The No. 5-ranked Linfield football program faced its most difficult and surprising road test yet against the Whitworth Pirates on Nov. 5 in Spokane, Wash., and escaped with a 42-38 victory.
One missed and three blocked Whitworth PATs, two of them by sophomore linebacker Tyler Robitaille, proved to be the difference in the long run.
“It was a game filled with a lot of adversity,” senior center Hayden Mace said.
The game shaped up to an impressive passing duel, as junior quarterback Mickey Inns set career-high marks with 344 yards and five touchdowns.
Pirates quarterback Bryan Peterson owned the first half, however, lighting up the ’Cats’ usually stiff secondary for four touchdown strikes before halftime.
The Wildcats were out gained by halftime for the first time all season.
“They had some guys making good plays on the ball,” Mace said.
Linfield found the end zone twice on a short scoring run by junior tailback Josh Hill and a three-yard scoring lob to sophomore tight end Jacob Priester, but couldn’t get out of it’s own way for much of the first half.
The ’Cats fumbled the ball away twice in the first half and ran up 11 penalties for 104 yards, leading to a 25-14 halftime deficit.
“We made some mistakes,” Mace said. “We weren’t executing at a high enough level as a team.”
Inns and the offense wasted little time in the second half, marching down field on their quarter-opening drive to score on a 39-yard pass to junior receiver Deidre Wiersma.
Later in the quarter, Inns connected with senior receiver
Buddy Saxon for another score to put the ’Cats ahead.
The offensive outburst continued with two more touchdowns, one to Priester and another to junior tailback Stephen Nasca.
While the offense got rolling, the defense clamped down on Peterson with five sacks and an interception by sophomore safety Ian Zarosinski.
“It was great to see the offense bounce back a little after last weekend’s game,” Mace said, “But there is still a lot we need to improve on as a unit.”
Whitworth kept things interesting by scoring twice more on Peterson’s passes to pull to within four with three minutes remaining, but the Wildcats ran the clock out to preserve the 42-38 margin.
With the victory, Linfield moves to 8-0 on the season and faces Lewis & Clark College on Nov. 12 at home to decide the Northwest Conference Championship.
The winner will also receive the NWC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division-III playoffs.
“It’ll be great to be back in the Catdome next weekend playing in front of our home crowd for the conference championship,” Mace said.
Chris Forrer/Sports columnist
Chris Forrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.