Linfield football wins 43rd NWC championship

Linfield+vs.+Lewis+%26+Clark

JJ Anderson

Linfield vs. Lewis & Clark

JJ Anderson, Staff Writer

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The visiting Pioneers of Lewis & Clark punched the Wildcats in the mouth in the first quarter on Saturday afternoon. 

After two uncharacteristic turnovers from the Linfield offense, the Wildcats found themselves trailing their opponent for just the third time all season. After trailing 10-9 at the conclusion of the first quarter, the Wildcats connected on numerous uppercuts and eventually a knockout blow, rattling off six unanswered touchdowns to eventually win 51-17 and claim their Northwest Conference championship. 

On the first possession of the game, quarterback Wyatt Smith led the Linfield offense down the field for a touchdown. Smith connected with receiver Devon Murray on a five-yard pass to take a 7-0 lead. Murray finished the game with six receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown. 

The Pioneers responded rather quickly, scoring a touchdown on their first play from scrimmage. Quarterback Cruz Montana sold the Wildcat defense on a screen, only to pump fake and hit a wide open receiver in stride for a 75-yard equalizer. 

Looking to re-take the lead, Smith committed a turnover on a deflected pass, giving the ball back to Lewis & Clark. The Pioneers would march down the field for a field goal to take a 10-7 lead. 

Smith threw another interception on the ensuing possession, only for the Pioneers to give points back to the Wildcats on a botched snap on fourth down, resulting in a safety. 

Where the first quarter presented some resistance and difficulties from the visitors, the second quarter was a very different story. Smith and running back Connor McNabb each ran for touchdowns and Smith tossed another one to younger brother, Colton, to take a 30-10 lead into halftime. Colton Smith led the Wildcats in receiving with 135 yards on a game-high 10 receptions. 

The Wildcats scored two more touchdowns in the third quarter, seemingly putting the game out of reach at 44-10. 

Smith threw for 325 yards in the victory, along with two touchdowns and interceptions, respectively. The Linfield ground game was nothing short of dominant on the day, combining for 303 yards, averaging 7.6 yards per rush. The backfield duo of McNabb and Connor Morton led the attack, going for 86 yards and 76 yards, respectively. The Wildcats had five rushers gain over 25 yards in the game. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Ben Baxter, Jon Sedy and Caiden Biege-Wetherbee led the way with five tackles a piece for the Wildcats. Vinny Niosi tallied two sacks, while the Wildcats defense racked up a total of six sacks in the game.

The Wildcats will find out their next opponent at 2:30 p.m. on the NCAA Division III Football selection show that will determine the playoff bracket. 

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