With playoff seeding on the line at home in their season finale, the Wildcats left nothing to chance, blasting the Pacific University Boxers 51-17.
Another dominating performance on both sides of the ball saw Linfield roll to 500 yards of total offense, while limiting Pacific to just 150 yards and sacking Boxer quarterbacks seven times throughout the contest.
The win completed an undefeated season for the ’Cats at 9-0, their third in the past four seasons.
Senior tailback Stephen Nasca capped an explosive, five-play drive with a four-yard touchdown run to pick up an early 7-0 lead, but things slowed down after that because of old problems: penalties, fumbles, and field goals.
Freshman receiver Sam Robinson coughed the ball up and Boxer quarterback P.J. Minaya promptly evened things at 7-7.
Penalties stalled the ensuing Linfield drive, but the ’Cats were able to get the lead back shortly after on a 42-yard catch-and-run by junior receiver Deidre Wiersma.
Another fumble, this one by Nasca, led to a 39-yard field goal to cut Linfield’s lead to 14-10.
The ’Cats picked up 110 yards of penalties on the day and are averaging over 94 yards per game this season.
Senior kicker Josh Kay was also 0-3 on field goal tries, missing two and having a third blocked, although both tries were from more than 44 yards.
The ’Cats finally broke free midway through the second quarter after a high snap into the end zone led to a Pacific safety.
Senior quarterback Mickey Inns marched the offense down the field before freshman tailback Jonathan Shaffer punched in an eight-yard touchdown run to make the score 23-10. Junior defensive Brynnan Hyland led the defensive charge, picking up one of his two sacks on the Boxers’ ensuing drive.
A pair of touchdown catches by sophomore Charlie Poppen from 10 and nine yards, respectively, ballooned the lead to 37-10 and sent Linfield into the half with momentum behind it.
Inns put the game out of reach with a 71-yard rocket deep downfield to sophomore receiver David Sigler that left the Boxers reeling, down 44-10.
Backup quarterback Warner Shaw added a meaningless score at the end of the third quarter before third-string sophomore quarterback Matt Yarbrough scored his first touchdown of the season on a nine-yard pass to sophomore receiver Colin Nelson to cap scoring at 51-17.
Sunday afternoon the NCAA released the bracket for the 2012 Division-III football playoffs and the ’Cats captured a No. 1 seed for the first time since 2009.
They will face an opponent from earlier in the season, although perhaps not the one most expected. Northwest Conference rival Pacific Lutheran University, which owns the third-strongest schedule in the nation, according to the NCAA, snuck into the playoffs as an at-large selection and will face Linfield on Nov. 17.
Last time the two teams met, PLU raced to a 14-0 lead before the Wildcats outlasted the Lutes 31-24.
Should they continue to win, the Wildcats will own home field advantage until at least the national quarterfinals.
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