SPOKANE, Wash. – Fifty-eight consecutive winning seasons.
The number is staggering all by itself. For the Linfield Wildcats, there have been plenty of close calls, near upsets and doomsday predictions through nearly six decades of sustained success.
Saturday at the Whitworth Pine Bowl, Linfield scored the first 31 points on the way to a convincing 51-17 Northwest Conference victory over host Whitworth, pushing its season record to 5-0 and assuring the second-ranked Wildcats of extending their own national all-divisions record to 58 straight seasons with more wins than defeats.
Reserve tailback John Shaffer rushed for 65 yards and one touchdown and the Linfield defense held Whitworth scoreless during the first and fourth quarters, sending a hopeful Family Weekend crowd of 2,070 home unhappy.
Whitworth (2-5, 0-3 NWC) dropped its fifth consecutive contest after a 2-0 start. Yet the Pirates nearly made a game of it with a second-quarter surge fueled by freshman quarterback Ian Kolste, who passed for 190 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start.
Linfield punched across touchdowns on its first two drives, producing matching 1-yard runs by tailback Josh Hill and quarterback Josh Yoder for a 14-0 lead 11½ minutes into the game. A 43-yard field goal by Josh Repp on the second play of the second quarter, coupled with Yoder's 6-yard toss in the end zone to tight end Jacob Priester less than three minutes later pushed Linfield in front 24-0.
And by the time 10 more seconds had elapsed, the Wildcats were celebrating yet another touchdown after a bad snap squirted away from Kolste and dribbled into the end zone. Lineman KeAlii Poomaihealani pounced on it, turning the game into what looked like a runaway rout. As Repp's extra point made it 31-0 with 12:06 left before intermission, the Whitworth faithful were left to wonder how large the margin might grow before the final buzzer.
Yet Kolste and the Pirates kept fighting. The lanky righthander tossed a 30-yard missile to Devon Lind less than three minutes later. Then Kyler Gracey added a 30-yard field goal with 23 seconds to go before the break, cutting the margin to 31-10.
A timely 36-yard kickoff return by Linfield freshman Spencer Payne spotted the ball at midfield and the Wildcats refused to take a knee to end the half. Instead, Yoder lofted a 28-yard alley-oop ball to Colin Nelson down the left sideline. That set up Repp for a 43-yard field goal that barely cleared the crossbar, making it a four-possession game once more.
Linfield was less than efficient to begin the third quarter, going three-and-out, then giving up an interception to Casey Monahan on its next possession that placed the ball at the Linfield 8-yard line. Three plays later, Kolste found Dustin Martin for a touchdown, reducing the lead to 17 points with 8:45 left in the third quarter.
Whitworth would not score again. The Linfield defense stiffened and the offense began to produce, starting with Repp's third field goal of the game, a 26-yarder, with 2:30 remaining in the period. Shaffer and backup quarterback Matt Yarbrough added fourth-quarter rushing touchdowns to clinch the road win and secure the program's 58th winning season in a row.
Yoder's statistics were pedestrian by his usual standards as the senior completed 12 of 28 passes for 189 yards and one TD. In addition to the third-period interception – Linfield's lone turnover of the game – the Wildcats allowed Yoder to be sacked three times.
Despite the losses in yardage, Yoder managed 50 yards rushing on 16 carries. Yarbrough gained another 57 yards, 53 of it on a touchdown scamper, helping the Wildcats pile up 219 yards on the ground and 408 total yards for the day.
Colin Nelson caught three passes for 75 yards and David Sigler had three receptions for 46 yards.
Defensively, Dominique Forrest recorded eight tackles, five of which were solo, and Kyle Wright added seven more stops. Jeremy Girod, Mike Nardoni and Michael MacClanathan all contributed five tackles. Poomahealani and MacClanathan were each credited with 1½ sacks.
'CAT SCRATCH: With its sixth straight win over the Pirates, Linfield improved its all-time series record with Whitworth to 32-5-2. . . the Wildcats won for the 34th consecutive time in the regular season while extending their conference reign to 28 straight NWC wins. . . Whitworth was limited to 237 yards, equal to the Wildcats' season average for total yards allowed of 240.8. . . the Pirates netted just 36 yards rushing on 37 carries, the third Linfield opponent to gain fewer than 50 yards on the ground.
COMING UP: Linfield returns to Maxwell Field for a Family Weekend matchup against the Lewis & Clark Pioneers Saturday at 1:30 p.m. Live audio coverage starts at 1 o'clock.