The game, which head football coach Joseph Smith called a “statement win,” is sure to send a powerful message to the rest of the teams in the NWC: Watch out for the Wildcats.
“Our guys have been pretty frustrated until now,” Smith said. “We hadn’t played up to our level yet, but we put it together Saturday and got it right.”
Willamette won the toss and deferred to the second half, which allowed senior quarterback Aaron Boehme and the Linfield offense to take the field first.
The ’Cats efficiently moved the ball downfield in less than 3 minutes, aided by an early pass interference call against the Bearcats. Boehme then found junior tight end Chris Saunders from 15 yards out to put his team up 7-0.
Boehme was back in dominant form, finishing with 277 yards passing and two touchdowns as well as 52 yards on the ground with another three rushing scores and only one interception.
“I love playing at home,” Boehme said. “I felt prepared and comfortable, [quarterback] coach [Brett] Elliot had a great game plan and the line played very well.”
The Linfield defense had an early opportunity to flex its muscles. After Willamette sophomore quarterback Brian Widing found sophomore receiver Jake Knecht wide open and launched a pass downfield for 64 yards, the ’Cats held strong and stuffed the touted fly offense on three consecutive plays for no gain.
Willamette freshman kicker Kyle Derby missed a chip-shot 26-yard field goal on the ensuing play.
Then, after the Bearcats picked off a high Boehme pass shortly after, Derby missed another attempt — this one from 42 yards deep. The kick barely had enough power to roll meekly out of the end zone.
“For the defense, it is a huge confidence
booster and allows you to get momentum going,” senior linebacker Eric Hedin said. “Everyone plays better and has a lot of confidence.”
The teams traded scores to close the first quarter. A Bearcat touchdown followed a fumble by senior running back Simon Lamson.
The Wildcat defense shut out Willamette for the rest of the contest, and also piled up six sacks while constantly harassing Widing as he dropped back to pass.
Offensively, however, the ’Cats were far from finished.
“The offense flat got it done,” Smith said. “They did an excellent job of mixing in the pass and the rush and keeping them off-balance.”
Boehme piled on three more scores before the day was done. At the top of the second quarter, he hit senior receiver Chris Slezak with a short screen pass, and Slezak burst through several Willamette defenders to pick up 44 yards on the play.
The ’Cats plunged deeper into Bearcat territory before Boehme knifed into the end zone on the 1-yard line and put Linfield up 21-7.
Early in the third quarter, it was the same story with a different back. Boehme dumped a short pass to junior running back Aaron Williams, who blasted up the right sideline while breaking tackle after tackle to gain a whopping 42 yards. Boehme then jogged in for another score from the 3-yard line.
Boehme’s success can partly be attributed to the solid play of the Wildcat offensive line, which kept him from being hit or sacked the entire contest, he said.
“It takes a little while for the main players to come to the top and for them to gel,” Boehme said. “But right now they’re really rolling. It gives me a ton of confidence going forward that they are playing well.”
Boehme tacked on a 12-yard shot to junior Deidre Wiersma to set the final scoring margin of 35-7.
The game’s only low note came at the start of the fourth quarter when Williams was tackled and gave up a fumble while falling awkwardly under several defenders. He left the field suffering from an unspecified injury and did not return.
The ’Cats head north to Tacoma, Wash., on Oct. 9 to take on the University of Puget Sound Loggers. They return home the following week to face Pacific University at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 16 for the Linfield Homecoming game.
Chris Forrer can be reached at email@example.com.