Riding another career-high outing from senior tailback Simon Lamson, the Wildcats gutted out a gritty victory against the Pacific Lutheran University Lutes and extended their NCAA all-divisions record for consecutive winning seasons to 55.
In addition, the victory over the team head coach Joseph Smith calls Linfield’s “oldest and best rivals” puts the ’Cats firmly in the driver’s seat in the Northwest Conference title race.
“It was a good game for us,” Smith said. “We haven’t had, from the players’ perspective, a good rivalry in recent years, but the coaches always enjoy beating [PLU].”
Until early in the fourth quarter, the game was an all-out dogfight. The two teams traded scores — Linfield riding Lamson’s record-setting performance and the Lutes on the back of senior quarterback Jordan Rasmussen’s 269 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Rasmussen, who averages 236.3 yards per game, made things difficult for the Linfield secondary, who, junior safety Drew Fisher said, was the most accurate and dangerous player the defense had faced all season.
“Rasmussen was highly accurate all day — the most accurate I have seen an opposing quarterback be,” Fisher said. “They probably had the best passing attack we have seen so far. They played us tough.”
The Lutes got a lucky break early when the game was still scoreless. After a punt was blocked by Fisher, Pacific Lutheran managed to recover the ball and get a second chance at a drive downfield.
After a Linfield penalty brought Pacific Lutheran to the Wildcat 43-yard line, Rasmussen was sacked with a bone-crunching hit by senior defensive end Eric Hedin for an 11-yard loss. Hedin strengthened his case for NWC defensive player of the year by collecting nine tackles and three sacks for a total loss of 26 yards.
Penalties would plague the ’Cats for the entire contest, as the team ran up a season-high 11 penalties for 100 yards.
“As a team we played decently but not up to our potential,” senior quarterback Aaron Boehme said. “We still need to get better and not commit penalties and make mental errors.”
Boehme and Lamson led Linfield’s next drive, with the former completing a crucial 23-yard pass to junior receiver Deidre Wiersma and the latter accounting for 31 total yards, including a 17-yard burst into the end zone while breaking tackle after tackle.
After the loss of junior tailback Aaron Williams to injury, Lamson stepped up and carried the bulk of the running game, and the results were apparent.
“We found a way to attack them at a pace that really worked in our favor,” Lamson said. “I mean, I was getting four or five yards a pop initially before contact, and I would finish for a few more after that.”
Both teams faltered offensively until the start of the second quarter, when Rasmussen jogged in from one yard out to tie the game at 7-7. The offense fired back with Boehme launching a 21-yard strike to senior
running back Chris Slezak.
The Lutes chugged downfield on a long, 6-minute drive that resulted in another score and another tie at 14-14.
Sophomore wide receiver and kick returner Josh Hill responded to the tie with a game-breaking 69-yard kickoff return that set up a short touchdown pass from Boehme to Slezak.
Boehme collected only 196 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. That pick set up a Lutes touchdown in the third quarter, and after a blocked PAT, the score was 21-20 in Linfield’s favor.
“I wasn’t very happy with my play, personally,” Boehme said. “They do a lot of different things, blitzing guys from all sorts of places. They did a good job of bringing pressure, but we got it done when it
Boehme threw his final touchdown pass of the game to junior tight end Chris Saunders to lead 28-20.
Sophomore kicker Maika Kunioka had a chance to blow the game open on a 31-yard field goal attempt, but the ball flew wide left and missed.
Weather conditions were not ideal during the game, with gusts and rain falling for its entire duration. Kunioka was a perfect 5-5 on PAT kicks but was critical of his performance because of the field goal miss.
“The weather conditions in Tacoma were pretty terrible. It was very rainy, and with a grass field, it made the playing surfaces very slippery,” Kunioka said. “I would grade myself with a C or a D. Even though I made all my PATs, I missed a pretty crucial and very makeable field goal.”
Lamson put the final nail in the Lutes’ coffin with a 17-yard scoring burst to set the final margin at 35-20. With the victory and a 55th consecutive winning season in the books, the ’Cats return home for a non-conference game against Menlo College on Oct. 30. Menlo will bring a 3-3 record into the Catdome, and Smith said the team will continue to bring it hard at every practice.
“They’re very interesting on defense,” Smith said. “They seemingly change a lot and do different things which will pose some problems. Offensively, they’re not as prolific. But we’re going to come out and play hard no matter what.”
Chris Forrer can be reached at email@example.com.