After his third interception of the day, quarterback Dalton Ritchey hung his head in sorrow. Ritchey has not had a illustrious career against Linfield; he has been responsible for 15 turnovers against the Wildcats in their past four matchups.
Pacific Lutheran University’s poor offensive execution resulted in just 202 yards as the Lutes lost 41-14 to the Wildcats. The Lutes lost for the 15th consecutive time against the Wildcats. The last time PLU won against Linfield was in 2001.
Not only did Ritchey struggle against Linfield — he threw for just 87 yards — but All-Conference running back Niko Madison carried the ball just nine times for 35 yards.
In the prior two games this season, Madison rushed for more than 200 yards combined. Both games resulted in wins.
“They are a great football team, and we knew that coming into the game,” Madison said. “They out-executed us. We tried our best, but it didn’t go according to plan.”
Linfield’s defense seemed to have an answer for quelling the Lutes’ past running success.
The Wildcats’ defense gives up 94 rushing yards per game, which is first in the Northwest Conference. Led by Alex Hoff — a hulking 240-pound defensive end who has a league-leading 11 tackles for loss — the Wildcats defense had no problem limiting Ritchey and Madison to 110 yards combined on the ground.
“We got to take what they’re going to give us,” head coach Scott Westering said. “They’re very good up front, very physical.”
While Ritchey did score with his legs in the first quarter and Madison ran for a touchdown in the second quarter, the Wildcats’ defense limited the Lutes to 79 yards and zero points in the second half. Two of the Lutes’ second half drives resulted in a combined seven yards.
The Wildcats’ offense proved to be just as stellar as their defense by eliminating any threat of a possible defeat by scoring 17 unanswered points in the second half.
Wildcat quarterback Sam Riddle continued his effective dissection of opposing defenses — he threw for 355 yards against Redlands on Sept. 20— by throwing a touchdown pass and running another one in against the Lutes in the second half.
PLU did limit Riddle to 239 passing yards, but he did throw four touchdowns in the double-digit win.
Outscoring teams 98-31 through three games this season, Linfield looks poised to win its sixth consecutive Northwest Conference title. Another NWC team, Lewis & Clark, doesn’t seem nearly as invincible.
The Pioneers have lost every game this season by double digits. By allowing an average of 428 yards per game, the Pioneers’ defense could have difficulty containing Ritchey and Madison when the Lutes travel to Portland next Saturday.
Despite their offensive struggles against the Wildcats, the Lutes have tallied 893 combined yards in wins against Cal Lutheran and Trinity this season.
Throwing the football — the Pioneers’ primary form of offense — may come into question when Lewis & Clark face a PLU defense that allows only 193 passing yards per game, second best in the Northwest Conference.