By Jeremy McDonald
MCMINNVILLE, Ore.—Mix some Riddle-ing Payne with some defense and you get points in a hurry.
Behind three Spencer Payne rushing scores, four Sam Riddle passing scores and strong defensive and special team play, the Wildcats cruised to a 72-3 victory Saturday to clinch their record seventh-title and a playoff berth.
“It was a great day at the office at all three phases,” said Linfield Head Coach Joseph Smith. “When we are at our best, our defense is setting us up with easy scoring opportunities and as is our special teams getting us great field position.”
By the end of the first quarter, it was 17-0 in favor of the ‘Cats as Payne had two rushing scores of eight and 74-yards.
A Mikey Arkans interception set up a Michael Metter 23-yard field goal in between Payne’s two scores.
“We always try to set the tone first quarter, first play,” said Arkans on the defense. “Setting the tone is a big part to our team and always going fast is always a good thing for us. So it was nice to do that today.”
The lone opportunity for the Loggers to score in the first half was off a Riddle pick from Ronnie Espedal.
Despite allowing Puget Sound’s Hans Fortune to dictate the pace of the drive, Linfield forced and blocked the field goal attempt. The block credit went to Zach Grate.
The second quarter presented the true difference in the game as the ‘Cats scored 35 points in the frame.
What happened next was traditional Linfield glory on offense.
Riddle would find Johnny Carroll twice in the corner of the end zone. The second score was set up after Brayton Leach recovered a Fortune fumble.
Payne picked up this third rushing score on the next ‘Cats offensive possession. He would finish his day and the half with 210 rushing yards.
“Our lineman and our receivers today blocked on the outside, we had inside blocking, it opened up holes and I hit it. I got to give it up to them,” said Payne on his game. “When I get the ball I just try to make things happen. I don’t let my stats take effect, (I’m) just having fun out there.”
Using Zach Kuzen three straight plays after Payne’s third rushing TD of the game, it looked like he was used as a decoy as Riddle connected to Brian Balsiger score on a corner route behind Kuzens.
“I don’t necessarily think decoy,” said Smith on the play. “We run a system offense so we don’t always necessarily throw to one guy. We’re going to throw to the open person based on what the defense does. But I had a feeling that was going to happen.”
Getting the ball back with under a half-minute to go following another defensive stop Linfield seemingly marched down the field that ended with a Riddle-Carroll 21-yard strike, their third of the game as Linfield led 52-0 at the half.
“We were owning the line of scrimmage,” said Smith. “When you own the line of scrimmage you can run and pass. It gives you your full offense to choose from and it just makes the defense look gassed and makes them vulnerable to certain things.
“Once you get that running game going, you can pass so it sort of sets itself up.”
Sam Gomez intercepted a Fortune pass to start the third, but Linfield had to settle for two Michael Metter field goals on back-to-back possessions, before picking up two more scores on the ground in the final 30.
The lone Loggers score came in the fourth, where two big sacks forced a promising Puget Sound drive to end with a field goal with 5:10 to go in the game.
The ‘Cats will end the game next Saturday versus Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington and Payne knows how they can improve between now and then.
“Stay healthy, got to stay healthy,” he said. “ (Just) keep improving in practice and get better everyday in practice.”
SCORE BY QUARTER 1 2 3 4 — T
LOGGERS 0 0 0 3 — 3
WILDCATS 17 35 13 7 — 72
12:25 LIN – Payne, S. 32 yd run (PAT kick)
2:35 10:38 LIN – Metter, M. 23 yd field goal
08:24 LIN – Payne, S. 74 yd run (PAT kick)
12:16 LIN – Carroll, J. 1 yd pass from Riddle, Sam (PAT kick)
10:20 LIN – Carroll, J. 6 yd pass from Riddle, Sam (PAT kick)
04:50 LIN – Payne, S. 56 yd run (PAT kick)
00:41 LIN – Balsiger, B. 6 yd pass from Riddle, Sam (PAT kick)
00:04 LIN – Carroll, J. 21 yd pass from Riddle, Sam (PAT kick)
12:33 LIN – Metter, M.22 yd field goal
07:31 LIN – Metter, M. 39 yd field goal
01:56 LIN – Knecht, T. 14 yd run (PAT kick)
11:37 LIN – Caskey, G. 4 yd run (PAT kick)
05:10 UPS – Mitchell H. 32 yd field goal
Passing- LINFIELD- Riddle, S. 11-19-1 124. Knecht, T. 4-7 84. Total: 15-26-1 208. UPS-Fortune, H. 14-25-2 82. Bernhardt, N. 5-9 32. Total: 19-34-1 114.
RUSHING- LINFIELD– Payne, S. 11-210-3. Willis, T. 14-51. Choisser, S. 8-42. Caskey 3-21-1. Total: 36-324-4. UPS– Nestingen, N 4-28. Bernhardt, N. 5-13. Wagner, A. 6-11. Dunn, A. 1-(-3). Total: 16-52.
RECEIVING- LINFIELD- Igbinoba 3-67. Kuzens, Z 3-64. Carroll, J. 3-28-3. Balsiger, B. 2-14. Total: 15-208-4. UPS– Schon-B. 6-41. Bell, P 6-30. Smith, J. 4-18. Furr, A 2-18. Total: 19-114.
SACKS- LINFIELD- Handran, J. 3, McGovern, M. 1. Schwartz, A., 1. Illingworth, 1. Eteaki, H 1. Total: 7 INTERCEPTIONS- LINFIELD- Gomez, S. 1. Arkans, M. 1. UPS- Espedal,R. 1.
Jeremy McDonald is a professional sports journalist in the Salem/Portland area and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalist in Oregon with B.S. degrees from Southern Oregon University in Journalism (2011) and Health/PE (2013). Got a story idea? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @J_McDonald81!
Like us on Facebook at Jmcdonaldmedia!