Chris Forrer – For the Review. Another game, another win and another chapter added to Linfield football’s upstart season: Led by senior quarterback Aaron Boehme’s career-high 304 yards and three touchdowns on offense and sophomore safety Drew Fisher’s school-record three interceptions on defense, the undefeated Wildcats rolled to a 37-21 victory over Southern Oregon University on Sept. 30.
“Things are really starting to click for us on defense and as a whole,” Fisher said. “It was a lot of fun.”
Right out of the gate, Fisher began to establish that it was his night on defense. On Southern Oregon’s first possession, he steamrolled running back Brandon Baldwin and forced a fumble on the SOU 41-yard line. Linfield added its next points only a minute later on a 35-yard field goal by freshman kicker Maika Kunioka to lead 3-0. After holding SOU scoreless for the rest of the first quarter, the ’Cats added another field goal, this one from 37 yards out, to bring the score to 6-0.
“There are always places to improve in every phase of the game,” Boehme said. “You’re never going to pitch a perfect game, so to speak.”
During the second quarter, the big plays began to pour out for the Wildcats.
On SOU’s first possession of the quarter, quarterback Paul Sweeney fumbled the ball away, resulting in Linfield’s offense going to work on the SOU 27-yard line. The ’Cats offense didn’t take long to put the ball in the end zone with a four-yard pass by Boehme to senior wide receiver Chris Slezak. Linfield’s lead rose to 13, but Southern Oregon quickly retaliated with an 84-yard kickoff return by wide receiver Vance Beach to pull within one touchdown.
“We went down there expecting a dogfight,” Fisher said. “We made a lot more big plays than mistakes, though, and that carried us.”
Fifty seconds after Southern Oregon’s first score, Boehme launched a 61-yard strike to senior receiver Trevor Patterson to score and push the lead to 13 again. Several punts later, Fisher stepped up and intercepted Sweeney to pick up his second of four forced turnovers. Boehme fired another deep 41-yard pass to Patterson immediately after the pick and scored, making the score 27-7 heading into the half.
“One of the things we focused on this week as quarterbacks was staying strong in the pocket and delivering the ball,” Boehme said. “I think I did a pretty good job this week.”
Linfield’s offense wasn’t finished, though. To begin the second half, the ’Cats grounded out a tough 69-yard drive that led to yet another touchdown. Sophomore running back Aaron Williams ran it in for the Wildcats. Williams finished with 101 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
“It’s always fun to jump on a team like we did,” Boehme said. “When things are clicking and you’re moving the ball on offense, there isn’t a better feeling.”
The Raiders scored on their next possession, but not without the Wildcat defense grinding out the hard series and making them earn it. The teams’ defense continued to control the game, forcing several consecutive punts until a rare fumble by Boehme brought SOU within striking distance at the Linfield 13-yard line. But Fisher was there again, stepping in front of Sweeney’s pass to snuff out a possible score.
“We brought the pressure on defense and forced them to go in the air,” Fisher said. “Once we forced [SOU] to go into the secondary, it was easy to read [Sweeney].”
Fisher still had a trick up his sleeve. On SOU’s next possession, he intercepted Sweeney for the third time and returned the ball 18 yards to the Southern Oregon 11-yard line. Kunioka’s third and final attempt from 33 yards was perfect, giving the ’Cats a 23-point lead. Linfield wouldn’t score again in the contest, and SOU’s final score came with only seconds left on the clock, leaving the final tally at 37-21.
“Defensively, this was our best game: We held them to a few first downs, not many yards,” Fisher said. “We just ran our basic schemes.”
Linfield’s success is starting to draw major national attention. In this week’s d3football.com Top 25 poll, Linfield soared to No. 8 after beginning the season unranked. A user poll asking which of the surprise 3-0 teams could shake up the national title picture resulted in 48 percent voting in Linfield’s favor.
“We liked starting off unranked,” Fisher said. “We had nothing to lose.”
Next, Linfield opens Northwest Conference play against Menlo College in Atherton, Calif., on Oct. 3.
“As always, Menlo will be a tough, talented team,” Boehme said. “We have to come prepared from play one on Saturday.”