McMINNVILLE, Ore. – Finding the end zone seemingly at will, Linfield scored touchdowns on its first seven possessions on the way to a 79-3 bludgeoning of Puget Sound in a Northwest Conference mismatch Saturday at Maxwell Field.
Playing just the first two quarters, quarterback Josh Yoder threw for two scores and ran for two other touchdowns as the Wildcats beat the Loggers for the 24th consecutive time. Five quarterbacks saw action and nine different Wildcats scored points.
Ranked second nationally behind defending NCAA Division III champion Mount Union, Linfield (8-0, 5-0 NWC), sewed up a share of its fifth straight conference title. The Wildcats can clinch the title outright with a victory next Saturday at Pacific.
The 'Cats extended their NWC win streak to 31 games while dealing Puget Sound its 18th straight conference defeat.
Freshman Spencer Payne came off the bench to pile up 212 all-purpose yards, scoring twice on a long punt return and a lengthy run. Matt Yarbrough rushed for 89 yards and two touchdowns and Evan Peterson caught three passes for 92 yards and one TD. Puget Sound was held to 116 yards for the day and ended with minus-5 yards rushing. Linfield amassed 465 yards.
Linebacker Tyler Robitaille paced Linfield with seven tackles, including a sack, forced two fumbles and recovered one. Linfield pounced on four loose balls and also intercepted one pass. Michael MacClanathan had two sacks among his five total tackles.
A fumble on the Loggers' first offensive play from scrimmage set up the Wildcats' first touchdown. Yoder scored from the UPS 4-yard line with the game just 38 seconds old. Another fumble by Loggers quarterback Max McGuinn gave the ball back to the Wildcats at the UPS 26. Five plays later, Yoder threw a touchdown toss to Brian Balsiger in the corner of the end zone. The extra point by Josh Repp made it 14-0 with 12:08 left in the quarter.
Yoder and the Wildcats cruised in for another score seven minutes later, moving 55 yards in seven plays. Yoder finished off the drive with a 6-yard touchdown jog.
The Loggers took advantage of a 49-yard kickoff return by Conner Savage, getting their only points of the game on a 44-yard field goal. Sawyer Petre's successful boot made it 21-3 with 1:21 to go in the first quarter. Linfield needed a little more than a minute to score again as Josh Hill blasted over the goal line from the 1.
Yoder and Peterson hooked up for a 30-yard touchdown that stretched the lead to 35-3 in the opening minutes of the second period. The Loggers' next drive went for naught and ended when Trevor Hoff tackled Braden Foley in the end zone for a safety. The ensuing kickoff produced still more points for Linfield as Payne bolted 71 yards to paydirt and the Wildcats led 44-3 with 11:29 remaining before halftime.
After a UPS punt, Linfield advanced 55 yards with reserve quarterback Matt Yarbrough doing the scoring honors on an 8-yard run. Yarbrough added a 69-yard scoring romp 3½ minutes later. Counting Repp's extra point, the Wildcats led 58-3 with 2:50 left in the half.
The Wildcats were on the move at midfield to close the half, but a fumble by Yarbrough was recovered by Jeremy Perkovich, snipping Linfield's string of seven successful scoring drives.
The 'Cats piled up 321 yards in the first half to Puget Sound's 63, despite the Loggers controlling the ball for nearly 20 of the game's first 30 minutes. But the UPS running game accounted minus-18 yards on 21 first-half carries.
The scoring spree continued in the second half as Payne raced 70 yards for a touchdown 20 seconds after play resumed, breaking two tackles at the line of scrimmage along the way.
Senior reserves Jordy Romick and Trevor Gomez added two short touchdowns runs late in the contest to pad the Wildcats' point total. The 76-point margin of victory was the greatest of any of the 40 games in series history.
With 182 punt return yards, Linfield achieved a new team record, eclipsing the mark of 175 set against Lewis & Clark in 2007.
'CAT SCRATCH: The Wildcats extended their series win streak over the Loggers to 24 games. . . Saturday's paid attendance was 1,782 . . . Linfield's 58.4 points-per-game scoring average is on pace to break the standing school record of 50.0 set by 2004's national championship club. . . longtime public address announcers Craig Singletary (football) and Roald Berg (basketball) were honored for their combined 50 years of volunteer service to the college at a ceremony at halftime. . . each of Linfield's eight Hall of Fame inductees were introduced at halftime. . . the Hall of Fame class included football All-Americans Mark Siegner '86, Gary McGarvie '93 and David Russell '02, as well as former assistant football coach Wes Suan '79. . . 32 Linfield football seniors, plus six graduating student trainers and one senior cheerleaders were introduced with their parents prior to the game.
AHEAD: The Wildcats wrap up the regular season with a road game at Pacific Saturday at 1 p.m. Live radio and internet coverage starts at 12:30 p.m.