Oaks wither under ’Cats
The game was also a special “Bring a Kid Day” event, and the children were wearing their Wildcat gear with pride.
The ’Cats lead the all-time series 12-0 against Menlo, which, until last season, was part of the Northwest Conference.
A game against a non-conference foe is unusual this deep into the nine-game season, but head coach Joseph Smith said that Menlo’s sudden departure caused scheduling to fall that way.
“Menlo has been difficult for us,” Smith said. “We haven’t played exceptionally well against them over years. I liked our maturity in this game.”
Senior quarterback Aaron Boehme completed 20 of 37 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns, with an additional 92 yards on the ground. Most importantly, Boehme played a clean game, giving up no turnovers.
Additionally, senior tailback Simon Lamson added three scoring runs on a modest 61 total yards rushing.
Despite these impressive statistics, the story of the game was defense. The Wildcat defense smothered the Oaks, holding them to only 187 total yards of offense and racking up seven sacks in the team’s first shutout victory since 2008.
“I was pleased with [the] young guys at end of game,” Smith said. “They held on. It’s hard to shut anybody out.”
The Lamson-Boehme tandem got things rolling early for their team. Boehme broke open a 34-yard run shortly after the game began, and Lamson scored less than 2 minutes later on a 2-yard bolt into the end zone.
Toward the end of the first quarter, Boehme saw senior tailback Taylor Avritt open and dialed up a short, 3-yard touchdown strike to stake Linfield to an early 14-point lead.
Despite this quick start, the Wildcat offense struggled for much of the contest, such as in a four-and-out on the Menlo goal line late in the second quarter.
“We did not probably play our best on offense, but some of that was due to their defense schematic,” Smith said. “Boehme played fantastic, though. It was one of his better games.”
Offensively, the ’Cats picked up steam in the middle of the second quarter after Boehme hit a streaking senior wide receiver, Chris Slezak, open for a 47-yard hammer — his longest pass of the game. That big play set up Lamson’s second scoring run of the contest: another short run from only 1-yard deep.
Linfield led 21-0 heading into the locker room.
“Offensively, we’re still having assignment problems up front,” Smith said. “We’re going to keep working that in practice every day and hope to see improvement.”
Freshman kicker Scott Goodman had plenty of field time at the top of the third quarter as the ’Cats failed to mount a drive and had to punt twice.
But with about 6 minutes to go in the period, Boehme slashed Menlo for big plays of 11, 25 and 12 yards to set up Lamson’s final, 5-yard touchdown sprint.
However, after a big defensive stand on Menlo’s next possession, senior kick returner P.J. Sequeira choked up the ball after fielding a punt and kept the Oak offense on the field.
“We have to continue to work on protecting the football,” Smith said. “We’re doing better as of late, but that area is still a concern.”
The defense held strong for the remainder of the contest, snagging another two sacks. Boehme added a 14-yard pass to Avritt to score the game’s last touchdown, and with time almost out freshman kicker Jordan Walker boomed in a 45-yard field goal to mark the final score at 38-0.
“The kicker position has been an ongoing battle and issue,” Smith said. “Jordan Walker has a tremendous leg and can get it up quickly, but Maika [Kunioka] and Josh [Repp] are great as well. It’s a good problem to have.”
Following the game’s conclusion, children received autographs from many of the players, including Boehme, Lamson, senior defensive tackle Paul Nishizaki and senior defensive end Eric Hedin.
Hedin, who had five tackles and three sacks during the game, needs only three more sacks to break the school’s 13-year-old, single-season record for sacks. He is also closing in fast on the single-season marks for yards lost from sacks, tackles for loss and yards from tackles for loss.
“Statistically, Eric [Hedin] has a chance to do what no one’s done, and that’s break the all-time season sack record in nine games,” Smith said. “He’s as good as anybody who’s played the game here.”
The ’Cats remain at home for another week to face Whitworth University in a NWC game Nov. 6. Linfield sports the No. 12 ranking in the www.d3football.com Top 25 poll and is also ranked No. 7 in the NCAA’s latest regional rankings.
Those numbers mean that if playoffs began today, the Wildcats would be seeded seventh and face the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the team that eliminated Linfield in the 2009 playoffs en route to the national title, during the first round. With two games left in the regular season, the Wildcats plan to climb a little higher before playoffs begin.
Chris Forrer can be reached at email@example.com.