Wildcats' fourth quarter TDs send Boxers to the mat
FOREST GROVE, Ore. – Needing a stiff test to prepare for next week's NCAA Division III playoffs, the second-ranked Linfield Wildcats got exactly that from the upset-minded Pacific Boxers Saturday at charged-up Lincoln Park Stadium.
Wildcats quarterback Josh Yoder galloped for a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, turning away a feisty Boxers team with a gritty 28-22 Northwest Conference victory that kept the Wildcats' record spotless at 9-0, 6-0 in the NWC. Yoder rushed for 82 yards on 17 carries, three of them touchodowns, and completed 10 of 16 passes for another 89 yards.
Overcoming a six-point halftime deficit, Linfield secured its fifth straight outright Northwest Conference championship and 37th in program history. And by extending their conference-record NWC win streak to 32 games, the Wildcats wrapped up their fourth unbeaten regular season in five years.
Pacific, 7-3 overall, completed its finest season since reinstating its football program four years ago. The resurgent Boxers, whose three losses came by a total of 11 points, placed fourth in the NWC standings with a 3-3 record.
Seeking a signature win to validate its program's obvious progress, Pacific played as though there was no tomorrow. As evidence, the Boxers outgained the Wildcats 381-313, sacked Yoder three times, and controlled the ball for 35 of the game's 60 minutes. But Linfield limited the hosts to 135 yards over the final two quarters, squelching potential scoring drives with second-half interceptions by Ian Zarosinski and Colin Forman.
Forman was a house of fire, totaling a game-high 10 tackles, eight of them solo. Kyle Wright made eight stops and broke up two passes. All-America linebacker Dominique Forrest contributed seven tackles.
Facing the Boxers' amped-up defense early in the contest, Linfield's initial two possessions yielded a combined 21 yards, forcing the Wildcats into punting situations each time. Pacific took over at its own 11-yard line and marched to the Linfield 26, where reliable kicker Moses Villareal-Gomez broke the ice with a 43-yard field goal at the 2:43 mark of the opening the quarter.
Linfield continued to struggle to move the ball, sending punter Jorden Walker back on the field. Brandon Harms mishandled Walker's lofting punt and Eli Biondine pounced on the muffed ball at the Boxers' 14. Yoder needed one just play to deliver Linfield to the end zone, scooting over the goal line untouched on first down. The extra point by Josh Repp made it 7-3 in favor of the Wildcats with 20 seconds left in the first quarter.
Late in the second quarter, Pacific rolled up 10 points in the span of 1:24 to snatch momentum from Linfield heading into the halftime locker room.
First, it was Jacob Lawrence pulling in a 20-yard pass from T.C. Campbell to cap an 11-play, 75-yard march. Then Pacific cashed sacked Yoder. Eddie Carrillo fell on the senior quarterback's fumble – Linfield's only turnover of the game – but the Wildcats defense stiffened and the Boxers were forced to settle for Villareal-Gomez's 29-yard field goal with eight seconds left in the half.
Pacific got the ball to begin the second half and promptly added three more points to the scoreboard. Villareal-Gomez drilled a 28-yard field goal through the uprights to push the Boxers' lead to 16-7.
Unfazed, Yoder and the Wildcats moved 63 yards in eight plays, sending Josh Hill crashing over the goal line from the 1 to trim the lead to 16-14.
The game's pivotal drive came early in the fourth quarter. Wildcats tailback Tavon Willis carried five times on an 11-play 71-yard scoring march with Yoder giving Linfield the lead for good on a 4-yard run. Repp's extra point put Linfield on top 21-16.
When Pacific's next possession stalled deep inside Boxers territory, the Wildcats took over at midfield following a punt. Yoder kept the ball in his own hands, rushing for 47 yards on the game-clinching 55-yard drive, including the final 17, his third touchdown run of the afternoon.
Trailing by two scores, P.J. Minaya piloted Pacific to the Linfield 32 but the senior quarterback was intercepted by Ian Zarosinski at the 26.
The Boxers had one more chance to pull off the upset. Minaya led Pacific on a hurry-up 69-yard scoring drive, aided by a pass interference penalty that gave the Boxers a first-and-goal at the Linfield 2 with just under three minutes to go. A holding penalty on the Boxers nullified an apparent touchdown by Lawrence on second down, but on third down from the 5, Minaya found the end zone, drawing the Boxers to within six. Villareal-Gomez's extra-point attempt was wide right and the score remained 28-22.
With 2:12 remaining, an onside kick attempt by Villareal-Gomez bounced Linfield's way, landing in the arms of Colin Nelson at the Linfield 46.
Hill finished with 100 yards rushing on 18 carries. Willis added 43 yards on seven rushes. Eight Wildcats caught passes in the game but Evan Peterson was the only individual with more that one reception. He had three catches for 20 yards.
Minaya and Campbell combined to pass for 302 yards, completing 28 of 48 throws.
'CAT SCRATCH: Saturday's attendance was estimated at 3,200. . . Hill surpassed the 2,000-yard career rushing plateau, becoming just the seventh back in program history to surpass that mark. . . Pacific limited Linfield to a season-low 28 points. . . the Wildcats also surrendered a season-high 22 points. . . Walker averaged 37.6 yards per punt attempt.
NEXT: Linfield learns its NCAA Division III playoff foe Sunday at 3 p.m. when the NCAA reveals the full 32-team field with a selection show video presentation on NCAA.com.