By Steven McGrain, Guest Writer
With one game under their belt in the 2013 season, the Lutes’ football team is living up to their preseason hype after winning 31-24 against California Lutheran on Saturday. Going into the season, D3football.com ranked them 13th in the nation.
The Lutes shook some off-season rust from their plays in the first quarter, and by the second, the offensive rhythm came alive. The longest scoring drive by the Lutes was a 14-play, 76-yard scoring drive. The first touchdown of the year for the Lutes was a seven-yard run by quarterback Dalton Ritchey, a junior. The seasoned veteran at the helm of the offense finished the road victory with 198 yards and four total touchdowns. Ritchey completed 13 of his 26 pass attempts.
“We are a very confident team,” senior running back Brandon James said.”The rankings never matter,” because “we know we are a good team that can go as far as we take ourselves. We can play with anyone, and we know that.”
The connection between Ritchey and his highly sought-after wide receiver Kyle Warner, a junior, did not miss a beat from their big plays a season ago. Their trust in one another has been apparent ever since Ritchey got the nod after a quarterback competition last fall.
“My relationship with Dalton started when we played together in the high school all-state game in 2011,” Warner said. “We were also roommates in the week leading up to the game. Now, we’re roommates here at PLU and have become good friends.”
Whenever the offense needed a big play, the ball always seemed to fall into the sure-handed Warner, who ended the game with six catches for 125 yards. His most notable reception was a 66-yard touchdown catch and run from Ritchey in the third quarter.
The Lutes’ defense was not shy about making clutch plays throughout the game. After place-kicker Nick Kaylor, a senior, made a field goal to give Pacific Lutheran a 10-7 lead going into halftime, the Lutes received the second half kickoff. The kickoff didn’t go as planned, as they fumbled the ball and had it recovered by California Lutheran at PLU’s 19-yard line.
The Kingsmen looked to capitalize on the Lutes’ costly error, but linebacker Jordan Patterson, a senior, had different plans. Patterson intercepted the ball at the PLU 7-yard line and returned it to the PLU 33-yard line. Patterson finished the game with five and a half tackles.
California Lutheran, after giving a 24-14 lead to PLU, did not stop fighting. The Kingsmen tied the game 24-24 after a successful fourth quarter field goal.
In response, the Lutes put together a 10-play scoring drive, with Ritchey finding junior tight end Lucas Sontra at the one-yard line. While Sontra didn’t score on the first try, the Lutes were able to score on the second try to go ahead 31-24. They were able to hold onto their lead for the rest of the game.
The Lutes continued their big plays on defense courtesy of outside linebacker Joel Anthony, a junior. Anthony finished the game with four tackles, compiling two sacks as well. One of Anthony’s sacks came on third down in the pivotal fourth quarter, forcing the Kingsmen to punt.
After a three-and-out for the Lutes, CLU got a second chance to tie the score late in the fourth quarter. CLU’s quarterback, Cameron Deen, completed a pass to one of his wide receivers for a 4-yard gain, but that was all the damage their offense could muster.
Deen’s next pass would fall incomplete, and in the next play, linebacker Kyle Bennett, a sophomore, sacked the Kingsmen quarterback. After all of their effort, all California Lutheran could do was watch the clock tick down to zero, giving PLU their first win of 2013.
With that victory, Pacific Lutheran moved up in the national rankings. The Lutes now stand at No. 11 in the country. The Lutes’ high-powered offense and resilient defense welcomes Redlands to Sparks Stadium this Saturday. Game time is 12:30 p.m.