by Nathan Shoup, Sports Editor
If history told us anything, it told us the Pacific Lutheran football team’s season should have been over after the third week of the season.
The Lutes sat at 1-2 with losses to California Lutheran and Linfield.
But the Lutes rattled off six consecutive victories after the Linfield game, and for the first time since 2001 – PLU is playoff-bound.
The Lutes were granted an at-large team into the NCAA tournament Sunday afternoon. PLU will play Linfield in McMinville, Ore. tomorrow at noon.
“Our time to rise,” sophomore tight end Lucas Sontra tweeted after the selection show.
The 2001 Lutes squad was the last to receive an at-large bid into the tournament after losing a non-conference game and not winning the conference.
The 37-23 loss to California Lutheran at home in the season-opener seemingly closed the door on an at-large bid to the 32-team NCAA tournament.
Two weeks later the Lutes fell 31-24 to tomorrow’s first — round foe, Linfield.
The Lutes would have needed to win the remainder of their games while Linfield would have had to lose twice in conference for the Lutes to win the Northwest Conference and receive an automatic bid to the tournament.
The Wildcats have lost only seven regular season games since 2005.
PLU held up its end of the deal. Unfortunately for the Lutes, Linfield played a strong season en route to a 9-0 record and a no. 3 national ranking.
The California Lutheran and Linfield losses certainly worked against the Lutes, but their strength of schedule was an aide.
California Lutheran sits at 8-1 with a no. 8 national ranking.
Falling to the no. 3 and no. 8 teams in the nation is certainly understandable, if not respectable.
The Lutes’ path to the playoffs was maybe a little unorthodox — dropping two of their first three games — but that is irrelevant.
The Lutes are five wins away from a national title and it’s hard to not get excited about this team.
History of the Rivalry
Linfield owns a 21-36-4 advantage over the Lutes, but that record doesn’t demonstrate the Wildcats’ dominance over PLU in the past decade.
PLU has dropped the last 11 contests to Linfield.
The last Lutes team to knock off the Wildcats was the 2001 team — the one that received an at-large bid despite losing a non-conference and conference game.
That team defeated Linfield 31-20 in McMinville in the third week of the season before falling in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
Forecasts are calling for temperatures in the low 50s with a 60 percent chance of rain. Unusual I know. But does the rain give one team an advantage?
With a wet football, it is much more difficult to get the passing game going. This puts pressure on the run game.
Linfield has been allowing just more than 70 yards per game on the ground while PLU bas been allowing 90 rushing yards per game.
The Lutes are rushing for nearly 140 yards per game while Linfield is rushing for just short of 155 yards per game.
Linfield’s Maxwell Field is turf, so mud will not be a factor.
The Lutes played in a deluge Oct. 20 at home against Willamette, but the rain was not a factor. PLU ran for 157 yards and sophomore quarterback Dalton Ritchey rushed for three scores. Ritchey also threw for 197 yards in the downpour.
Considering both teams’ strong rushing attacks and run defenses, I don’t think the weather gives either team an advantage.
All-Northwest Conference all around
Seven Lutes were named first-team All Conference selections Tuesday.
The selections included two sophomores — quarterback Dalton Ritchey and wide receiver Kyle Warner — four juniors — offensive lineman Chris Edison, defensive linemen Mychael Tuiasosopo, linebacker Jordan Patterson, safety Sean McFadden — and senior cornerback Taylor Angevine.
Eleven other Lutes were named second-team or honorable mention selections.
Linfield has its share of all-NWC players as well.
Senior quarterback Mickey Inns was named offensive player of the year and linebacker Dominique Forrest was named defensive player of the year.
Outside of the two players of the year for Linfield, the Wildcats had seven first-team selections, five second-team selections and two honorable mention selections.
Linfield has owned PLU over the past decade, but the talent gap has shrunk.
PLU led Linfield 14-0 early in the first quarter of their meeting in September before the Wildcats grabbed a 31-24 lead late in the game.
The beauty of the playoffs is the reality that anything can happen. The fact that tomorrow is a rivalry game only adds to the possibility of the Lutes snapping the skid to Linfield.
The Lutes football team is pumped up and so is the university as a whole.
The losing streak to Linfield will end tomorrow.
In the elements, close games often come down to turnovers and a team’s ability to run the ball.
The Lutes have intercepted a conference-high 19 passes and recovered 14 fumbles — also a conference high.