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Hey ’Cats. With only two regular season games left, I figured now would be the perfect time to write a column dissecting the Northwest Conference football playoff picture. So, without further ado, a short analysis of the top contenders in the NWC, with their current standing, name, record and conference record (in parentheses):
Linfield College, 6-1 (4-0)
Linfield has once again shown why it is the cream of the NWC crop with commanding victories in each of its four conference games.
The ’Cats are averaging an unreal 487.2 yards and 47.8 points per game while only allowing 13.8 points and 290.5. With only games against Whitworth University and Lewis & Clark College left, Linfield figures to waltz into the playoffs wearing the NWC crown for the second-straight year.
Watch out for Lewis & Clark on offense, however: The Pioneers are just behind Linfield in both points and yards per game. Whitworth’s stingy pass defense may present some problems for senior quarterback Aaron Boehme as well.
Pacific Lutheran University, 6-1 (3-1)
The Lutes began hot this season by rattling off five consecutive victories before getting emphatically swatted by Linfield at home two weeks ago. Their success has largely been on the back of senior quarterback Jordan Rassmusen, who is playing the best ball of his life this year at around 230 yards per game and 10 touchdowns.
In the end, PLU’s porous defense led to its undoing; the Lutes are allowing just more than 393 yards a game in total offense.
Despite all this, they remained No. 8 in the NCAA’s latest regional rankings, meaning they may be able to secure an at-large bid in the playoffs should Linfield win out. PLU controls its own destiny now, and their final regular season game against Willamette will ultimately decide whether one team or two will represent the NWC when playoffs come around.
Willamette University, 6-2 (3-1)
Just like PLU, Willamette’s lone conference loss was a 35-7 drubbing at the hands of Linfield. Defense has been the Bearcats’ strong suit this season, as they only allow 18.8 points and 291.2 yards a contest.
Don’t count out their offense, either: 39 points and 453.8 yards per game are nothing to sneeze at.
Also like PLU, the Bearcats have a shot to break into the West Region’s top eight teams and secure an at-large
playoff berth if they can win out in its last two games against the Lutes and the Pioneers.
Should Linfield drop their remaining games and the Bearcats win out, Willamette would even win the NWC.
Their final game of the season against Lewis & Clark looks to be a retelling of the age old adage, “What happens when an unstoppable force (Lewis & Clark’s prolific offense) meets an immovable object (Willamette’s sturdy defense)?”
Lewis & Clark, 4-3 (2-2)
The Pioneers are undoubtedly the biggest surprise in the NWC this season. Predicted to finish last, Lewis & Clark has defied all odds to surge to the middle of the pack in the conference race and are not completely removed from title contention.
If the Pioneers defeat Willamette and Linfield in their final two games, and the Wildcats also lose to Whitworth, Lewis & Clark would wrap up its first conference championship in God only knows how long.
Freshman Pioneer quarterback Keith Welch is averaging 279.5 yards of total offense in a breakout season, but the Lewis & Clark defense has been atrocious, allowing 404 yards and 34.2 points a game.
If Lewis & Clark can mange to crack Willamette or Linfield’s defensive scheme, it just might be able to outgun them and eke out a huge upset
Chris Forrer can be reached at email@example.com.
The Wildcats traveled to eastern Washington on Oct. 30 to play Whitman College and then to the home of the Pirates on Oct. 31.
The ’Cats won 3-2 against Whitman but suffered a tough loss against Whitworth as the game ended in 0-1 shutout.
“We are definitely a bit frustrated with the overall outcome of the weekend,” senior midfielder Rennika Doty said. “We had high expectations of coming out with two wins.”
Senior forward Brittany Willis agreed.
“We were obviously upset with the result on Sunday,” she said. “We are the better team, but there will always be some games that just don’t fall in your favor.”
Sophomore midfielder Anna Sours led the Wildcats in goals scoring two on Saturday.
Freshman forward Emily Fellows was second with one goal, tallying her season total to 25 goals. She is nationally ranked fourth in Division III women’s soccer.
Although the women did not win both of the games, they still have the opportunity to win the conference title and go to the playoffs.
If the women win both games this weekend against George Fox University and the University of Puget Sound, and then UPS loses or ties with Pacific University on Nov. 5, the title will be theirs.
“We are confident we can still get first,” Willis said. “We are focusing on what we can control, and that’s winning both our games.”
If the weekend does not go their way, it could be the last weekend for the ’Cats.
“We have made such huge strides from last year, which is really encouraging for the years to come. We’re only going to get better from here,” sophomore midfielder Bridget Grant said.
“I think we are all really proud of what we have done. Everyone has worked really hard this season, and because of that, we have done what no Linfield women’s soccer team has ever come close to doing,” Willis said.
This season will be the ’Cats’ second-winning season in a row since 2002, even if the women do not win this weekend.
“Dom [Doty] asked us at the beginning of the season, ‘How do you want to be remembered as a team?’ And looking back at our season, I feel, as a whole we can all say we will be remembered as a team that left a mark,” Willis said.
The next game is at noon on Nov. 5 against George Fox in Newberg, Ore. The team also plays at noon Nov. 6 against UPS for its final home game.
Corrina Crocker/Sports editor
Corrina Crocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The game was also a special “Bring a Kid Day” event, and the children were wearing their Wildcat gear with pride.
The ’Cats lead the all-time series 12-0 against Menlo, which, until last season, was part of the Northwest Conference.
A game against a non-conference foe is unusual this deep into the nine-game season, but head coach Joseph Smith said that Menlo’s sudden departure caused scheduling to fall that way.
“Menlo has been difficult for us,” Smith said. “We haven’t played exceptionally well against them over years. I liked our maturity in this game.”
Senior quarterback Aaron Boehme completed 20 of 37 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns, with an additional 92 yards on the ground. Most importantly, Boehme played a clean game, giving up no turnovers.
Additionally, senior tailback Simon Lamson added three scoring runs on a modest 61 total yards rushing.
Despite these impressive statistics, the story of the game was defense. The Wildcat defense smothered the Oaks, holding them to only 187 total yards of offense and racking up seven sacks in the team’s first shutout victory since 2008.
“I was pleased with [the] young guys at end of game,” Smith said. “They held on. It’s hard to shut anybody out.”
The Lamson-Boehme tandem got things rolling early for their team. Boehme broke open a 34-yard run shortly after the game began, and Lamson scored less than 2 minutes later on a 2-yard bolt into the end zone.
Toward the end of the first quarter, Boehme saw senior tailback Taylor Avritt open and dialed up a short, 3-yard touchdown strike to stake Linfield to an early 14-point lead.
Despite this quick start, the Wildcat offense struggled for much of the contest, such as in a four-and-out on the Menlo goal line late in the second quarter.
“We did not probably play our best on offense, but some of that was due to their defense schematic,” Smith said. “Boehme played fantastic, though. It was one of his better games.”
Offensively, the ’Cats picked up steam in the middle of the second quarter after Boehme hit a streaking senior wide receiver, Chris Slezak, open for a 47-yard hammer — his longest pass of the game. That big play set up Lamson’s second scoring run of the contest: another short run from only 1-yard deep.
Linfield led 21-0 heading into the locker room.
“Offensively, we’re still having assignment problems up front,” Smith said. “We’re going to keep working that in practice every day and hope to see improvement.”
Freshman kicker Scott Goodman had plenty of field time at the top of the third quarter as the ’Cats failed to mount a drive and had to punt twice.
But with about 6 minutes to go in the period, Boehme slashed Menlo for big plays of 11, 25 and 12 yards to set up Lamson’s final, 5-yard touchdown sprint.
However, after a big defensive stand on Menlo’s next possession, senior kick returner P.J. Sequeira choked up the ball after fielding a punt and kept the Oak offense on the field.
“We have to continue to work on protecting the football,” Smith said. “We’re doing better as of late, but that area is still a concern.”
The defense held strong for the remainder of the contest, snagging another two sacks. Boehme added a 14-yard pass to Avritt to score the game’s last touchdown, and with time almost out freshman kicker Jordan Walker boomed in a 45-yard field goal to mark the final score at 38-0.
“The kicker position has been an ongoing battle and issue,” Smith said. “Jordan Walker has a tremendous leg and can get it up quickly, but Maika [Kunioka] and Josh [Repp] are great as well. It’s a good problem to have.”
Following the game’s conclusion, children received autographs from many of the players, including Boehme, Lamson, senior defensive tackle Paul Nishizaki and senior defensive end Eric Hedin.
Hedin, who had five tackles and three sacks during the game, needs only three more sacks to break the school’s 13-year-old, single-season record for sacks. He is also closing in fast on the single-season marks for yards lost from sacks, tackles for loss and yards from tackles for loss.
“Statistically, Eric [Hedin] has a chance to do what no one’s done, and that’s break the all-time season sack record in nine games,” Smith said. “He’s as good as anybody who’s played the game here.”
The ’Cats remain at home for another week to face Whitworth University in a NWC game Nov. 6. Linfield sports the No. 12 ranking in the www.d3football.com Top 25 poll and is also ranked No. 7 in the NCAA’s latest regional rankings.
Those numbers mean that if playoffs began today, the Wildcats would be seeded seventh and face the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, the team that eliminated Linfield in the 2009 playoffs en route to the national title, during the first round. With two games left in the regular season, the Wildcats plan to climb a little higher before playoffs begin.
Chris Forrer can be reached at email@example.com.
The volleyball team continued a losing streak this week, but there were noticeable improvements in its most recent matches.
The Wildcats lost matches against Whitman College and Whitworth University. The losses moved the Wildcats to 6-8 in NWC play. They are still in fourth place.
On Oct. 29, Linfield traveled to Walla Walla, Wash. to take on Whitman. The Wildcats came out strong in the first match. They pulled ahead 18-10 and never gave up their eight-point lead. They won the game 25-17.
Game two might have been the closest of the matches. Neither team held more then a two-point lead. With the score tied at 23, Whitman scored two quick points to win the game 25-23.
Whitman continued their momentum into the third game winning 25-18.
In the fourth match, the Wildcats showed their fight. Whitman had two chances to win the match leading 25-24 and 26-25. Each time, however, Linfield fought and won the match 28-26, forcing a fifth and final game.
The match was back-and-forth at the beginning, but Whitman won 15-12 in the end.
Coach Shane Kimura was pleased to see the drive in the team.
“We played well in game one and inconsistent in two and three,” he said. “But we played really hard in game four and came back. The kids battled and pulled it out.”
During the match, junior libero Samantha Lau set the season and career dig record. Lau, broke her career record by recording her 1,236th dig. Kimura pointed out that it is impressive that it only took Lau three years to reach this accomplishment.
“She is a great defensive player that keeps a lot of balls in play,” he said. “To break the record in three years: That is a pretty great accomplishment.”
Lau and the rest of the team turned their attention to the Whitworth Pirates. The first two matches were extremely close. In game one, neither team was ahead by more than three points at any moment. In the end, Whitworth held a three-point lead and won the game 25-22.
In the second game, the Pirates jumped to a 21-14 lead and appeared to have the game won. Linfield fought back valiantly, pulling within three points before losing the match 21-25.
After a decisive three-game win by the Wildcats, 25-14, Whitworth won the match with a 25-15 game four victory.
With only two more games on the schedule, Nov. 5 will be the final home game for seniors Emily Carpenter and Rae Smith. Kimura was pleased to have the opportunity to coach these players.
“They both came into the program as transfers and adjusted well,” he said. “Rae [Smith] works hard out there, and Emily [Carpenter] has been setting more for us lately. It has been nice to have both of them in the program.”
The Wildcats will return all but two players and have one of the top defenses in the conference. With the offense continuing to grow, the Wildcats will look to build upon this year and become contenders in the future.
The Wildcats face Pacific Lutheran University 7 p.m. at home on Nov. 5 for senior night. The women have their final game at 7 p.m. at George Fox.
Jerry Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The ’Cats squared off with Whitman in Walla Walla, Wash., where the Whitman Missionaries took control of the game early, scoring in the 6th minute of play.
Sophomore forward Leland Matthaeus assisted on the early goal by junior midfielder Sam Freedman to put Whitman ahead 1-0.
Missionaries senior midfielder Connor Bottomly scored in the 38th minute and again during the second period to give Whitman a commanding 3-0 lead.
Freshman midfielder Abel DeVos scored in the 88th minute for the ’Cats off of an assist from senior midfielder Kevin Donato. DeVos’ score trimmed the lead to 3-1, but the ’Cats would get no closer.
The ’Cats had a chance to bounce back against the Whitworth Pirates on Oct. 31, but lost a heartbreaker 0-1.
Pirates junior midfielder Cameron Bushey was ejected from the game in the 42nd minute after getting a red card. The loss of Bushey forced Whitworth to play shorthanded for the remainder of the game.
Both teams attempted 12 shots within the first 90 minutes of play, but none found the net.
The match was decided on a game-winning goal by Pirate senior midfielder Travis Gutierrez in the 99th minute.
The Whitworth defense held strong throughout the game, helped by solid play from junior goalkeeper Brian Sherpe, who finished the game with four saves. Despite holding a 15-14 advantage in shot attempts, the ’Cats failed to capitalize on their scoring opportunities.
Senior midfielder Carter Elhabbassi said he thought the team played well, but it also hurt to lose such a close game.
“We played with a lot of heart but just couldn’t get a goal,” he said. “It was tough, especially when we had our chances to score. Just
tough — just hard to swallow.”
Head coach Ian Lefebvre said it’s been particularly difficult to win on Whitworth’s field.
“It was tough, especially with their place. I haven’t won there in the four years I’ve been here,” he said. “But we had our opportunities to win that game, and we weren’t able to do it.”
The two losses dropped Linfield to a 7-9-1 record overall and 6-7 in the conference.
The ’Cats have tumbled down the standings during the past two weeks.
Linfield has lost four of its last five games and now sits above only Willamette and George Fox universities —
teams that have combined for a 1-22-3 record on the season.
But the ’Cats are at the heels of the University of Puget Sound, trailing by only three points in the conference standings. Five points separate the third and sixth place teams in the conference.
The ’Cats were in the middle of the pack before their skid, holding a 6-5 overall record and 5-3 conference record on Oct. 16. As of Nov. 4, the men hold a 7-9-1 overall record and a 6-7 conference record.
Despite tough late season losses, Elhabbassi said this season has turned out better than past seasons.
“I feel like this was a better season. We have a great group of guys and we were right in the mix all season,” he said. “And in the past, we didn’t really compete for the title, but this year I feel like we actually had a chance.”
Lefebvre said the team has improved since last season.
“I feel like we took a step forward from last year. I think we’re going to lose a couple of our core guys this year,” he said.“After Saturday, we have to move forward, and I like our core group that is coming back next year.”
The ’Cats match up against Willamette for their final game of the conference season on Nov. 6. Willamette has struggled this year, only managing one victory all season.
Elhabbassi said that the team will need to be focused to finish the season on a winning note.
“We just need to play our game — just play how we play,” he said. “We need to possess the ball and make the most of our opportunities. And we need to avoid costly mistakes.”
Lefebvre agreed with Elhabbassi, stressing the importance of execution.
“We’re going to have to do the things we’ve been preaching all year. We don’t go away from the game plan,” he said. “If we connect on our
passes, play simple, finish our chances and defend as a unit, then good things will come.
Matt Bayley/Staff reporter
Matt Bayley can be reached at email@example.com.