Despite playing in 90-plus degree heat and losing senior tailback Aaron Williams to an injury on the game’s second play, the Linfield football team held strong and outlasted the No. 16 California Lutheran University Kingsmen 24-14 in the first home game Sept. 10.
Junior tailback Josh Hill, stepping in for Williams, exploded for 164 yards and two touchdowns, the highest single-game total for a player in more than three seasons.
“I was really proud of him,” coach Joseph Smith said. “He was nursing an injury and I didn’t want him to play quite that much, but I was very proud of his effort.”
Linfield’s offensive unit sputtered during the first half. The ’Cats had three consecutive three-and-outs in the first quarter with a net yard total of -1. While Linfield struggled to get started, Cal Lu wide out Eric Rodgers broke several tackles on a 28-yard dash into the end zone, putting the Kingsmen up 7-0 early in the game.
“In the first half, they were running a lot of formations we hadn’t seen before,” sophomore tight end Jacob Priester said. “They were things we thought they might come out in, but it turned out to be their base defense.”
After giving up a score, the defense soon put the Kingsmen offense on lockdown. Cal Lu was restricted to only 160 yards on the ground for the game, 55 of them from tailback senior Daniel Mosier. On fourth down and one yard to go on the Linfield 18-yard line, Mosier ran into a pile of Wildcats and was stuffed for a loss, giving the offense some momentum and another shot to score.
“We were reeling offensively,” Smith said. “Our defense kept us in it early. I knew if we could stop the run we would win the game and eventually we did that.”
The defense shone as senior defensive back Kala’e Parish nabbed a pass out of the air, the first of two Wildcat picks in the game. This time the Wildcats capitalized on the opportunity and Hill scooted in for a 1-yard touchdown, tying the score at 7-7.
“We’d been looking for that route all week,” Parish said. “In past years they’ve wanted to hit that route, so coach told me to sit on it.”
Junior kicker Josh Kay booted in a 22-yard field goal to cap a 94-yard drive and end the second half. Despite leading 10-7 entering the third quarter the game remained close. The first-time starter would finish with a modest 9 of 24 completed passes for 122 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions while taking a few big hits in the pocket. Coach Smith stuck by his anointed starter after the game, praising his toughness and mental fortitude.
“He took a lot of hits early,” Smith said. “He could have folded but he stood in there and was a warrior for us today.”
Hill scored his second and final touchdown on a 3-yard carry with 4:24 left in the third, bringing Linfield’s lead to 17-7. With the running game established, Inns was able to roll out of the pocket on play action more often and began to gel with his receiving core.
Laudenslayer kept things interesting late in the third quarter on a 28-yard touchdown strike to Rogers, who had to leap into the air to make the catch. The Wildcats put the game away with Inns’ lone passing score, a 4-yard lob to Priester. The Linfield defense suppressed Cal Lu for the remainder of the game capped off an interception by senior all-American safety Drew Fisher that crushed any hope the Kingsmen had left. The defensive unit held Laudenslayer, a quarterback, to 220 yards, one touchdown and picked him off twice while taking away his deep
passing threat with great coverage in the secondary.
The ’Cats finished with 409 yards of total offense while holding Cal Lu to 342 and only 160 in the second half. Only a small part of Linfield’s offensive production came from the passing game. Offensive lineman junior Kaston Gleason was quick to shoulder some of the responsibility. According to Gleason, their protection of junior Mickey Inns could have been much better and would have given him more time to execute crisper passes downfield.
“Definitely a better start than last year,” Mace said. “We’re excited for the defense, and the defense is excited about us. This felt like more of a team effort than the last couple years, I know a lot of guys feel
the same way.”
The ’Cats will have a week off before facing the LaVerne University Leopards at Maxwell Field on Sept. 24.
Chris Forrer/Sports columnist
Chris Forrer can be reached at email@example.com.