Linfield's fourth-quarter explosion buries PLU

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McMINNVILLE, Ore. – Never mind that Linfield is one of the most productive offensive teams in NCAA Division III this season.

The second-ranked Wildcats are a pretty good defensive club, too, as they proved Saturday at jam-packed Maxwell Field.

Scoring 22 points in the fourth quarter to win going away, Linfield undressed 11th ranked Pacific Lutheran 29-0 in the Northwest Conference opener for both clubs. Monsterback Kyle Wright made six tackles and intercepted a pass, captaining a defense that produced five takeaways and four sacks while limiting the rival Lutes to 216 total yards.

Tailback Josh Hill rushed for three short touchdowns and quarterback Josh Yoder ran for 67 yards and passed 200 more to pace the Wildcats offensively. With Yoder at the controls, Linfield piled up 394 yards while Wright and the defense held PLU to 40 yards rushing in posting a second consecutive shutout for the first time since 2002.

The first of five turnovers occurred before the game was even a minute old. Forty-four seconds into the contest, Lutes quarterback Dalton Ritchey lost his grip on the ball and Tyler Steele recoverd at the PLU 24. Linfield advanced to the 7 off the turnover, but a 23-yard field goal by Josh Repp was ruled wide right.

After a PLU punt, the Wildcats drove 77 yards in eight plays into the end zone, with Hill slicing in from the 6. Repp's extra point was good and Linfield led 7-0 with 24 seconds left in the first quarter.

PLU missed a decent opportunity early in the second quarter when Ritchey drove the Lutes to the Wildcats 19. Senior end KeAlii Poomaihealani sacked Dalton on first down and the Lutes turned the ball over on downs following a delay of game penalty and an incomplete pass.

The Wildcats tried to make it a two-score game just before intermission, but linebacker Joel Anthony sacked Yoder at the PLU 38 and the score remained 7-0 heading as the teams retreated to the locker room.

Both offenses were muted during the first half, with the Wildcats outgaining the Lutes by a 168-115 margin, and the two quarterbacks posted matching 8-for-15 passing statistics through the first two quarters.

The defensive stalemate continued through the third quarter before Linfield erupted for 22 points in the span of 10:27. The key play came on the Lutes' first possession of the quarter. PLU drove to the Linfield 8 but Jeremy Girod sacked Dalton on fourth-and-goal, giving the ball back to the Wildcats. PLU never crossed the Linfield 40 the rest of the game.

After a scoreless third quarter, the Wildcats reeled off three straight touchdowns to start the final period while the Linfield defense held firm. Hill squeezed over the goal line from the 1, completing 14-play, 75-yard drive. The extra point was blocked by Anthony and Linfield led 13-0.

On the ensuing possession, Dalton passed incomplete on three straight plays and the Lutes were forced punt. Yoder then smoothly guided the 'Cats down the field, firing an 18-yard strike to Charlie Poppen for the touchdown. The two-point conversion attempted failed.

Linfield slammed the door moments later. Dalton was intercepted by Brandon Funk, who returned the ball 31 yards to the PLU 4. A personal foul penalty spotted the ball at the 2 where Hill ran the remaining distance on the next play. Repp's extra point pumped Linfield's lead to 26-0.

PLU's next drive ended in another Dalton interception and more Linfield points. This time, with 4:30 left to play, it was Wright with the pickoff of a Dalton pass inside PLU territory. Repp followed with a 38-yard field goal through the middle of the uprights.

In addition to Wright's all-around performance, the Wildcats were bolstered by five tackles each from Forman and Dominique Forrest. Girod finished with two sacks for 15 yards in losses.

The Wildcats did not surrender a single turnover while the Lutes surrendered the ball five times. Wildcats wideout Charlie Poppen caught five passes for 70 yards and tight ends Westley Meng and Jacob Priester each had three receptions.

Linfield rushed for 194 net yards. Linebackers Jordan Patterson and Dalton Darmody each and eight tackles defensively for PLU (3-1, 0-1 NWC).

'CAT SCRATCH: Saturday's paid attendance was 3,624. . . the Wildcats have won 17 straight Homecoming games and 13 consecutive contests over PLU. . . senior linebacker Tyler Robitaille and sophomore tailback John Shaffer returned from injuries to see their first action of the season. . . Jorden Walker averaged 43.7 yards on three punts. . . PLU converted just 2 of 11 third-down plays and were 0-for-2 inside the red zone. . . Linfield entered the game ranked fifth in Division III in total offense.

NEXT: The Wildcats enjoy a mid-season bye in the coming week, then focus on a lengthy road trip to Whitworth Oct. 19. The Lutes host Lewis & Clark next Saturday at Sparks Stadium.

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