Pacific Lutheran University football coach Scott Westering is the first to admit his offense is more designed to run on the perimeter and less inclined to take a defense head-on in the middle.
But the crucial play late in the Lutes’ showdown with No. 3 Linfield College called for something short and powerful up the gut.
Instead, while driving for a game-tying touchdown, PLU opted for a fourth-and-inches sweep run. The Wildcats stuffed it, and escaped with a 31-24 victory at Sparks Stadium.
Linfield’s Mickey Innis passed for 208 yards and three touchdowns, but it was backup tailback John Shaffer’s 32-yard escape-from-danger scoring scamper with seven minutes remaining that broke a 24-24 tie.
PLU got three passing scores from quarterback Dalton Ritchey, all in the first 15 minutes, 15 seconds. Two of the touchdowns went to redshirt freshman Kellen Westering (71, 32 yards), the coach’s son.
“They played very well,” Scott Westering said. “We came at them, punched them right in the mouth ... and yet they settled down like a great team will.”
The Lutes were on fire early. Kellen Westering took a short sideline pass and took advantage of overpursuit from the Linfield secondary to break free and rumble 71 yards for a touchdown.
And after defensive back Greg Hibbard picked Innis off on the Wildcats’ first series, the Lutes went up 14-0 on Ritchey’s 6-yard strike to Kyle Warner at the 10:06 mark.
“We thought they would be very dangerous, and they do a great job of creating chaos and making things happen,” Linfield coach Joseph Smith said. “I thought they came out of the gate playing with their hair on fire.”
But Linfield is a veteran, championship program. And it settled down behind the running game and a decided special-teams edge to crawl back into it – eventually tying it at halftime, 21-21.
After the teams traded field goals in the second half, the Wildcats drove to the PLU 32-yard line midway through the fourth quarter, and called a right counter play for Shaffer – who appeared in danger of going down in the backfield for a loss.
But the Portland State transfer kept his balance, pivoted back the other way and took off untouched for the go-ahead touchdown – and the Wildcats led 31-24 with 7:03 to go.
On their next drive, the Lutes faced a third-and-15, and Ritchey scrambled for 9 yards. Scott Westering decided to gamble and went for it on fourth-and-6.
Linfield gave PLU a break – or so it would have seemed – by jumping offside and giving the Lutes 5 free yards.
But on that fourth-and-short play, PLU ran its power sweep play with Niko Madison, which was immediately blown up by Linfield’s Colin Forman for a 1-yard loss.
Why that call?
“My fear was that they would go to a Double Eagle (flex formation) and cover everybody up,” Scott Westering said. “Dalton is pretty savvy ... and he had total freedom to run a quarterback sneak. But he seemed to feel he couldn’t do it, so he ran sweep.”
PLU got the ball back with 1:49 remaining, but Ritchey was intercepted by Forman on the second play.
“They are the best we are going to ever play, and when you come up short against such a great team, you look back and get so frustrated,” Kellen Westering said. email@example.com