By Steven McGrain, Guest Writer
The Lutes opened their Northwest Conference football season in McMinnville, Ore. against the second-ranked Linfield Wildcats. The Lutes lost 29-0 due to Linfield’s scoring spree, as well as inefficient offense.
The contest’s final score does not show the effort Pacific Lutheran presented against the Wildcats Saturday afternoon.
After quarterback Dalton Ritchey, a junior, fumbled a snap in the first quarter, Linfield began a drive on the Lutes’ 24-yard line and threatened to score early. The Lutes’ defense remained optimistic regardless of the field position, however.
After a couple of runs by Wildcats’ running back Josh Hill, Linfield marched down to the 13-yard line. Linfield was forced to kick a field goal, but failed to convert the try.
Pacific Lutheran’s next offensive series displayed offensive promise early on in the game. Ritchey was able to find wide receiver Ben Welch, a first-year, for a 13-yard gain after a 7-yard run by running back Niko Madison, a junior.
On second and nine, Ritchey was able to find Madison on a swing route to the right side for a 13-yard catch, resulting in another first down. The Wildcats defense broke up Ritchey’s next pass, but the resilient quarterback battled back to run for 7 yards on the subsequent play.
An illegal offensive formation stalled the third down of the drive, and Ritchey’s pass was incomplete on the next play. Even though the Lutes had to punt the ball to Linfield, the offense was able to show signs of life.
PLU moved the ball downfield against a Linfield defense that only gave up 76 yards to Case Western Reserve the previous week.
After two three and outs by both sides due to steadfast defenses, Linfield found some big play help from the legs of its quarterback, Josh Yoder. The play caller passed to the Wildcats’ tight end and then ran for 10 yards on the next play. The Wildcats were able to get to the Lutes’ 38-yard line.
Four plays later, Linfield’s Hill scored, placing the first points on the board to give Linfield a 7-0 lead. These seven points were the only points displayed on the scoreboard in the first half.
The rest of the game was determined in the beginning of the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Linfield took 14 plays to find the end zone, once again from the legs of running back Hill. Linfield took a 13-0 lead after a missed extra point. After a quick PLU three and out, the Lutes gave the ball back to Linfield.
It only took the Wildcats six plays to score another touchdown from their 49-yard line. Yoder threw a pass to wide receiver Charlie Poppin, increasing the lead to 19-0. Their two-point conversion failed.
PLU retained possession again, but did not keep it for long. Ritchey threw an interception, which returned the ball all the way down to the Lutes’ 1-yard line.
It only took one play for Linfield to score. Hill churned his way through the heaping pile of linemen and jumped into the end zone. The touchdown was Hill’s third of the day.
“It was frustrating because none of us would have guessed this would be the ultimate outcome of the game,” wide receiver Austin Hilliker, a junior, said. “We felt prepared and knew what was expected of us.”
The Wildcats would convert a field goal later on in the fourth quarter, which resulted in a final score of 29-0.
The Lutes turned the ball over five times, four were due to interceptions and another was a fumble on the second play of their first drive of the game. The Lutes defense played resiliently, giving up 394 yards to a Linfield offense that has averaged about 535 yards per game.
The Lutes’ main problem was that they gave the Wildcats excellent field positions to score after the interceptions. The Lutes’ offense was able to drive the ball downfield but could never capitalize. PLU tried to convert on fourth down twice instead of kicking a field goal, but just couldn’t convert.
The Lutes have their homecoming game next weekend as they welcome Lewis and Clark to Sparks Stadium, looking to get back on pace in the Northwest Conference. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m.
“We just need to go back to our core plays, the ones that have been in our system since day one,” wide reciever Kyle Warner, a junior, said. “It just comes down to execution and believing in what we are doing.”