Nov. 21, 2009

Courtesy of Linfield Athletics

Cal Lutheran could find nowhere to hide from a swarming Linfield defense as the fifth-ranked Wildcats battered the No. 22 Kingsmen Saturday afternoon at Maxwell Field, advancing with a 38-17 victory in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.

CLU quarterback Jericho Toilolo was sacked eight times and threw four interceptions as the Northwest Conference champion Wildcats held the champs of the Southern California Collegiate Athletic Conference to 220 yards of offense, including just 79 in the first half.

Linfield tailback Aaron Williams (Soph., Aptos, Calif.) rushed for 125 yards on 22 carries and scored one touchdown. Wildcats quarterback Aaron Boehme (Jr., Stanwood, Wash.) ran for 99 more yards and one score, while passing for 114 yards and three TDs.

With the win Linfield improves to 10-0 on the season and moves on to the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs where they’ll face Mary Hardin-Baylor, a 42-40 first-round winner over Central (Iowa). Cal Lutheran ended one of the most successful seasons in its history at 8-2.

From Cal Lu’s very first snap, the Linfield defense was the story. The Wildcats completely took away the Kingsmen’s rushing attack, holding Cal Lutheran to 65 yards on the ground and 1.7 yards per carry. CLU converted just five of 19 third- and fourth-down conversions.

After falling behind 31-3, Cal Lutheran fought back to make it 31-17 going into the intermission. But the the Linfield defense held the visitors out of the endzone throughout the second half.

On the offensive side of the ball, Boehme found Gunnar Cederberg (Sr., Tigard, Ore.) for a 14-yard touchdown at the 8:00 mark of the third quarter. The touchdown gave Linfield a 38-17 lead.

Looking to cut the deficit to two scores, Cal Lutheran was victimized by the Linfield secondary. In the first minute of the fourth quarter, the Kingsmen seemed poised to score after penetrating deep into Linfield territory, but it was Drew Fisher (Soph., Gresham, Ore.) who picked of Jericho Toilolo, giving the ball back to the ‘Cats offense.

At the 9:01 mark of the fourth quarter it was Bryce Comfort (Jr., Tacoma, Wash.) who intercepted Toilolo down at the Linfield 26-yard line.

While the majority Linfield’s day was very positive, it did not start out that way.

The opening play from scrimmage could not have turned out much worse. Boehme and Williams bobbled the handoff, allowing Moe Alexander to recover the fumble at the Linfield 15-yard line.

A Brian Stuart rush set up a first-and-goal play at the Linfield 5-yard line, but the Wildcats turned away Cal Lutheran on three straight plays. Jackson Damron chipped in a 22-yard field goal to close the drive and the Kingsmen led 3-0.

Linfield controlled the game the rest of the way.

Trailing for the first time in weeks, the ‘Cats got rolling on their second offensive possession. Boehme orchestrated a nine-yard 74-yard drive, resulting in a Williams 1-yard touchdown run. On the play prior to Williams’ score, Boehme scampered for 17 yards.

Linfield’s defense continued to shine, holding Cal Lutheran to a three-and-out on the Kingsmen’s next drive. Following a completion of 16 yards to Buddy Saxon (Soph., Grants Pass, Ore.) that moved the ball to the CLU 22, the Kingsmen got two big stops, setting up a Linfield third and 10. Boehme proved cool under pressure, finding an open Ryan Henderson (Jr., Portland, Ore.) in the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown.

With its offense clicking, Linfield’s played one of its best halves of the season. After Henderson’s touchdown put the ‘Cats up 14-3, linebacker Paul Partlow (Sr., Portland, Ore.) picked off Toilolo’s pass on the very next possession.

Partlow’s interception gave Linfield the ball at its own 48. After a third-down completion of 18 yards to Cederberg moved the chains, Boehme found daylight on his way to a 21-yards touchdown run.

Linfield’s next 10 points came by way of great defense and special teams play.

The Kingsmen botched a kickoff return out of bounds, pinning them back at their own 4. At the 11:56 mark of the second quarter, Fisher intercepted Toilolo’s pass at the CLU 22. The result was a 38-yard field goal by Maika Kunioka (Fr., Mililani, Hawaii), his longest of the season.

After another Linfield defensive stand, punt returner Taylor Skore (Soph., Enumclaw, Wash.) gave the ‘Cats great field position with a return to the Cal Lutheran 21-yard line. Boehme found his favorite target Trevor Patterson (Sr., Pendleton, Ore.) from four yards out. Patterson juggling reception gave the Wildcats a cozy 31-3 advantage.

Trailing 31-3, Cal Lutheran refused to go away. The Kingmen tacked on a pair of scores before halftime to trim the Linfield lead to 31-17.

With 7:02 left in the half, Justin Haulcy-Bateman broke free on a kickoff return down to the Linfield 21-yard line. Less than two minutes later, Brian Stuart powered into the endzone with a 3-yard score.

Minutes later Garrett Redd picked off Boehme and returned it 51 yards to the Linfield 15-yard line. Stuart found the end zone on the very next play.

The Linfield defense was superb in the first half, holding Cal Lutheran to 79 yards of total offense. Special teams mistakes and turnovers led to easy scoring opportunities for the Kingsmen. Cal Lutheran only had to amass a total of 46 yards on its three scoring drives combined. Linfield converted 12 first downs to Cal Lutheran’s six.

Boehme finished the day with 114 yards worth of passing while rushing for 99 yards. The Linfield offense totaled 363 yards on the day.

Williams was the go-to man on the ground for the ‘Cats, amassing 125 yards on 22 caries. Stuart was equally as efficient for Cal Lutheran, averaging 4.0 yards per carry, on his way to 87 yards of rushing.

Linfield linebackers Jaymin Jackson (Sr., Vancouver, Wash.) and Alex Tkachuk (Sr., Beaverton, Ore.) paced the ‘Cats with eight tackles apiece. Jordan Barta totaled 10 stops for Cal Lutheran.

COMING UP: Linfield hosts Mary Hardin-Baylor next Saturday at Maxwell Field in a rematch of the 2004 NCAA Division III championship game. Kickoff is slated for noon.