McMINNVILLE, Ore. – Second-ranked Linfield rolled to a 48-10 victory over 22nd-ranked Whitworth in the first round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs on Saturday at Maxwell Field.
The game played out in similar fashion to the regular season meeting between the Northwest Conference opponents, a game won by the Wildcats 52-10 in October.
But the final result does not take the shine off of a successful season for the Pirates, who finished 9-2 in head coach Rod Sandberg's second year and reached the playoffs for only the fourth time in school history.
"To have an opportunity to play Linfield twice this season was very beneficial for us," Sandberg said. "I love playing in a great league because it makes you better."
Like in the first meeting, the second quarter proved pivotal to the outcome of the game. After a hard-fought first period in which Whitworth was within 7-3, Linfield outscored the Pirates 24-0 in the second period to take a 31-3 lead into halftime.
Just as in the first game Whitworth took the opening possession into Linfield territory before Rehn Reiley kicked a 44-yard field goal, his 15th made field goal of the season. Linfield scored on its first possession when QB Sam Riddle, the 2015 NWC Offensive Player of the Year, ran 11 yards for a score to cap a 61-yard drive.
After an exchange of possessions that included a missed field goal by the Wildcats, Linfield scored on four straight possessions to close the second half. Riddle threw touchdown passes to Levi Altringer (9 yards), Eric Igbinoba (24 yards) and Johnny Carroll (12 yards) during the outburst. Then an interception led to a final scoring chance and Michael Metter kicked a 24-yard field goal with no time left on the clock.
Linfield outgained Whitworth 343-135 in the first half, including a 114-30 edge in rushing yards.
The Pirates had a chance to cut into the lead early in the second half after taking over at the Wildcat 32-yard line. The Bucs converted a fourth down and had first and goal at the Linfield eight yard line. But the Wildcat defense held on third and fourth down at the three, thwarting Whitworth's best touchdown opportunity to that point.
After another exchange of possessions Metter kicked his second field goal of the game, this time from 46 yards, to extend the Linfield lead to 34-3.
Kolste was intercepted at the Pirates' 39 yard line on the next drive and the Wildcats capitalized with Riddle's 32-yard touchdown pass to Igbinoba three plays later, giving the 'Cats a 41-3 lead late in the third period.
Whitworth's best drive of the day ensued as the Pirates went 75 yards in 15 plays, scoring on a six-yard pass from Kolste to Nick Kiourkas.
Linfield's final score came midway through the fourth quarter when backup QB Tom Knecht found Igbinoba for a nine-yard touchdown pass.
Whitworth's final chance to score came when Reiley's 54-yard field goal attempt with 1:31 left in the game was wide left.
Linfield finished the game with a 478-293 edge in total offense.
Kolste completed 29 of 53 passes for 175 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. He was also Whitworth's leading runner with 68 yards on 17 carries. Michael McKeown caught nine of those passes for 26 yards, while Anthony Fullman – just back from injury – had five grabs for 36 yards.
Riddle finished the game 15 of 24 for 268 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Igbinoba only had three catches, but all went for touchdowns. Spencer Payne ran for 139 yards on 25 carries and also caught four passes for 49 yards.
Patch Kulp led the Whitworth defense with seven tackles. Daniel Portillo had two of the Pirates' four sacks. Aaron Powe and Joe Schweiger had the other two. Justin Maxwell recovered a Linfield fumble.
Skylor Elgarico led the Wildcat defense with six solo tackles.
Linfield advances to play SUNY-Cortland in next Saturday's second round playoff game. Cortland defeated Salsbury 45-21 in another first round game on Saturday.
Whitworth graduated 17 seniors from the 2015 squad, but the Pirates will return several key players in 2016.
"I think we can look back on this year and say it was a great season," Kolste said in the post-game press conference. "But it's important for those of us returning players to not be satisfied. We've seen the level that we want to reach."