Friday, September 14, 2012

Lutes upended in season opener

No. 11 California Lutheran pulls away from PLU in second half

By Stephen McGrain, Guest Writer

The sight of Sparks Stadium welcomed the Lutes back home for the start of the 2012 season. Students and families packed the stands. They were not let down by the resilient effort of the PLU football team, but the Lutes fell to the visiting California Lutheran University Kingsmen 37-23.

The Lutes drove down on their first series of the game, but the lack of execution made it difficult for them to score inside the 20 yard line.

”We shot ourselves in the foot,” Head Coach Scott Westering said.

Late in the first quarter, a fumbled handoff between sophomore quarterback Dalton Ritchey and senior running back Brandon James gave the Kingsmen excellent field position on the Lutes 23 yard line.

Five plays later, the opposition capitalized with a touchdown run by first-year running back Romello Goodman.

On the next Lutes drive, Ritchey targeted sophomore wide receiver Kellen Westering, but the pass was perfectly timed and intercepted by the Cal. Lutheran cornerback, Vincent Minor, who had enough speed to outrun everyone for a touchdown.                    With 2:51 left in the first quarter the Kingsmen seemed to display why they are ranked so highly in the country. But the Lutes had the fight in them to come back.

After a turnover by Cal Lutheran, PLU offense found success with Ritchey’s right arm, hitting sophomore wide receiver Daniel Herr for 11 yards, and then to sophomore Kyle Warner for 29 yards.. The drive ended with a touchdown run from Brandon James on an option play.

Even after committing two turnovers that resulted in Kingsmen touchdowns, Ritchey showed great composure and accuracy from the pocket, only hitting his receivers where they could catch the ball.

The next Kingsmen drive was halted, when junior cornerback Jonny Volland intercepted a deflected pass.

The ensuing scoring drive came easy for the Lutes. A slight hesitation by Westering on the corner made the defender fall down, and a perfect pass brought PLU down to the five yard line. Two plays later, Ritchey dove into the end zone tying up the score, 14-14.

The defense of the Lutes came through again forcing a quick three and out for the Kingsmen.

Two quarterback runs and a handoff to James brought the offense to the Cal Lutheran nine yard line. After another standout play by Minor, deflecting a fade rout intended for Warner, the Lutes sent senior kicker Nick Kaylor in for a field goal. The successful kick made the score 17-14 Lutes.

The Kingsmen drove the ball down field before halftime to tie up the game with a field goal going into the locker room. The Lutes were even with the no. 11 team in the country.

“It felt good being down early, but battling back even though they were able to tie it up going into half,” sophomore guard Tevon Stephens-Brown said.

The positive feeling soon diminished once the second half began. The Kingsmen scored on all their second-half possessions, giving themselves a 37-17 lead. The Lutes  could not score again until 8:51 in the fourth quarter when senior fullback Cody Pohren scored from two yards out.

The experience of playing this team will only make them better going into the next game. The maturity and confidence of Ritchey was evident throughout the game, even when committing turnovers. Warner, Westering and Herr, all sophomores, showed a lot of skill and promise for the receiving group.

The next game for the Lutes is Sept. 15 when the team travels down to the no. 14 team in the country, the Redlands Bulldogs. Redlands dropped their season opener 42-16 to North Central in Illinois.

“They are a great team but we will focus on us this week to make ourselves better and hopefully on Saturday, the result will be in our favor,” Stephens-Brown said.