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October 17, 2011

Football To Face High-Powered No. 5 Linfield

THIS WEEK: The Pacific Lutheran University football team hits the road this week for a Northwest Conference game against No. 5 Linfield College. The Lutes are coming off a 14-6 non-conference victory on Saturday afternoon over visiting Menlo College. Following the win, Pacific Lutheran improved its record to 4-1 on the season. By way of a 2-0 mark in NWC play, the Lutes currently sit in a tie with Lewis & Clark College for second place in the conference standings, one game behind Linfield (3-0) in the win column. The Linfield College Wildcats are the class of the NWC thus far in 2011. Off to a perfect 5-0 record to start the season, the Cats are ranked No. 5 in both the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and D3Football.com's weekly Top 25 national polls. On Saturday, the Lutes will travel to McMinnville, Ore., to face a stern test that may determine this season's NWC champion. Kickoff at Maxwell Field on the Linfield campus is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

FOLLOW THE LUTES: You can listen to PLU football action throughout the year in the Tacoma area on KLAY 1180 AM with Steve Thomas and Karl Hoseth calling the action. The broadcasts are also available online on the KLAY website (www.klay1180.com). Additionally, listeners can access the PLU football broadcasts on the PLU athletics website at www.golutes.com, then clicking on Listen Live and following the link.

THE SERIES: PLU and Linfield will face each other for the 47th straight year, which is PLU football's longest ongoing series. During five of those years the teams met twice, once during the regular season and again in the NAIA Division II playoffs. Linfield has a 35-21-4 advantage in the series that dates all the way back to 1933 when it beat Pacific Lutheran College, 20-6. The Wildcats are currently on a nine-game winning streak against PLU, which is the longest winning streak in the series. Linfield defeated Pacific Lutheran six straight times between 1970-75. Pacific Lutheran has twice put together three-game winning streaks against Linfield (1939-41, 1994-96). Linfield's biggest margin of victory was 45 points (45-0) in 2008, while Pacific Lutheran's biggest win came by 39 points (45-6) way back in 1940.

CHAMPIONSHIP TRADITIONS: During the 1980s and into the early 1990s, these two programs generally alternated long runs into the NAIA national playoffs. Since both schools joined NCAA Division III in the fall of 1998, both have also won a national football championship. PLU won NAIA Division II nationals titles in 1980, 1987 and 1993 and finished as runner-up four times, while Linfield took NAIA championships in 1982, 1984, and 1986 and finished as runner-up three times. The teams faced each other four times in the NAIA national playoffs between 1980 and 1991. As NCAA Division III members, PLU won a national title in 1999 (42-13 over Rowan) and Linfield took the crown in 2004 (28-21 over Mary Hardin-Baylor).

SCOUTING LINFIELD: As two-time defending NWC champions, Linfield comes into Saturday's game riding a 17-game conference winning streak dating back to late 2008. The Cats find a way to reload every year and have not skipped a beat despite the departure of quarterback and two-time Offensive Player of the Year Aaron Boehme. Linfield attacks with a balanced offensive arsenal, as the 'Cats are averaging more than 450 yards of offense per game. Quarterback Mickey Inns heads the Wildcats high powered offense that is averaging 43.6 points per game in 2011. The junior gunslinger has passed for more than 1,100 yards and thrown 11 touchdowns through the team's first five games. Receiver Lucas Jepson has emerged as Inns' favorite red-zone target. The junior has caught five touchdown passes this season and has gained 231 yards through the air on only 11 catches. Josh Hill spearheads the Wildcats' rushing attack as the junior transfer is averaging 80.8 yards per game on the ground. Linfield's defense is nothing to laugh at either as the unit is among the nation's best. Through five games, the Cats have surrendered a meager 40 points which ranks them in the top 10 nationally. Preseason All-American Drew Fisher leads the Wildcat defense. The safety has compiled 38 tackles and two interceptions in his senior season.      

LUTES IN THE POLLS: As they have remained for much of the season, Pacific Lutheran is on the cusp of entering the national top 25 in two seperate polls. In D3Football.com's weekly poll, the Lutes are receiving 23 votes. In the American Football Coaches Association Division III national poll, the Lutes are receiving 13 total votes.

ABOUT THE COACHES: Scott Westering is in his eighth year as head coach at Pacific Lutheran, where he has compiled a 37-29 overall record. Scott joined the PLU coaching staff in 1981 after playing tight end for the Lutes under his father, Frosty Westering. Scott served as the Lutes' offensive coordinator from 1983-2003, helping PLU to two NAIA Division II and one NCAA Division III national championships, as well as four runner-up finishes. He has coached 11 first-team All-Americans, including the 1999 NCAA Division III Player of the Year, Chad Johnson. Scott was a captain and All-American tight end on the 1980 PLU team that won the Lutes' first NAIA national championship. He was inducted into the PLU Hall of Fame in 1998. Joseph Smith, an All-America defensive back at Linfield, was a longtime Wildcats assistant coach before taking over stewardship of the Linfield football program in 2006. Entering his sixth season, his career record stands at 39-12. Smith replaced Jay Locey, who won 82 percent of his games over a 10-year span that saw the Linfield program emerge as a major player on the Division III level. Locey departed to take a position as assistant head coach at Oregon State University. A popular but demanding coach, Smith served as an assistant at Linfield for 13 years, including seven seasons as defensive coordinator from 1999 to 2005. During his first season in charge, the Wildcats finished 6-3. Two of the Wildcats' losses came at the hands of Top 10 teams and the other was to a NCAA Division II program which enjoyed its best season in many years. (Courtesy of Linfield Sports Information)

LUTES LAST YEAR: Pacific Lutheran finished with an 8-1 overall record in 2010. The Lutes were 5-1 in the Northwest Conference, good for second place behind Linfield, but were not extended an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III national playoffs.

WILDCATS LAST YEAR: Linfield compiled a 9-2 overall record with a 6-0 mark in NWC action leading to a second consecutive conference championship. The Wildcats' season ended in the second round of the NCAA national tournament to the hands of St. Thomas University.

LAST SEASON'S MATCHUP: In a contest of nationally ranked teams battling for first place in the Northwest Conference football standings, the defending champion Linfield Wildcats held off the Pacific Lutheran Lutes, 35-20, at Sparks Stadium. The teams went at it on even terms through the first half before the Wildcats put the skids on PLU's offense in the second half. There was much hype about the game, and the two teams lived up to it with plenty of big plays on offense and special teams and lots of big hits on defense. The teams alternated three touchdowns each through the early part of the third period before the Wildcats finally broke it open with their fourth and fifth touchdowns of the day. Linfield opened the scoring midway through the first period when Simon Lamson broke through the middle on a 17-yard touchdown run, capping a six-play, 54-yard drive. PLU returned the favor on the opening play of the second quarter when Jordan Rasmussen faked a handoff and sprinted untouched around the left end from one-yard out. The score capped an eight-play, 63-yard drive for the Lutes. The Wildcats then showed their explosiveness, scoring their next two touchdowns in quick fashion. They went ahead 14-7 on Aaron Boehme's 21-yard pass to Chris Slezak, capping a six-play, 74-yard drive that took just 1:21 off of the clock. After the Lutes knotted it at 14-14, Josh Hill returned a kickoff 69 yards to set up a two-play, 11-yard drive that ended up with Boehme and Slezak hooking up for the second time, this one from nine yards out. The Lutes' second touchdown came on an 11-play, 76-yard drive that ended when Rasmussen threw to Isaac Moog from 12 yards out. Facing a 21-14 deficit early in the third period, the PLU defense came up with a big play when Mike Wickens intercepted a Boehme pass and returned it 32 yards to the Linfield 21-yard line. On a fourth-and-10 from the 21, Rasmussen threw to Moog, who juggled the ball and then caught it in the end zone after it was tipped by a defender. Linfield defensive end Eric Hedin, who had a big game for the winners, then blocked Nick Kaylor's extra point, making it 21-20 in favor of Linfield. The Wildcats took the ensuing kickoff and put together their most impressive drive of the day, going 75 yard in eight plays and scoring when Boehme hit Chris Saunders in the back of the end zone from 11 yards out. The final score came two plays after a fumbled punt when Lamson broke several tackles on the way to a 28-yard scoring dash. Linfield piled up 373 yards in offense, 195 of it coming in the opening half, and it finished with 21 first downs. The Lutes, who had 205 total yards at the intermission, ended up with 343 yards and 19 first downs. PLU was hampered in the second half when it lost its top receiver, Greg Ford, starting tight end Blake Gorle, and slotback Drew Griffin, to injury, that on top of slotback Kyle Whitford not playing because of injury. Boehme had a solid day for the Wildcats, going 18-for-30 for 196 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Deidre Wiersma had six catches for 56 yards and Slezak added five for 77 yards and two scores. The running game netted 177 yards on 35 carries, led by Lamson with 124 yards and the two scores on 18 attempts. For the Lutes, Rasmussen finished 23-for-39 for 269 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Moog, a senior wide receiver, had his biggest day as a collegian with 11 catches for 135 yards and the two touchdowns, while Tyler Christianson came off the bench to catch three balls for 34 yards. Alec Simmons had 72 hard-earned yards on 19 carries, and he also had three receptions for 29 yards. Ford finished with two receptions for 33 yards, giving him 33 consecutive games with at least one catch. Sam Higgins had nine solo tackles, 10 overall, and also had an interception for the Linfield defense. Hedin came into the game with gaudy statistics, including 17 tackles for loss and 10 quarterback sacks, and he added to those numbers. He finished the game with eight tackles, including two sacks and four tackles for loss, two pass deflections and the blocked extra point. Sparky Gonzalez also had a pair of quarterback sacks among his five tackles. Richard Isett had three tackles for loss and a quarterback sack among his team-leading eight tackles for the Lutes. Adam Schwander finished with seven tackles, followed by Michael Warsaw with six tackles, including a sack. Tayler Angevine and Steven McDonald both had five tackles for the Lutes.

PLU14, MENLO 6: Safety Sean McFadden intercepted a tipped pass in the end zone with 16 seconds remaining in the game last Saturday afternoon, sealing Pacific Lutheran's 14-6 football win over the Menlo College Oaks in front of a Homecoming crowd at Sparks Stadium. With the victory in their final non-conference contest of the season, the Lutes improved their record to 4-1. Menlo College is now 5-2 this season. Following a touchback on a punt into the end zone, the Oaks started a drive from their own 20-yard with 2:30 remaining in the game. Quarterback Matthias Pelasasa completed a 16-yard pass to Robert Adan on a 4th-and-12 play from the Menlo 18-yard line and later gained two yards on a 4th-and-1 from the Menlo 43-yard line to keep the drive alive. Completions of 25 yards to Michael Alexander and 15 yards to Daniel Stevenson moved the ball to the PLU 11-yard line, prompting a Lutes timeout. Pelasasa tried to hit a receiver across the middle, but linebacker Mike Warsaw got his hand on the pass, deflecting it high into the air to McFadden, who cradled the ball and then fell to the ground for the touchback. All of the game's scoring came in the first half. In fact, the Lutes scored on their opening drive when Niko Madison culminated a five-play, 87-yard drive with a 10-yard sweep around right end. The drive got a big boost when quarterback Zack Halverson bought himself some time in the pocket before delivering a bomb to Alex McDiarmid for a 60-yard catch-and-run on the first play from scrimmage. The extra point try sailed wide left. Menlo knotted the score at 6-6 with 5:39 left in the opening quarter when Pelasasa hit Alexander with a 12-yard touchdown pass. The play capped an eight-play, 57-yard drive for the Oaks. The extra point kick went wide right. Pacific Lutheran got a short field on what proved to be the game-winning drive when cornerback Justin Whitman intercepted Pelasasa at the Menlo 33-yard line. PLU converted a pair of fourth-down plays on the drive, Halverson hitting Kyle Warner for eight yards on a 4th-and-4 and later finding Lucas Sontra for the necessary three yards on a 4th-and-3 to the Menlo 9-yard line. The Lutes got the first down on that play by about half the length of the football on a measurement. A Menlo pass interference penalty moved the ball to the 2-yard line, and Halverson lofted the ball to Warner, a freshman wide receiver who caught his first collegiate touchdown pass. PLU converted for two points when McDiarmid made a nice catch of Halverson's pass in traffic. After halftime, the Lutes struggled to move the ball as the Menlo defense stiffened. Pacific Lutheran managed just 12 total yards on 11 plays in the third period and 66 yards on 18 plays in the final quarter. The Oaks, meanwhile, had just one sustained drive in gaining 91 yards in the opening half. They had better success in the second half with 180 yards, 69 coming on their concluding frantic drive. The total offense was very close as the Lutes ended up with 272 yards on 62 plays compared to 271 yards on 64 plays for the Oaks. Halverson was 13-for-29 for 201 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for the Lutes, hitting nine different receivers, led by Warner with three catches. Pelasasa was 15-for-23 for 170 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Oaks. Adan was his favorite target, finishing the game with eight catches for 105 yards. Brandon James gained 44 tough yards on 17 carries as the Lutes compiled 71 net rushing yards. Nick Acosta had 75 yards on 20 carries for Menlo, which finished with 101 yards on the ground. Defensively, McFadden had eight tackles and the big interception, while Warsaw had seven tackles and a tackle for loss. The Lutes finished the game with five quarterback sacks. For Menlo, James Yoder had 10 tackles, including a tackle for loss, and Tony Ramirez had a sack and two tackles for loss.