Perhaps this is the final step in putting the last piece of the puzzle together for University of Puget Sound football.
Maybe Loggers coach Jeff Thomas will someday look back at this particular rainy, muddy Saturday afternoon at Baker Stadium and know this is when the program took a final turn by trading blows with national powerhouse Linfield College.
The score might not look like much — the seventh-ranked Wildcats got on the bus with a 33-7 Northwest Conference victory in hand and headed back to McMinnville, Oregon.
But you have to consider the recent history with these two schools during Thomas’ rebuilding effort to know what this result meant.
Prior to Saturday, Linfield had amassed an average of 66.6 points and 559.3 yards per game against UPS during the past six seasons, barely playing their starters past halftime.
The Wildcats still got their yards Saturday — 435-229. But at least they had to work for what they got by playing their regulars.
“I’ve never been on a (UPS) team that’s done that before,” Loggers safety Jacob Wuesthoff said. “They’ve put up 60-plus (points) on us every year. So every year, nobody looked forward to this game.
“Today we came out here and hit them in the mouth.”
For a change, UPS didn’t look timid or scared playing against the best team in the conference. In fact, the Loggers looked like they were having a blast.
And they kept it close for a while.
Trailing 3-0, UPS got down to the Wildcats’ 22 after a double-pass completion that gained 29 yards.
On third down, quarterback Hans Fortune had wide receiver Aiden Santino wide open down the right hash for what would have been an easy touchdown.
Santino dropped the pass.
And on fourth down, UPS tried a fake field goal that Linfield sniffed out to turn the Loggers over on downs.
Except for Sam Riddle’s 70-yard touchdown strike to Reed Peterson midway through the first quarter, the Loggers limited Linfield’s explosive plays. So the game, in essence, became a grinder.
The Wildcats led 13-0 at halftime.
“In the past with Linfield, there was always an ‘if’ before statements heading into our games,” Thomas said. “But last night in our (team meetings), it was all about what we were going to do.
“Credit to Linfield, there is a reason they are the conference champions — they made the little plays they needed to. But they were not able to just run the ball down our throats like they had in the past.”
Again, Thomas was careful not to overreact to the result. The Wildcats were in control the whole way, tallying two more touchdowns to start the second half for a 26-0 lead.
But the seventh-year UPS coach does feel that with a young defense it was a step in the right direction in terms of attitude and approach.
He thinks this next generation of Loggers will finally start seeing Linfield as an opponent, not an indestructible force.
“We’ve got some work to do … to put ourselves in position to win these types of games,” Thomas said. “But compared to where we were at — it’s night and day.”