Zach Grate isn’t shy about naming his best career football achievement to date at Linfield College.
It is cracking the starting lineup in one of the most powerful small-college football defenses in the country.
Grate, a Black Hills High School graduate, is the starting defensive tackle as a sophomore for the second-ranked Wildcats, a team that many think are the favorites to bring home a NCAA Division III national championship this season.
And while Grate has not racked up gaudy statistics — he only has one tackle for loss in six game appearances — that is not really his job, especially with defensive end Alex Hoff on one side.
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Hoff is the star of the line. He has 16 1/2 tackles for loss, which is No. 4 in the country. The Wildcats average 10.4 tackles for loss, which is sixth in Division III.
“Our pass-rush game has been as good as ever,” Linfield defensive coordinator Jackson Vaughan said. “Our defensive ends are better than last year. We have depth at that position.”
And the Wildcats have been as good at stopping the run. They limit teams to 59 rushing yards per game — or 1.6 yards per carry — which also ranks No. 4 in the country.
It all adds up to Linfield’s defensive line being not only the best in the Northwest Conference, it is the best collection of big defenders University of Puget Sound coach Jeff Thomas said he’s ever seen in Division III.
The heavily-favored Wildcats can clinch the conference’s automatic berth to the national playoffs with a victory over UPS on Saturday at Maxwell Field in McMinnville, Oregon.
Last season, Grate stood on the sidelines, but was able to travel with team throughout the playoffs. Linfield’s run was ended by eventual national champion Wisconsin-Whitewater in the semifinals.
Watching championship-caliber play lit a fire under Grate. He put on 25 pounds in the offseason, and came to fall camp as the team’s biggest interior defensive lineman at 275 pounds.
A couple days before the season opener at Chapman, Grate was named a starter.
“In high school, I kind of played a 3-4 defensive end/tackle hybrid position,” Grate said. “It was a big shift going right into the middle of a defensive line, and my freshman year (of college), I was not ready for that change in mentality.
“I got through spring and summer workouts and changed all of that. I am less flashy, more physical. And I’ve got a little nasty in me now.”
Vaughan, who has coached the position group for 16 years, said Grate is the best technician on the inside.
“He is a very intelligent kid, and understands what we do,” Vaughan said. “It is such a technique-oriented position, and he has developed confidence. In turn, he has become more aggressive.”
Of course, Grate has learned you don’t become an official member of the defensive line until you receive an invitation to Hoff’s off-campus house.
“It is called ‘The House of Gains,’ ” Grate said. “It is a good place to go hang out.
“They have a Nintendo 64, and usually like beating up on the underclassmen. We have tournaments for ‘Super Smash Bros,’ but it just ends up (Hoff) kicking our butts.”
Saints sweep Geoducks
Bragging rights belong solely to Saint Martin’s University.
The men’s and women’s basketball teams swept Evergreen State College in exhibition play Monday night at Marcus Pavilion.
Fred Jorg put up 18 points and nine rebounds for the Saints, while Michael Painter and Brandon Kenilvort added 12 apiece in an 88-76 win over the Geoducks.
After trailing early in the second half, the men’s team evened it at 55-all with 11 minutes, 59 seconds to play. From there, the Saints went on a 12-1 run over the next 3 1/2 minutes, capped by a Trey Ingram (10 points, seven assists) 3-pointer, to make it 67-56.
The Geoducks cut the lead to eight with 7:45 to play on a layup by Danny Powell, but would not get any closer as the Saints locked up the win.
Powell led Evergreen with 28 points.
SMU women 73, Evergreen 41: The Saints had no trouble routing the Geoducks in their season opener.
Megan Wiedeman recorded a double-double for the Saints with 19 points and 12 rebounds, while Krista Stabler and Elin Johansson added 17 points apiece.
Saint Martin’s went on a 9-0 run to open the game, and never trailed. The Saints’ largest lead of 33 points was stamped by Shelbie Drey’s lay up with 3:49 to play in the third quarter to make it 59-26.
Saint Martin’s held Evergreen to 16 of 54 shooting from the floor.
Liedes closes fall season with win
Saint Martin’s senior golfer Jennifer Liedes won the Dennis Rose Invitational in Waikaloa, Hawaii on Oct. 27 to finish her fall season with back-to-back victories.
She shot a 1-over par 71 in the first round to take a three-stroke lead, and shot 77 in each of the final two rounds to win by four strokes.
She was named the Great Northwest Athletic Conference’s women’s golfer of the week on Monday for the second time this season — it is the eighth time in her career she’s been awarded the honor.
She won the Western Washington Invitational Oct. 12-13.
Ryan Pickthorn, a Saints redshirt senior, was also named the GNAC men’s golfer of the week inafter shooting a 3-over-par 219 in three rounds at the Dennis Rose Invitiational. He tied for 11th in the tournament.
Geoducks soccer splits
Evergeen State men’s soccer picked up a 4-0 win over Northwest Christian University on Friday, but dropped a 2-0 loss to No. 12 Corban College less than 24 hours later to wrap up the regular season at 12-3-1.
The fourth-seeded Geoducks will play fifth-seeded Carroll College (8-3-2) in the quarterfinals of the Cascade Collegiate Conference tournament on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. in Springfield, Oregon.
Staff writer Lauren Smith contributed to this report.