Thursday, June 2, 2016

100 Days...

We're just 100 days away from Linfield kicking it off against Chapman.  It will be here before you know it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Linfield is ranked #1 by SportingNews and #6 by Lindy’s Sports in 2016 preseason Top 25.

What's that?  College Football? YES!!!!!!!!!!!
One of the first signs of college football being right around the corner is annual May release of College Football preview magazines.  Who knows if these will even be around a few years with the way people now choose to consume information, but for me, it’s still a blast to pick up these publications to get a taste of the upcoming college football season and get a look at the way too early season rankings and awards.

Speaking of rankings, SportingNews 2016 preseason Top 25 has Linfield ranked in the top slot for the upcoming season followed by: 2) Mount Union, 3) UWW, 4) UMHB, 5) UST, 6) Wesley, 7) Oshkosh, 8) Wheaton, 9) SJU, and 10) Ohio Northern.  The only other NWC team in the top 25 is Whitworth at a very respectable 15.

The Lindy’s Sports Preseason Top 25 is interesting as they have slotted Linfield at 6th this preseason. Their top 10 goes: 1) Mount Union, 2) UWW, 3) UST, 4) Wesley, 5) UMHB, 6) Linfield, 7), Oshkosh, 8) Wabash, 9) Washington & Lee, 10) Ohio Northern.  Whitworth is unranked in Lindy’s poll.

Quite a range for the ‘Cats between the two polls but it speaks to the top end of talent in Division 3. There is no question that Mount Union continues to be the top dog in Division 3 with Whitewater being in lockstep with the Purple Raiders. After that, it’s been a few teams in that top 3 mix at the end of the season between Linfield, UMHB, North Central, St. Thomas, and Wesley.  What I think most people that follow Division III for any amount of time would say a reasonable 2016 top 5/6 would go is: 1. Mount Union, 2. UWW, 3-6 just slot in Linfield/UMHB/UST/Wesley and there you go.  All four of those teams (Linfield included) have the talent and ability coming into 2016 to knock off Mount Union or UWW but those two programs reserve that right each year until proven otherwise. I hate writing that but it’s the truth until someone other than them is holding up the Bronze and Gold at Salem Stadium in December.

Do these preseason polls even matter? Heck no. These polls are designed to sell magazines, generate conversation, and debate.  However, it's a whale of a reflection with Linfield being ranked 1st by the SportingNews and 6th by Lindy’s.  After three season of going 6-3 by the ‘Cats (2006-08), Coach Smith and his staff has lifted this program back to the elite of Division III for the past seven seasons and that’s remarkable. Linfield has been to the National Semifinals three times in those seven seasons but have come up short and I know that burns in the pit of stomach of the ‘Cats. The path back to that point for Linfield is going to be anything but easy.  Linfield will start the year with a well-coached and solid Chapman team at home before taking on what I think is easily the stiffest regular season game that Linfield has played in a long time with a rematch against Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Tx. I’m sure the Cru’ has that date in bold, circled, and underlined as it will have huge implications for both Linfield and UMHB’s quest to reach Salem, Va.  After that, Linfield will have a challenging conference schedule including a monster road game at Whitworth.
Three Linfield Wildcats tapped as preseason All-Americans

Three of your Wildcats have been chosen as preseason All-Americans by SportingNews or Lindy’s Sports.

-    Quarterback Sam Riddle (Sr.) was selected as an All-American by both SportingNews and Lindy’s Sports. Along with that, Riddle was also picked by Lindy’s as their preseason Offensive Player of the Year.  Sam will look to improve upon his 2015 season where he threw for 31 touchdowns, while completing 60.6% of his passes, and rushed for 5 TDs on the ground.

-    Return man Kennedy Johnson (Sr.) was picked by Lindy’s Sports as a first team All-American return heading into 2016.  Kennedy was electric as a returner last season in averaging 15.2 yards per punt return, taking 3 back for Touchdown, including a 77-yard strike. Along with that, Kennedy should be one of the top corners in the West Region this season as well.

- Linebacker Jake Reimer (Jr.) was named a 2nd team All-American by Lindy’s.  Reimer was a playmaker in his first year as a starter in 2015. Jake was Linfield’s leading tackler with 65 stops (48 solo), 10.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 4 pass break-ups, and was robbed of an epic fumble return for touchdown against Redlands.

It’s really great to see these well deserving ‘Cats get singled out but the reason why these guys get selected is due to the success of the team. All three of these guys would tell you that right off the bat, that their recognition is a reflection of the team and the performance of the players around them.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Linfield's 2015 season was full of record breakers.

#55 Alex Hoff has left his name all over the Linfield Record Book.
Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's 2015 Linfield Football Photos Here
The 2015 Linfield Wildcats put in one of the all-time great season in program history.  The 'Cats clinched the program's 60th consecutive winning season, a record setting 7th consecutive Northwest Conference Championship, 7th team in program history to win 12 games, tied a program record with 6 players named to All-American teams, won NWC games by an average of 49.3 points per game, and advanced to the Semi-Finals of the playoffs for the 14th time.

When you add all of that up records are going to fall and this 2015 Linfield team and individual players finished with 130 top 5 program record book finishes with 25 of those being new number ones.

Linfield Sports Information breaks the 'Cats record book into five main categories:
-Team Single Game Records
-Team Single Season Records
-Individual Single Game Records
-Individual Single Season Records
-Career Records

The Linfield Football record book is packed full of history, historic players, and incredible teams so it's a testament to this 2015 team to have had such an impact on the field and in the Wildcat's historical record book.

Team Single Game New Number 1’s

1. Most Passing yards per completion: 23.6  vs Whitworth (reg season) (14 completions – 331 yards)
1. Highest average gain per play: 10.0 yards per play vs Pacific

Team Single Season New Number 1’s

1. Punt Return for TD:  5
1. Fumble Return for TD:  2
1. PATs made: 80
1. Forced Fumbles: 20

Individual Game New Number 1’s

1. Highest average per rush:  Spencer Payne, 19.1 vs UPS
1. Most Consecutive 100 yard rushing games: Spencer Payne, 6
1. Highest percentage passes completed:  Sam Riddle, 89.5 (17-19) vs Cortland State
1. Most Points scored by kicking: Michael Metter, 18 vs UPS (tied with one other)
1. Longest fumble return: Devin Illingsworth, 86 yards at L&C
1. Most Pass Breakups: Mikey Arkans, 3 vs Whitworth (playoff)
1. Most Fumble returns: Zach Grate 2 vs UPS
1. Most Fumble return yards: Devin Illingsworth: 86 yards at L&C
1. Most Fumbles Recovered: Zach Grate 2 vs UPS & Alex Hoff 2 vs UMHB

Individual Season New Number 1’s

1. PATs Made: Michael Metter, 80 PATS
1. Punt Return for TDs: Kennedy Johnson, 3
1. Fumble recoveries: Alex Hoff, 5

Career New Number 1’s

1. PAT kick percentage: Michael Metter, 97.4
1. Punt Returns for TDs:  Kennedy Johnson, 3 (tied with one other)
1. Tackles for loss: Alex Hoff, 66.0
1. Yards from tackles for loss: Alex Hoff, 320
1. QB sacks: Alex Hoff, 35.5
1. Yards from Sacks: Alex Hoff, 231
1. Forced Fumbles: Alex Hoff, 6 (tied with 2 others)

#13 Johnny Carroll and the 2015 'Cats left a huge mark in the program's record book.
Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's 2015 Linfield Football Photos Here

Team Single Game New Number 2 – 5 efforts

2. Most Passes Completed: 38 vs UMHB (tied with one other)
2. Most Passing yards per completion: 22.8 vs Pacific (20-455)
2. Most Forced Fumbles: 5 at L&C (tied with 3 others)
3. Most passing yards per attempt (10 attempts): 15.2  vs Pac (30 for 455)
3. Most TDs scored: 11 vs Pacific (tied with one other)
3. Most Punt Return Yards: 152 vs Chapman
3. Most Fumbles Recovered: 3 vs UMHB & 3 vs UPS (tied with six others)
4. Most Passing Attempts: 54 vs UMHB (tied with two others)
4. Most Total Offense Gained: 698 vs Pacific (tied with one other)
4. Most Points Scored: 77 vs Pacific
4. Most punt return yards: 151 at PLU
4. Most Tackles for loss: 17.0 vs Whitworth (reg season) (tied with two others)
4. Highest avg gain per punt return: 25.3 vs Chapman
5. Most TDs scored: 10 at L&C (tied with 3 others)
5. Most Points Scored: 73 (tied with 1 other)
5. Highest average gain per punt return: 25.2 at PLU
5. Highest average gain per rush: 7.7 vs UPS
5. Most rushing TDs scored: 6 vs Pacific (tied with 11 others)
5. Most punt returns: 8 at L&C (tied with 3 others)

Team Single Season New Number 2 – 5 efforts

2. Total Offense: 6,310 yards
2. All-purpose yards: 7,660
2. Total points Scored: 622 (83 TD, 80 Pat, 14 FG)
2. TDs scored:  83 (31 rush, 43 rcv, 9 ret)
2. PATs attempted: 82
2. Field Goals Attempted: 24
2. Punt Return Yardage: 658
2. Punt Returns: 50
2. Fumble Return yards:  139 (5 -139)
2. Unassisted Tackles: 585
2. Yards from Tackles for loss: 540
2. QB sacks: 57.0
2. Yards from QB Sacks: 371
2. Fumbles Recovered: 18
3. Passing Yards: 3,864
3. Pass Efficiency: 167.3
3. PAT kick percentage:  97.6 (80 of 82)
3. Field Goals Made: 14 (tied with two others)
3. Tackles For Loss: 123.0
3. TDs responsible for: 124
4. Pass Completions: 261
4. Passing TDs:  43
4. Pass completion pct: 62.3 (261 of 418)
4. Total Offense per game:  485.4
5. Pass Attempts:  418
5. Average yards per pass: 9.25
5. Passing yards per game: 297.3
5. Total offense per play: 6.54

#6 Kennedy Johnson exploded into the 'Cats record book in 2015 with his punt returning efforts.
Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's 2015 Linfield Football Photos Here

Individual Game New Number 2 – 5 efforts

2. Most Passes Completed: Tom Knecht, 38 vs UMHB (tied with one other)
2. Total offensive plays: Tom Knecht. 63 vs UMBH (tied with two others)
2. Most PATs: Michael Metter, 10 at L&C
2. Longest Punt Return: Kennedy Johnson, 77 vs Chapman
2. Most Punt Return yards: Kennedy Johnson, 112 vs Chapman
2. Most Fumbles Recovered, Alex Hoff, 2 vs UMHB, Zach Grate, 2 vs UPS
3. Most Passes Attempted: Tom Knecht, 54 vs UMHB
3. Most Passing Yards per completion: Tom Knecht, 24.6 vs Pacific
3. Most TD Receptions: Johnny Carroll, 3 vs UPS & Eric Igbinoba, 3 vs Whitworth (playoff game) (tied with 16 others)
3. Most PATs: Michael Metter, 9 vs Pacific & Michel Metter, 9 vs UPS (tied with 5 others)
3. Most Extra Points Attempted by kicking: Michael Metter, 10 at L&C (tied with one other)
3. Most Punt Return yards: Kennedy Johnson, 111 at PLU
3. Highest avg gain per kick return: Spencer Payne, 48.3 vs UPS
4. Most Passing Yards: Tom Knecht, 492 vs UMHB
4. Most Total Offensive yards gained: Tom Knecht, 496 vs UMBH
4. Most All-purpose yards gained: Spencer Payne, 246 vs UPS
4. Highest average gain per punt return: Kennedy Johnson, 35.5 vs Pacific
4. Most Tackles For Loss: Alex Hoff, 4.5 vs L&C, Alex Hoff, 4.5 at GFU (tied with 3 others)
4. Most Field Goal Attempted: Michael Metter, 4 vs UPS (tied with 11 others)
5. Most Net yards Rushing:  Spencer Payne, 210 vs UPS (11 carries)
5. Most Extra Points Attempted by kicking: Michael Metter, 9 vs UPS & 9 vs Whitworth (reg season) (tied with 8 others)

Individual Season New Number 2 – 5 efforts

2 Passing completion percentage:  Tom Knecht, 66.7 (86 of 129)
2. All-purpose yards: Spencer Payne 1,831 yards
2. PAT kicks attempted: Michael Metter, 82
2. Field Goals Attempted: Michael Metter, 23
2. Fumble recoveries: Zach Grate, 4 (tied with 6 others)
2. Fumble returns: Zach Grate, 2 (tied with one other)
3. Field Goals Made : Michael Metter, 14
4. Passing efficiency: Sam Riddle, 167.8
4. Average yards per pass attempt: Tom Knecht, 9.6
4. Total Off per play: Tom Knecht, 8.17 per play
4. PAT kick percentage: Michael Metter, 97.6 percent
5. Passing efficiency: Tom Knecht, 167.0
5. Average yards per catch: Eric Igbinoba, 19.54
5. All-purpose yards per game: Spencer Payne, 140.8 per game
5. Total points scored: Michael Metter, 122 points
5. Average yards per punt return:  Kennedy Johnson, 15.17
5. QB sacks: Alex Hoff, 14.0

#10 Sam Riddle has a great chance to finish #1 in multiple career categories at the end of the 2016 season.
Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's 2015 Linfield Football Photos Here.

Career New Number 2 – 5 efforts

2. Average yards per rush: Spencer Payne, 6.23
2. Pass efficiency: Sam Riddle, 163.4
2. Total Offense per game:  Sam Riddle, 223.6
2. Total Offense per paly: Tom Knecht, 8.19
2. PATs made: Michael Metter, 150
2. Average yards per punt return: Kennedy Johnson, 14.21
2. Fumble return yards: Devin Illingsworth, 85
2 Fumble Returns: Zach Grate, 2 (tied with 2 others)
3. Passing TDs:  Sam Riddle, 65 (tied with 2 others)
3. Pass Completion percentage:  Sam Riddle, 60.5
3. Average yards per pass: Sam Riddle, 8.7
3. TDs responsible for: Sam Riddle, 83
3. PAT’s attempted: Michael Metter, 154
4. Total Offense per play: Sam Riddle, 7.38
4. Field Goals Made: Michael Metter, 27
4. Average Punt per attempt:  Kevin McClean, 37.89
4. Punt Return yards: Kennedy Johnson, 597
4. Kick Return for TD: Spencer Payne, 1 (tied with 6 others)
5. Passing yards per game: Sam Riddle, 195.0

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

16 Years of Northwest Conference Dominance

They keep coming and Linfield keeps sending 'em back.

On December 31st 2009, we review the first full decade of the realignment of the Northwest Conference (The NWC regrouped in 1996 as the Northwest Conference of Independent Colleges (NCIC) and then officially named back to the Northwest Conference in 1998). Each season we take a look at the numbers but one thing has remained the same, Linfield on top.
It’s still staggering how Linfield has absolutely dominated what is an very good conference on the division III level. There is nothing any other team in the NWC that can dispute what Linfield has continued to accomplish year after year.
154 victories since the 2000 season.  Whitworth actually just overtook PLU this past season in overall number of victories with 101 and 57 NWC wins but that's still nearly 30 less conference victories that the 'Cats during that time.  Along with that, only 6 NWC losses over a 16 year period? That's truly remarkable.

There are others stats that leap out at you in terms of where Linfield has made their mark.  24 playoff victories (next closest is PLU with 3), 13 NWC titles (nearest team is Whitworth with 3), 189 1st team conference honors (that’s more than the next two teams combined (Willamette/PLU = 162)), and has Linfield's won 89.9% of their home games (Whitworth is next at 67.5%).

Another area to look at is the All-American totals since 2000.  Linfield has 21 1st-Team All-Americans since 2000, the rest of the Northwest Conference has 6 combined.  Wow.

The data is staggering to me when you considered that the Northwest Conference is a darn good conference.  There's no secret why this has happened. It's been consistence that's the program reaches on a yearly basis on the back of hard work.  No shortcuts, no gimmicks.  Linfield will continue to be the team to beat year after year because of the commitment of this staff, players, administration, and support community that do things the right way....the Linfield way. 

Decade Records (2000-15) (I've now included Pacific’s data from the past 6 seasons into the mix.  Their percentages are big enough now to include and slot them accordingly.)
Overall Record (Winning Percentage)
Linfield.............154-24  (86.5%)
Whitworth.........101-56   (64.3%)
PLU.................92-58    (61.3%)
Willamette........90-67    (57.3%)
Pacific……….23-33   (41.7%)
UPS................42-103    (29%)
L&C................32-107     (23%)

NWC Record
Linfield............85-6     (93.4%)
Whitworth.........57-34   (62.6%)  
PLU.................56-35   (61.5%)
Willamette.......52-39  (57.1%)
Pacific……….16-22  (42.1%)
UPS..............19-72   (20.9%)
L&C...............13-73   (14.3%)

Home Record
Linfield............86-10   (89.9%)
Whitworth......54-26  (67.5%)
Willamette......50-32  (61%)
PLU................43-28  (60.5%)
Pacific……….11-15   (42.3%)
L&C................19-50  (27.5%)
UPS................22-52  (29.7%)

Road Record
Linfield..........68-15  (83%)
PLU...............49-25  (66.2%)
Whitworth.......50-30  (62.5%)
Willamette.....40-36  (52.6%)
Pacific………12-18 (28.1)
UPS..............20-51 (28.1%)
L&C...............13-57  (18.6%)

Playoff Record

NWC 1st Place Finishes
Linfield............13 (2-tie)
Whitworth.......3 (1-tie)
PLU..............1 (1-tie)
Pacific………1 (1-tie)

Conference Honors (2000-15)

Coach Of The Year

Offense Player of the Year
Lewis & Clark...1

Defensive Player of the Year
PLU............ 2

NWC 1st Team Players
Linfield.......189  (11.8 per year)
Willamette....89  (5.6 per year)
Whitworth....73 (4.6 per year)
PLU.............69 (4.3 per year)
Pacific…….13  (2.2 per year)
UPS.............22 (1.5 per year)
L&C..............15 (.09 per year) All-American Players
Pacific……..0 All-American 1st Team Players

Team Statistics (Averages) (2000-15)

(I excluded the 2005 stats from L&C since they only played 4 non-conference games and canceled their NWC games.  Their total numbers were divided against 14 season (rest of the teams total numbers are divided against the 14 previous seasons.  Also, I've now included Pacific's first 5 seasons (2010-14) into the avg totals.  Comparing 15 seasons worth of data against 5 may not be very fair but they had to join the party at some point.) We’ll add GFU once they have a larger sample size (at 3 seasons)

Points Per Game
Linfield..........40.0 PPG
Willamette...............30.1 PPG
PLU......29.4 PPG
Whitworth......29.2 PPG
Pacific...........26.9 PPG
UPS...............21.9 PPG
L&C...............20.5 PPG

Points Allowed Per Game
Linfield..........16.8 PPG
PLU...............22.9 PPG
Whitworth....23.1 PPG
Willamette....24.2 PPG
Pacific............33.0 PPG
UPS...............34.8 PPG
L&C..............41 PPG

Pass Offense Per Game
Linfield.........275.1 YPG
Pacific........... 254.1 YPG
Whitworth.....222.9 YPG
L&C..............219.5 YPG
UPS..............190.1 YPG
Willamette....152.9 YPG

Pass Defense Per Game
Linfield........186.9 YPG
PLU..............197.9 YPG
Whitworth.....206.6 YPG
Willamette....212.7 YPG
L&C..............221.6 YPG
UPS..............226.8 YPG
Pacific..........247.6 YPG

Rushing Offense Per Game
Willamette....238.3 YPG
Linfield.......167.6 YPG
Whitworth.............155.7 YPG
PLU.............149.6 YPG
UPS........144.8 YPG
L&C.............122.0 YPG
Pacific............106.3 YPG

Rushing Defense Per Game
Linfield........106.4 YPG
Willamette....137.8 YPG
PLU.............144.7 YPG
Whitworth....154.6 YPG
Pacific.........161.0 YPG
UPS.............182.9 YPG
L&C.............222.1 YPG

Total Offense Per Game
Linfield........442.7 YPG
Willamette...391.2 YPG
PLU............388.0 YPG
Whitworth..378.6 YPG
Pacific.............360.3 YPG 
L&C.........341.4 YPG
UPS.........335.0 YPG

Total Defense Per Game
Linfield........293.0 YPG
PLU.............340.4 YPG
Willamette....355.5 YPG 
Whitworth....356.7 YPG
Pacific.........403.7 YPG
UPS.............408.5 YPG
L&C.............442.7 YPG

Avg. Sacks Per Season

Avg. Turnover Margin Per Season
L&C..... -6.1

Monday, December 21, 2015

2015 Catdome Family Letter

Team. Excellence. Attitude. Class.
The letter below is from Linfield College Football Head Coach, Joseph Smith.  Hope everyone that's part of our Catdome family has a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Dear Catdome: Merry Christmas!

I want to publicly thank everyone that has helped make our program what it is. Without the many unseen contributions of time, resources, and support by so many former Cats and loyal supporters, our program would not be able to stand amongst the elite in the country with any hope of success.  On behalf of our staff and our entire program I want to thank all you for your support. Our players feel it, our coaches know it, and our program depends on it. That loyalty and love for our program is truly the hidden and unseen foundation Linfield Football is built on.   Thank you!

I am so very proud of our young men. Our goal every year is to use the entire season to become the best team we can be, so that at the end we give ourselves the opportunity to stand before the best in the country, and be measured. 

In the playoffs, we soundly beat a solid Whitworth team, and then faced and met on their terms what we felt was a physical and battle tested Cortland State from New York. Our game vs Mary Hardin Baylor will be one we remember at Linfield for many years. UHMB was a very talented team, and the character and resolve our team displayed that day made us proud.

We earned the right to travel to a very worthy opponent’s house and be measured. We did not measure up that day at St Thomas. I would give most anything for a chance to restart that game, but in real life there is no reset button.

Our team set its sights on winning a National Championship this year. We knew the odds.  We knew stating that goal openly and trying to visualize that goal happening, would set us up for possible heartbreak. Daring greatly, most often ends in failure.  It has to be that way. Greatness is a rare occurrence. We want the young men in our program to dare greatly now, as well as throughout the rest of their lives. They are not “cold timid souls that know neither victory nor defeat”. It has been said, “Not all men really live”.
Our guys do.

This team accomplished much this season. This was one of the most dominating regular seasons I have seen, averaging over 53 points per game and allowing less than 7. Our team seemed to thrive on challenge, as we played our best when we faced the best teams.  The 77-10 win vs Pacific really showed what this team was capable of when we were healthy, dialed in fully, and attacking in all three phases. Winning their 7th straight NWC title and 5 finishes in the Top 5 during that span is hard to do.  I was not sure what to make of our lack of motivation playing the weaker teams on our schedule, as we played our worst vs. the worst teams.   But now looking back and knowing this team’s “thrill of it” and rise up mentality, it makes more sense. Getting to finally compete in the playoffs, was reinvigorating for us all.  There is nothing quite like it.  The highs are so high, and appropriately the low is so very low.  

However, what we are most proud of is not what these young men have accomplished but rather the manner in which they have done it. Much is expected of these young men. They are fine students, they are leaders on campus, they give back to others, and they work their tails off trying to become a master of their trade.  They have all committed to Parker Moore ways in which they are bent on improving themselves and I believe they have honored his memory with how they are trying to live their lives. They will continue. This year they did in fact Play for Moore.

My mother gave me a quote that hangs above my desk.   I believe Margaret Thatcher perfectly described a Linfield Wildcat Football Player.

“The desire to win is born in most of us.
The will to win is a matter of training.
The manner of winning is a matter of honor.”

Play For Moore

Coach Smith

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Linfield’s 2015 season comes to a close at St. Thomas

It was a heck of ride fellas. Thank you.

As you know by now, your Linfield Wildcats 2015 season ended this past Saturday night at St. Thomas University as the Tommies offense pounded Linfield on the ground and whose defense would create short fields and turn back promising Linfield drives by creating 5 takeaways against the Linfield offense.  This 2015 Linfield Wildcat football has been SO good this season and dominated for a large majority of the year but the ‘Cats ran up against a team that Linfield just didn’t have an answer for. It sucks but all you can do is just tip your cap and congratulate St. Thomas in earning a solid victory over our Wildcats.  

It’s always hard to see a season end in the playoffs and especially when this program comes *this close* to reaching that National Championship game. We all know that 31 of the 32 teams that go into the playoffs is going to end the season with a loss and only one gets to hoist up the Bronze and Gold at the end of five weeks.  It’s the brutality of the playoffs and also the beauty of it as well.  Coach Smith said it best in Saturday’s postgame huddle when he told his players that it’s better to dream big and fall hard, than never to put it on the line at all.  He’s right.  That’s what this program is all about.  Dreaming big.  No matter how many times that National Championship trophy falls just outside this programs reach, the ‘Cats will dust themselves off, celebrate the accomplishments of a great year, but get right back to work to chasing that Natty.  It’s what I love about this football program.  Linfield football will never apologize about putting it right out front that this program is working year around in trying to reach that next National Championship.  That’s why you don’t see Linfield receiving conference title rings or even rings when the ‘Cats have been National Runner’s up in the past. Finishing second place in the nation isn’t the ultimate goal…finishing first is.  Some people my roll their eyes at that or think that’s short sighted but Linfield football doesn’t care what those people think.  What matters to Linfield football is developing their current players and finding young people that want to take part of this yearly quest, to find young men that want to be pushed and will accept the challenge to be better people, students, and football players.  That may mean having to give up some of their personal stats, touches, tackles, or even playing time for the betterment of the team.  You’ll have to give up aspects of your social time during the season and off-season in order to improve and help the team.  And you’ll have to be ready to be coached, accept personal responsibility, and be dependable on a daily basis. If there are young people still willing to take this path and journey, then Linfield has a place for them and will continue to put out teams that are more than just a collection of guys playing a game but will continue to create a family for these young men that will serve as a launching pad of success for the rest of their lives.

I LOVED this 2015 Linfield football team. They were a first class group of men and played with skill, tenacity, and with huge heart.  They are just the 7th Linfield team to reach the 12 win mark in a season.  The others are 1982, 1984, 1985, 1992, 2004, and 2009.  That alone is pretty darn awesome. In the 60 years of the streak, only six others reached 12 and now this group is the 7th.  Along the way, the ‘Cats captured the program’s 7th consecutive NWC title (a conference record), absolutely decimated the Northwest Conference,  swept the NWC top honors,  Alex Hoff and Sam Riddle were named West Region players of the year, won three home playoff games (including one that will go down as one of the greatest games in program history), and reached the NCAA semifinals for 3rd time in the past 7 years.  You start adding all of this up and what you have is this 2015 team put together one of the GREATEST seasons in program history.   They were a stinking great football team but I know these guys are hurting right now. That sting may never fully go away (I’m still a little bitter over my 1998 loss at PLU) but over time I hope the players will come to fully appreciate just how truly special this team was.  This wasn’t just a tight knit group of players but this was a group of brothers.  It’s cliché in sports to toss around the word family but with all these coaches and players have gone through over the past 13 months, that’s all I can think of when I think about how this team came and have stuck together since Parker’s death.  It’s been a remarkably resilient group, who has displayed all that’s right with this generation of young people. It’s funny, being almost 40 years old, I hear a lot about this current generation of young people and how the world is doomed because of Millennials are “this” or “that” but I when I spend my time at Linfield football around this group of 18-20 something year old men, all I can think of is that how our communities, country, and world’s future couldn’t be in better hands.

So I want to end this post by personally thanking each and every one of these players at Linfield for giving us another wonderful season of football.  For again, making me feel like a part of this brotherhood and for their efforts and sacrifices to continue to blaze a trail of not only winning but doing it the right way…the Linfield Way. It’s not an easy way to do and that’s why only a select few will take that challenge and make it their own. Thank you for giving your all and for raising that bar for the next generation of Wildcats. I can’t thank you enough.

‘Catdome Today.
‘Catdome Tomorrow.
‘Catdome Forever.

Friday, December 11, 2015

2015 National Semifinals Preview: Linfield (12-0) at St. Thomas (13-0)

Let's go.
4 Teams.
2 Games.
1 Dream.
1 Goal.

This is pretty darn awesome.  You’re Linfield Wildcats are one of four remaining teams in Division III battling it out for the right to play for the National Championship next week in Salem, Virgina. The ‘Cats are on the road this week as Linfield is traveling to St. Paul, MN to play the University of St. Thomas Tommies. In fact, I’m sitting in the lobby of a Courtyard Marriott near the MSP airport typing this while sipping on a really bad cup of hotel coffee.

First, let’s talk about why Linfield is on the road this week.  I’ve had a number of people on social media asking the question: “Hey, Linfield is ranked #2 in the country, why are they traveling to UST this weekend?” I’ll give you the down and dirty version on why the ‘Cats are on the road:  The poll has zero impact on the playoff seeding. It’s a media poll that puts out (I’m a voter) to gauge the strength of division III football and how pollsters think teams will fair once they reach the post season.  Usually, the poll is pretty darn accurate.

The playoff seeding is done by four regional groups of D3 coaches/reps and a national board. They have a set criteria they use to rank the top 10 in each region the last three weeks of the season. Once the final regional rankings are done (we don’t see those), they are sent to the National Committee and they use that information to build the brackets.

When the first regional rankings came out, UST was ranked 1st in the West Region with Linfield being ranked lower and it was that way over the 2nd poll and I’m assuming the final poll as well.  Even though Linfield wasn’t ranked 1st in the West Regional, the National Committee still rewarded Linfield with one of the four 1 seeds but UST was the higher ranked team per the playoff committee and so the ‘Cats are on the road for this one.

And that’s fine by me. In fact, I’m thrilled Linfield is on the road this weekend.  Maybe I’ll come to regret that statement but one of the major hurdles this program is still looking to get over is a playoff road win in the Midwest. Linfield has fallen to UWW in 2009, St. Thomas in 2010, and again Whitewater in 2013 and 2014.  All of those games where hotly contested but Linfield has come up short time and again in the central time zone.  Yeah, having an opportunity to host the Semifinals in McMinnville would be thrilling but the challenge and opportunity to finally bust through on the road in the midwest is too great to kick rocks about not being able to host this weekend.

Standing in Linfield’s way is a tremendous University of St. Thomas football team.  I mean, come on, there are only four teams left in the country.  All four teams that are left are really freaking good but St. Thomas has been exceptional in 2015.  The Tommies currently sit 13-0 and have done it by scoring 53.6 points per game and only allowing 9.3 points per game.  That’s Mount Union type domination and doing that in the Minnesota Interscholastic Athletic Conference makes it an even more impressive feat. The Tommies feature a bruising running game, a big play passing attack, and an aggressive lights out 3-4 defense that has punished teams from game one all the way though their quarterfinal contest.
The UST offensive line is massive.  This is the largest offensive front the ‘Cats will have faced this season as the Tommies front five average 6’ 4” tall and 306 lbs and toting the rock being the Tommies’ earth movers is Jordan Roberts, who many consider to be the best running back in Division III (1,701 rushing yards, 130.8 yards per game, 5.8 average and 29 rushing TDs).  Balancing out the rushing attack, the Tommies have a highly effective passing game with senior John Gould as the trigger man.  Gould has thrown for 2,796 yards this season, 25 TDs against only 10 picks. Gould is also threat to pull the ball down in the pocket and take off as he’s picked up 247 rushing yards (5.1 yards per rush) and has busted a 62 yard scramble this season as well.

To me, what makes this Tommies offense so dangerous is their tight end Charlie Dowdle. The UST tight end stands 6’4” and nearly 240 lbs and is a fast big play match-up issue for any defense in the country. Dowdle is leading UST in TD receptions (9), yards per catch (21.7), and yards per game (60.2). As big of threat Roberts is toting the rock, Dowdle is the guy that can break games open for UST with his is ability to stem up safeties and corners in man coverage and blow past them.  

On the other side of the ball, the UST defense has been so darn tough this year on the opposition offense.  The Tommies run a 3-4 base defense and have the ability bring pressure for a number of looks and situation. UST’s defense is only allowing 2.3 yards per rushing attempt on the season and teams have only rushed for 83.5 yards per game.  Thowing the football hasn’t exactly gone very well for teams against UST as well.  The Tommies defense has smothered passing games this year to the tune of 133.7 passing yards allowed a game and only 8 passing TD’s allowed.  What makes the UST pass defense so unique is the size and skill of their corners as Mozus Ikuenobe and Jordan Young stand 6’2” and 6’1” respectfully and have been locking up receivers all year long and allowing the Tommies to stack the box and hammer away at offenses.

Rounding out this dangerous UST team is their Special Teams.  Folks around division III feel that UST might have the best collection of special teams play in the country.  UST kicker Paul Graupner is 7 of 11 on the season and a long of 51 yards on the year.  The Tommies have been a great kick and coverage team though out the season and have returned a total of 5 punts and kicks back for TD as well.

Overall, this will be the best team that Linfield has face this year.  The Tommies may not be quite as fast or as athletic as Mary Hardin-Baylor but I can promise you that UST isn’t going to make the type of mistakes UMHB made (taunting, bad snaps, dumb targeting penalties, etc). This is a big and tough football team that is also schematically very good and disciplined.  Linfield is a clear underdog this game as the D3 pundits have all picked UST to move onto the Championship game and that’s understandable.  UST has rolled and Linfield is coming into this game having to survive UMHB and has some lingering health questions as well.  However, I love Linfield’s chances tomorrow.  Yeah, it’s going to be really darn hard but this Linfield team has the talent and heart to find a way to victory.

Get to Know A Wildcat

#5 Mitchell Kekel, Linebacker, Sophomore
Hometown: Beaverton, Or., High School: Westview High

Favorite place to eat in Mac: 1882

Favorite Movie: Southpaw

Favorite Music: Schoolboy Q

Favorite TV show:  The Walking Dead

Favorite Book: The Prince by Machiavelli

Class I Most Look Forward to: Genres of the Iraw War

iPhone or Android: iPhone

Personal Mantra: We don’t ask no questions, all we do is bang

Car or Truck: Jeep

What first inspired you to play football: Growing up going to Oregon State football games made me want to play college football

Favorite Coach Smith Saying: “You deserve nothing.”

Favorite part of playing at Linfield: Post Linfield aspirations: Being part of something bigger than football.

Post-Linfield aspirations: Law School

Wildcat11 Keys To Victory

60 minutes of Linfield Football: Team. Excellence. Attitude. Class.  Nothing more to say than that.

Slow down the UST rushing attack: The running game for UST is the tip of the spear. Linfield’s defense has to find a way to muck up the line of scrimmage and limit the strength of the Tommie run game.  I’m expecting Linfield to do a great job early in the game but the true test for the ‘Cats rushing defense will be in the 2nd half and if our defensive front can take the punishment of the Tommies big boys for four quarters.

Not be one dimensional on offense:  As fun as it was to watch the ‘Cats turn back the clock to 2004/05 last week against UMHB, I would feel so much better if this offense could find a way to move the ball on the ground respectfully against UST.  So much of the Linfield pass game is predicated off the run fake and if the Tommies don’t respect the rushing game our big play passing strikes will be hamstrung. Along with that, being able to find rushing lanes will help keep the UST pressure game in check and hopefully assist in keeping bodies off our Quarterbacks in the pocket.

Limit the UST big play: The Tommies have dudes that can break it open on offense. The Tommies have 7 receivers with long plays of over 50 yards or more and both running backs Jordan Roberts and Tucker Trettel have the ability to bust off huge runs. Linfield has to bottle up the big play and if UST is going to get their points, let’s make them earn them on sustained drives instead of giving up anything easy.

Receivers stepping up the challenge: Our Linfield receivers are playing against the best defensive backfield they’ve seen this year and this will be a critical match-up in the game.  There are going to be balls in the air that the Wildcats receivers are going to have to climb the ladder and make plays on the ball. I’m not expecting to see our receivers running around on UST wide open like last week so our guys are going to have to be willing to stick themselves in dangerous situations in order to makes plays.

Tackling: It sounds still to say “tackling” in a final four football game but Linfield’s defense need to have a money game in the tackling department.  The ‘Cats have to rally to the football and be great in open space one-on-one situations in order to limit the UST offensive production.  If Linfield can have a great tackling day, the ‘Cats will have a chance to win this football game.

Limit mistakes/take care of the football/awareness: Obviously,  Linfield cannot afford a bunch of unforced errors this weekend and taking care of the football is critical in playoff football.  You see it time and again in games where you have comparable teams that the one that can take care of the football is the one that will typically move on.  Along with that, UST has a well earned rep for taking advantage of teams that might be falling asleep at the wheel with fake special teams plays, gadget plays, etc, etc.  Good football awareness will go a long way in keeping that contained.

Special Teams coverage: I’m not asking the Wildcats special teams to break one open or block punts for field goals (I’ll take it) but what I would love to see from the ‘Cats special teams is outstanding coverage on Saturday.  Field position this game could be huge and there is no better way to create short fields but pinning teams deep with great special teams coverage.  UST is outstanding on special teams but Linfield isn’t too shabby as well.


‘Cats by 3. Linfield cannot afford to spot UST a big lead like the ‘Cats did last week.  Linfield is going to have to trade blows with UST early and often and see if the ‘Cats can keep the game close for four quarters and see if they can make some more late game magic to knock of the Tommies and punch their ticket to Salem. Go ‘Cats!