Wildcats skin La Verne Leopards

After a difficult season-opening game against a ranked opponent and with a conference showdown with Willamette University looming on Oct. 1, what the No. 06-ranked Linfield football program needed most was a chance to get into rhythm against an opponent that probably wasn’t going to pose a serious threat. The ’Cats got that and more in a runaway 52-3 blowout victory over the University of La Verne Leopards on Sept. 24.

“They’ve got some good players,” head Coach Joseph Smith said. “But they’re a young program that’s developing and not ready to execute at the level necessary to compete with a top-10 team.”

The Wildcat defense limited La Verne to 312 yards, only 85 of them on the ground, and kept them out of the end zone for the entire contest while piling up six sacks. When it mattered most in late down situations, the ’Cats were particularly ferocious, stuffing the Leopards on four of five fourth-down conversion attempts.

“They have some pretty athletic receivers,” senior cornerback Nate Dixon. “We keyed in on them and pretty much got the job done.”

Meanwhile, junior quarterback Mickey Inns completed 18 of 27 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns, all career highs, in just less than three quarters of play. Junior receiver Deidre Wiersma was his top target and nabbed seven passes for 102 yards and a score.

“We had a big cushion outside and took advantage of that,” Wiersma said. “We wanted to spread it out.”

Senior tight end Bryan Anderson started the scoring barrage on a one-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter. A 34-yard boot by junior kicker Josh Kay boosted the Linfield margin to 10-0, and Inns added scoring strikes of 19 and two yards in the second quarter to sophomore Charlie Poppen and senior Erik Koczian, respectively, to make a formidable 24-0 halftime margin. The ’Cats finished the day with 162 rush yards, 47 of them from top tailback junior Josh Hill.

Meanwhile, the defense put together a goal-line stand on fourth down from the Linfield 3-yard line that gave the offense yet another chance to score. La Verne couldn’t crack the Linfield defense Inns and the offense needed little time to put points on the board.

“Mickey played an amazing game,” Hill said. “That makes it easy for the run game when he plays like that.”

Senior tailback Stephen Nasca started the second half with a 61-yard kickoff return that nearly went the distance for a score. 12 seconds later, Inns fired a short pass to Wiersma and ballooned Linfield’s advantage to 31-0. After Nasca bulled into the end zone from one yard out later in the quarter, Inns and the Wildcat starters left the game and gave way to the second and third strings.

“We wanted to come out throwing,” Smith said. “Obviously you want a balance in your run and pass games too, but that was the game plan today.”

Leopard kicker Alex Miller scored La Verne’s only three points on a 34-yard field goal that was nearly blocked. Backup sophomore quarterback Josh Yoder made the most of this lone quarter of play by launching two deep touchdown passes of 29 and 30 yards to junior college transfer receiver Lucas Lepson and freshman Evan Peterson, setting the final margin of victory at 52-3. Despite the blowout victory, Smith identified a few areas of concern that must be addressed before opening Northwest Conference play against Willamette in Salem, Ore., on Oct. 1.

“We need to tackle better,” Smith said. “We also want to keep working on protecting our quarterback. But we’re at about 85 percent right now.”

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Chris Forrer/Sports columnist

Chris Forrer can be reached at linfieldreviewsports@gmail.com.

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