Dig through the annals of Pacific Lutheran University football lore, and you’ll see that the Lutes have dealt out more frustration to opponents than they’ve received.
But nothing has ever happened like what is going on right now.
For some odd reason, they cannot beat Linfield.
And the skid doesn’t seem to be in any danger of ending any time soon.
Simply, the No. 5 Wildcats have a secret recipe in how to handle PLU coach Scott Westering’s multilayered offense. Combine that with supreme talent and thorough preparation, and it all adds up to a day like Saturday — a 41-14 victory over the 15th-ranked Lutes at Sparks Stadium.
With the victory, Linfield (3-0) ran its Northwest Conference winning streak to 33 games. It is also in the driver’s seat for its sixth consecutive league championship.
“They are a great football team, and we knew that coming into the game,” PLU tailback Niko Madison said. “They out-executed us. We tried our best, but it didn’t go according to plan.”
There was a sense of optimism that this might be the Lutes’ time to snap their series losing streak at 14 games, dating back to 2001. Linfield lost much of its starting defense from last season. And sophomore Sam Riddle was making just his second career start at quarterback for the Wildcats.
Throw in the fact the Lutes (2-1) returned 10 starters on offense, and were playing this game at home — could this be Westering’s first win in 13 tries?
Well at the end of the week, the Lutes lost receiver Kellen Westering — Scott’s son — to a severe hamstring injury.
With no real outside threat opposite Kyle Warner, PLU was hampered on explosive plays.
Yet, the Lutes — who converted a fourth-and-15 play on Dalton Ritchey’s 21-yard strike to Warner — trimmed Linfield’s lead to 17-14 on Madison’s 9-yard touchdown scamper with 61/2 minutes left in the first half.
But the Wildcats constantly pounded the underbelly of the Lutes’ defense. They ran the ball 51 times for 221 yards. And coach Joseph Smith timed his big-play calls perfectly, including late in the first half.
Faking a handoff, Riddle lofted a nifty pass to a wide-open Charlie Poppen, who had gotten behind the PLU secondary. He rumbled 53 yards for a touchdown, extending Linfield’s lead to 24-14.
A poised Riddle finished 17 of 21 for 239 yards and four touchdowns.
“Sam has got a ton of ability,” Smith said. “His athletic ability is high. His arm strength is great. But what we are liking is that he is mature. The sky is the limit.”
It never improved from then on for the Lutes. And they started to lose their offensive weapons, too.
Warner left with a leg injury. Madison went off with a shoulder stinger. Even Ritchey was dinged up, but played through it.
That is not a good way to fend off an aggressive Wildcats defense, which forced four turnovers — three coming in the second half. And three of those four miscues were Ritchey interceptions, bringing his total to 15 turnovers against Linfield the past four matchups.
Scott Westering was quick to point out two of the interceptions were the fault of receivers. And on the final one, Ritchey was hit right when he threw a pass, and was easily picked off by linebacker Eli Biondine.
“It starts with their (defensive) front. They are big and physical up front, and the way they turn them loose and play them technically, they pretty much let them go,” Westering said.
“As a quarterback, it is a challenge. If you have protection issues that you’ve got to be aware of all the time, you hear the footsteps and sense that you’ve got to get rid of the ball — and quickly.”
Linfield outgained the Lutes, 460-202. It had 24 first downs, to PLU’s 11.