra point by Jordan Walker was good.
The defense set up Linfield's next score. Hedin sacked Laudenslayer on back-to-back plays to set the Linfield single-season sacks record and forcing the Kingsmen to punt. Two plays later, Lamson bolted 21 yards around right end, pushing the Linfield lead to 14-6.
Rogers scored his second touchdown in the closing minutes of the second quarter, breaking a tackle on his way to a 27-yard catch-and-run touchdown. The Kingsmen went for two points on the conversion, but Laudenslayer's pass to the back of the end zone sailed out of play.
Lamson and the Wildcats answered minutes later as the senior tailback powered his way through the middle of the line from the 4. After Walker booted the extra point, the hosts led 21-12.
Linfield picked up where it left off to begin the third quarter, marching 62 yards in seven plays before Lamson scored his third TD from five yards out.
The Kingsmen went three-and-out on their next series after Linfield tackle Paul Nishizaki stopped Derek Martinez cold on third-and 1 play from the CLU 27. Five plays later, Boehme and Saxon connected on a 17-yard scoring strike and the Wildcats led 35-12 midway through the period.
Cal Lutheran inched closer on its next possession, marching 70 yards to the Linfield 3. Martinez bulldozed across the goal line for the touchdown, but the two-point pass attempt fell incomplete, keeping Linfield with a three-possession advantage.
Again the defense put the Wildcats in position to score. Kalae' Parish intercepted Laudenslayer at the CLU 32 and retured the ball to the 29. Lamson then put the game out of reach with 6:22 left to go, capping a six-play drive with a 4-yard burst, his fourth TD of the day.
The Kingsmen made the score respectable with a late touchdown. Deme'Treck Chambers squeezed through the line from the Linfield 1 and Laudenslayer's pass to Rogers for the two-point conversion was good, making it 42-26.
"We have a very good defensive (coaching) staff. They are real experienced at game planning and teaching fundamentals," said Wildcats coach Joseph Smith, now 21-2 over the last two seasons. "We had a good game plan. We tried to take away the run and make them one dimensional as best we could. The problem with that is sometimes the other team has a great receiver. Rogers was exceptional today and made some plays that kept them in the game."
Rogers, who caught a game-high 11 passes for 216 yards, set the CLU single-game record. Martinez finished with 35 yards rushing on 10 carrries. Laudenslayer passed for 321 yards but was sacked four times and coughed up an interception.
Saxon totaled nine catches for 103 yards and two TDs. Nine different Wildcats – including Boehme – caught passes in the game. For his part, Boehme completed 21-of-34 throws for 281 yards. He also rushed 13 times for 66 yards and went the entire game without being sacked.
Wildcats linebacker Bubba Kukahiko was credited with eight stops, while Drew Fisher and Sam Higgins had six each.
'CAT SCRATCH: Linfield extended its unbeaten home record in the month of November to six games . . the Wildcats are 42-9-1 at home in November since 1976. . . Hedin now has 21 sacks for the season and moved ahead of former Wildcats All-American Ryan Carlson as the school's all-time sacks leader. . . the Wildcats are rematched with St. Thomas in the second round of the NCAA playoffs for the second straight season . . . the Tommies are champions of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference…St. Thomas defeated Benedictine (Ill.) 57-10 in Saturday's opening round. . . Walker, who also punted for the Wildcats in the game, averaged 43.8 yards per punt, including a season-best effort of 66 yards.