McMINNVILLE, Ore. – Tailback Josh Hill rushed for 74 of his game-high 100 yards in the second half and quarterback Mickey Inns threw for 297 yards and three touchdowns to power the fifth-ranked Linfield Wildcats to a dominating 45-7 Northwest Conference victory over Pacific Lutheran Saturday at Maxwell Field.
Clearing one of the last remaining hurdles on the path to the program's third consecutive and 35th overall conference title, the unbeaten Wildcats (6-0, 4-0 NWC) handed the rival Lutes their first conference defeat of the season. PLU (4-2, 2-1 NWC) lost for only the third time in 15 games, with two of those setbacks coming at the hands of the 'Cats.
Inns passed for 221 yards in the first half as the Wildcats built a 24-0 lead at intermission. Hill, who turned in his third 100-yard rushing peformance of the season, provided the knockout punch with his second touchdown of the game at the 12:28 mark of the third quarter. Linfield surpassed the 400-yard plateau of offense for the sixth time this season, finishing with 460 yards, just 30 short equaling of a season-high.
Linfield's defense was once again formidable, forcing four PLU turnovers and sacking Lutes quarterback Zack Halvorson five times. Linebacker Dominique Forrest was credited with a team-high eight tackles. Monsterback Kyle Wright, making his first career start in place of the injured Kalae' Parish, was in on six stops. Tackle Tyler Steele made six tackles, including a pair of sacks and a quarterback hurry.
Two interceptions by Wildcats cornerback Nate Dixon in the game's first four minutes foreshadowed the struggles that were to come for PLU. Halvorson's first pass was intercepted by Dixon at the PLU 43 and the Wildcats went for the big play immediately. Inns passed 20 yards to Lucas Jepson down the right sideline on the first play and Linfield led 7-0 with the game not yet two minutes old. After the team's exchanged punts, another Halvorson miscue put the ball in Linfield's hands at midfield. Seven plays later, Hill scored on a 5-yard dart with 4:38 left in the opening quarter.
The Wildcats gave the Lutes good field position to start the second quarter when Inns and Hill botched a handoff. Starting at the 50, PLU reeled off consecutive first downs to the Linfield 29, but Tyler Bowen's 46-yard field goal was short.
Wildcats safety Drew Fisher picked off Halvorson with 8½ minutes to go in the half, returning the ball to the PLU 5, but the Lutes defense tightened forcing a 32-yard field goal by Josh Kay that pushed the Linfield lead to 17-0.
After another drive stalled, Linfield appeared content to line up for a 30-yard field goal in the waning seconds of the half, but holder Taylor Skore ran the fake to perfection, scooting 23 yards around left end for another touchdown. Kay's extra point made it 24-0 as the teams retreated to the lockerroom.
The Wildcats outgained the Lutes 252-88 in the first half and 460-183 for the game, but PLU's three first-half interceptions were their undoing. Halvorson completed 6-of-15 throws in the first half for 53 yards and was under steady duress the entire game.
Hill scored from 11 yards out on the Wildcats' first possession of the third quarter, capping a seven-play drive. Then Inns hooked up with Buddy Saxon for consecutive touchdowns four minutes apart and the hosts stretched their lead to 45-0 two plays into the fourth quarter.
Leading PLU defensively was linebacker Steven McDonald, who recorded a game-high 12 tackles. T.J. Suek had 11 tackles, including two for losses of 11 yards.
The Lutes averted the embarrassment of leaving McMinnville with a shutout, scoring on Daniel Herr's 1-yard run with 4:25 left to play.
'CAT SCRATCH: Saturday's Family Weekend attendance was 2,682. . . the Wildcats stretched their season series winning streak over the Lutes to 10 . . . Inns was 7-of-9 passing in the first quarter and 23-of-33 for the game. . . PLU was 0-of-7 on third-down conversions in the first half and 3-of-14 for the game. . .the Lutes didn't convert a third-down play until midway through the third quarter. . . punter Josh Repp had three of his four punts downed inside the PLU 20-yard line.
AHEAD: The Wildcats venture to the Bay Area Saturday to play Menlo (5-2) in a nonconference matchup at Atherton, Calif. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. PLU returns home Saturday to host Lewis & Clark.