Well before the early-November showdown for the lead in the Northwest Conference arrived, University of Puget Sound football coach Jeff Thomas felt this was as good a Linfield squad as he had ever seen.
Opinion change after a 72-3 loss Saturday?
Six-and-a-half minutes into the game, the No. 2 Wildcats had raced out to a 17-0 lead, and dominated the Loggers at Maxwell Field in McMinnville, Oregon.
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With the victory, the Wildcats (8-0, 6-0 in NWC) locked up the automatic berth to the NCAA Division III national playoffs — and likely will host at least two games.
“They are one of the top four teams in the country, certainly,” Thomas said. “As far as consistency throughout the roster, from No. 1 to whatever the last number is, it is phenomenal.”
The Wildcats went 70 yards to open the game, and grabbed a 7-0 lead on Spencer Payne’s 32-yard touchdown scamper.
UPS immediately tried testing the Linfield secondary downfield, but it backfired as Hans Fortune’s first pass was tipped, and picked off by linebacker Mikey Arkans at the Loggers’ 23 — one of five UPS turnovers.
Michael Metter pushed it to 10-0 with a 22-yard field goal.
The Loggers got something going on their next drive, but were forced to punt. Payne reversed field on a carry on Linfield’s first play, and darted 76 yards for a touchdown. The Wildcats led, 17-0, with 8 minutes, 24 seconds to go in the first quarter.
“They do such a great job once they get a lead,” Thomas said.
Payne finished the first half with 210 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Linfield amassed 418 total yards in taking a 52-0 lead.
It was third consecutive time the Wildcats scored at least 70 points against UPS (5-3, 4-2).
The Loggers finish the season with a home game this coming Saturday against Pacific.
“It is obviously disappointing giving up (587) yards, but it wasn’t surprising they were able to get the run game going,” Thomas said. “What surprised me was our lack of ability to get off blocks.
“We have a good chance of flushing (this loss) because it was so out of character. We had played so well on the road … so we should bounce back.”
Pacific Lutheran University 26, at Lewis & Clark 7: One thing that has come out of this up-and-down season is that the Lutes are showcasing some of their stars of tomorrow.
Sophomore Marc Gallant rushed for 66 yards and two touchdowns, and freshman Walker LaVoy had a successful debut at quarterback in PLU’s victory at Griswold Stadium in Portland.
It was the Lutes’ 20th victory over the Pioneers in the past 21 meetings.
PLU (2-6, 2-4) stayed balanced throughout the game with LaVoy’s 175 passing yards, and the 158 yards that Gallant and company amassed on the ground.
It helped the Lutes control the football: They finished with 36 minutes, 38 seconds in time of possession.
Lewis & Clark (0-8, 0-6) cut its deficit to 13-7 on Mike Machado’s 30-yard touchdown pass to Bryce Johnson early in the third quarter.
But the Lutes went on a 10-play, 70-yard drive later in the quarter that lasted nearly 5 1/2 minutes. Gallant capped it with a 25-yard scoring run up the middle, and PLU led, 19-7, with 13:41 left in the game.