Returning to the comforts of home for the first time in more than a month, the Linfield football team put together its most complete victory of the season with a 54-14 thrashing of the Whitworth University Pirates.
Playing in front of a Homecoming crowd of more than 3,500 at Maxwell Field, the Linfield defense limited Whitworth to just 225 yards of total offense.
On the other side of the ball, senior quarterback Mickey Inns had a career-high five touchdown passes, while leading an offensive attack that rolled up 585 total yards. The victory moved the Wildcats to 5-0 (2-0 Northwest Conference), pushing “The Streak” of Linfield’s consecutive winning seasons to 57.
“Fifty-seven years is pretty impressive,” junior cornerback Ian Zarosinski said. “It means a lot to be a part of such a winning tradition. A lot of guys before us laid down the history for us.”
The Wildcats started slow, with freshman running back Tavon Willis giving up a rare Linfield fumble on the Wildcats’ first sustained drive.
Junior cornerback Brandon Funk picked off a Bryan Peterson pass on the Pirates’ next drive to give Inns and the offense great field position at the Whitworth 13-yard line. A lob to junior receiver Deidre Wiersma put Linfield ahead 7-0 on the next play.
Four minutes later, freshman running back John Shaffer bulled his way into the end zone from eight yards to widen the margin to 14-0 at the end of the first quarter. Meanwhile, the Linfield defense had only allowed 17 yards of offense in the entire period.
“We just had a solid game plan,” Zarosinski said. “It’s really just a physical battle, and our big guys won up front and made it easier for us in the secondary.”
Inns fired a 31-yard laser to sophomore receiver Charlie Poppen on the first play of the second quarter to extend Linfield’s lead to 21-0, but things stalled for the ’Cats after that.
Junior quarterback Josh Yoder was stuffed on four consecutive rushes from within the Whitworth five-yard line to turn the ball over on downs.
Shortly after, junior kicker Josh Kay pulled a 42-yard attempt wide right. Inns righted the ship with time running low in the first half with another scoring strike to Wiersma, this one from eight yards. A sack by junior defensive end Michael MacClanathan, one of four for the Linfield defense, ended the first half on a strong note for the Wildcats.
“I think this is the first week we really came together,” Shaffer said. “This was our best week this year.”
Inns and his receivers put the game out of reach early in the second half with a pair of touchdowns.
Sophomore receiver David Sigler pulled down a 38-yard bomb followed by an eight-yard grab by junior receiver Zack Young. Up 41-0, head coach Joseph Smith opted to empty his benches, allowing Inns, Shaffer, and the other starters time to rest. Shaffer has seen a meteoric rise to the starting tailback spot after senior backs Josh Hill and Stephen Nasca suffered injuries earlier in the season. The freshman picked up 108 yards and a touchdown on just 15 carries.
“Coming in, I knew about the seniors. I just prepared. You never know what’s going to happen,” Shaffer said. “Even though they’ve gone down, Hill and Nasca are around and have been mentors for me and the other guys, helping us out every play to get better.”
Yoder went to work with the reserve offense and continued the blowout, throwing a 52-yard touchdown to sophomore Evan Peterson on his first drive and a six-yard lob to sophomore Derek Priestly on his second, rounding out Linfield’s scoring at 54.
In the fourth quarter, with the contest out of reach and the second and third-string ’Cats in the game, Whitworth managed two meaningless scoring drives to avoid a shutout, setting the final score at 54-14.
“I felt like some of the backups played hard and showed they can compete,” Zarosinski said. “I tip my hat to those guys. [Whitworth] still had their starters in the game.”
Halfway through the season, Linfield remains in the driver’s seat for a fourth consecutive NWC championship. An Oct. 27 showdown at Maxwell Field against 6-0 Willamette looms, but first, the ’Cats must go on the road to Lewis & Clark on Oct. 20.
Additionally, the Wildcats remain firmly at No. 3 in the www.d3football.com Top-25 poll with good position to secure a high regional seed for the playoffs should they win their remaining four games. No matter what the outcome of the season, “The Streak” lives on at 57 years.
“I was just hoping we could have put another field goal on the board to score 57 points for 57 years,” Zarosinski said. “But it wasn’t meant to be.”
Chris Forrer/ For the Review
Chris Forrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.