SPOKANE, Wash. – Second-ranked Linfield built an early 31-0 lead then pulled away late for a 51-17 win over Whitworth in a Northwest Conference football game on Saturday afternoon at the Pine Bowl.
The visiting Wildcats improved to 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the NWC and clinched their 58th consecutive winning season. The Pirates dropped to 2-5, 0-3 in front of a Family Weekend crowd of 2,070.
Linfield scored on its first five possessions to grab a 31-0 lead. And it was QB Josh Yoder doing much of the damage with both his arms and his legs. He ran for 23 yards third and 15 and then completed a 19-yard pass to Colin Nelson on the first drive to set up Josh Hill's one-yard touchdown run.
Yoder made it 14-0 later in the first quarter with a one-yard scoring plunge. His 24-yard pass to David Sigler started the drive.
Josh Repp nailed a 43-yard field goal on the second play of the second quarter to extend the lead to 17-0. Yoder then found Jacob Priester for a six-yard score to extend the lead to 24-0 Wildcats with 12:06 to play in the half.
It appeared the game would get completely away from Whitworth on the Bucs' next series. A snap that got by freshman QB Ian Kolste was recovered in the endzone by Linfield's KeAlii Poomaihealani for a touchdown that made the score 31 to 0 in favor of the 'Cats only 18 minutes into the game.
But then the Pirates decided to stand up to highly-ranked Linfield. Whitworth would outscore the Wildcats 17-3 over the next 20 minutes of play, pulling within 34-17 in the third quarter.
It began when Devon Lind turned a short reception on fourth and two into a 30-yard touchdown reception from Kolste to get Whitworth on the scoreboard with 9:23 to play in the half.
The Pirates got a 30-yard field goal from Kyler Gracey to make the score 31-10 with 23 second to play in the half. But a long kickoff return allowed Repp to hit his second 43-yard field goal of the game as time expired to give Linfield a 34-10 lead at the break.
Casey Monahan intercepted a deflected pass by Yoder on Linfield's second possession of the second half and returned the ball 24 yards to the Wildcats' eight yard line. Three plays later Kolste found Dustin Martin from six yards away to pull Whitworth within 34-17.
The Whitworth defense kept up the pressure on Linfield. From the point that the Wildcats had scored their third touchdown to make the score 24-0, the Pirate defense forced four punts and came away with an interception on five of Linfield's next six possession.
Whitworth had two chances to cut into Linfield's lead even further in the third quarter, but turned the ball over on downs on consecutive possessions inside Wildcat territory.
The first time Whitworth was stopped on downs Repp hit his third field goal of the game, this time from 26 yards, to extend the lead to 37-17. Then after the second turnover on downs the Wildcats drove 64 yards in 10 plays to get back in the endzone. John Shaffer ran in from nine yards away with 9:12 to play in the game, giving the 'Cats a 44-17 lead and effectively putting the Pirates away.
Backup quarterback Matt Yarbrough sprinted in from 53 yards for Linfield's final touchdown of the game with 4:33 to play.
Linfield outgained Whitworth 408-237, including a 219-36 advantage in rushing yards.
Kolste, who started in place of injured QB Bryan Peterson, had a solid debut against one of the best defenses in Division III football. He completed 17 of 30 passes for 190 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked three times for 22 yards in losses, but also sparked the Bucs with some key runs on third down and finished with a net of 16 yards to lead the Bucs in rushing. Drew Clausen caught seven passes for 76 yards and Wade Meyer had four grabs for 52 yards.
Yoder completed 12 of 28 passes for 189 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also finished with 50 rushing yards and a score. Nelson and Sigler had three receptions each for 75 and 46 yards, respectively. Shaffer led Linfield with 65 rushing yards and a touchdown.
Monahan led the Whitworth defense with ten tackles, the one interception and three pass deflections. Trevor Cooper, making his first start at middle linebacker, added nine tackles and an eight-yard sack. Tevin Tyus had five stops, one sack and one pass deflection.
Kyle Wright and Dominique Forrest had seven tackles each for Linfield. Michael MacClanathan and Poomaihealani shared the three sacks together. Alex Hoff picked off a pass in the fourth quarter.
Whitworth plays at Puget Sound next Saturday and will try to break its first five-game losing streak since finishing with five straight losses during a 2-7 season in 1997.