Welcome to our Thanksgiving Day special edition playoff game preview. I’m typing this with a cup of hot coco (with mini marshmallows) sitting next to me while my wife and daughter are baking some cookies in the kitchen and the dogs asleep by my feet. Not a bad way to spend your Thanksgiving morning. Speaking of being thankful, we Wildcat fans have much to be thankful for this morning as the ‘Cats are once again playing football on Thanksgiving weekend and get to do it in the ‘Catdome. That’s a double win on so many levels. As we know, the ‘Cats moved on from the first round in a dominating 48-10 win over Whitworth in the opening round of the playoffs. With the win Linfield now host the champions of the Empire 8 conference the Cortland State Red Dragons out of Cortland, New York. The Red Dragons are an impressive football team as Cortland State is big upfront and have a number of play makers lead by the arm of their quarterback, Steven Ferreira.
The Empire 8 is a darn good football conference. D3football.com ranked the Empire 8 conference the 3rd best conference in division III this season (NWC is ranked 8th) and it was a battle royal to win their conference championship this season. That is one thing that Cortland State has as a true advantage coming into this game over Linfield and that’s being tested in tight games. The Red Dragons have won two overtime games and have won five games by 7 points of less this year against a list of quality opponents. Cortland State’s strength rests on the diversity of their offensive attack, physicality, and the ability to turnover teams while on defense while not giving the ball away.
The Red Dragons are coming into this weekend’s game with the 5th best turnover margin in the county at a +18 (Cortland with only 10 (3 picks/7 fumbles) turnovers while forcing 28 turnovers (12 picks/16 fumble recoveries)) and that’s a surefire way to be a dangerous football team. While the defense has been an impressive takeaway unit, the Cortland State quarterbacks Steven Ferreira has been an outstanding playmaker. Ferreira has completed 67.1% of his passes for 2,895 yards, 26 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions. That’s pretty stinking good. Typically when you see that high of passing percentage you might think, Cortland is just running a dink and dunk passing attack but that’s not the case as Ferreira is averaging 9.5 yards per attempt and 14.2 yards per completions (Sam Riddle averages 8.9 per attempt and 15.3 yards per completion) which tells you that Cortland will stretch the ball down the field and attack you with three receivers (Wagner, Mannix, and Smith) that have 40 or more catches each.
There are only 8 division III football games being played this weekend and that means 16 teams that are left playing are quality football teams. Make no doubt that Cortland State has all the tools to fly across the country and knock off the ‘Cats if Linfield doesn’t play a high quality brand of football. But this weekend is what I love about playoff football. You have two teams and programs that have never met, know little about each other, and are playing for their playoff lives. It’s exciting and why these players put so much into their off season training for moments like this weekend.
I’m fired up to see how the ‘Cats respond to a big challenge this weekend in the ‘Catdome
Get To Know A Wildcat
#13 Johnny Carroll, Sophomore, Receiver
Hometown: Bend, Or., High School: Mt. View High
Favorite place to eat in Mac: The Grain Station
Favorite Movie: Nacho Libre or Dumb and Dumber
Favorite Music: Hip Hop and Rap, or anything with Rihanna
Favorite TV show: The Office
Favorite Book: The Bible
Class I Most Look Forward to: Marketing with Michelle Nelson
iPhone or Android: iPhone
CPU Homepage: ESPN
Personal Mantra: Hakuna Matata
Social Media of choice: Insta
Car or Truck: Truck
Xbox, PS3, or Wii: Xbox
What first inspired you to play football: My family, they always encouraged me to try play as many sports as possible and find out which one(s) I really love. I still can't even choose...
Favorite Coach Smith Saying: "Someone’s got to go to jail"
Favorite part of playing at Linfield: The bonds I have made with people that I know will last long past my playing days.
Post Linfield aspirations: Find a job that i know will have the power to impact people’s lives in a positive way day in and day out.
Wildcat11’s Keys to Victory
Be ready to go this distance: Linfield has to have a mindset of being ready for a four quarter game. The days of rolling everyone in their path have come to a close and now it’s time for big boy football. With only 16 teams left in the country, you know everyone has the ability to rise up and win. Linfield has dismantled team after teams this season but Cortland is unlike anyone the ‘Cats have played this season as the Red Dragons are battled tested and have the firepower to stand toe-to-toe with the ‘Cats. Linfield has to be ready for a full 60 minutes of football.
Run the Football: When the ‘Cats can run the football, the Linfield offense is hard stop. Cortland runs a 3-4 defense with some big bodies upfront and the ‘Cats have to find a way to be effective against a defense that’s only allowing 3.4 yards per rush. We’ve seen it time and again that if the ‘Cats can run the ball the rest of the offense will open up.
Limit the Red Dragon Big Play: The Linfield secondary and linebackers have a big challenge in containing the Cortland State passing attack. The Red Dragons have hit 62 passing plays of 20 yards or longer with 15 of those being touchdown connections. Cortland State will throw a number of short passes and receiver and running back screens but they’ll take a number of shots down the field to a very good trio of receivers. It will be the secondary’s biggest test to date.
Pressure: While the Red Dragons have hit a bunch of big playas on the year, they will also take their lumps in giving up sacks. Cortland State has allowed 42 sacks on the season and Linfield has to be able to add to that number to help disrupt the timing of the passing game and hopefully force mistakes from a quarterback that doesn’t make many.
Decision Making/Take Care of the Ball: Linfield was brilliant last weekend in only being penalized twice for 10 yards and not making any huge mistakes with the ball. As established above, Cortland State has been a tremendous takeaway team this season so it’s imperative that Linfield keeps the football protected and make good decisions with it.
Special Teams: Linfield is facing a special teams unit with some weapons. Kickoff return man Dylan Peebles was a 1st team All-American in 2014 and is currently returning kickoffs for 26.4 yards per kick return and has housed a 97-yarder earlier this season. Pinning Cortland and having the ability to flip the field with punt and kickoff returns could have a critical impact on the outcome of this Saturday’s game.
‘Cats by 10. I’m expecting a competitive football game in the ‘Catdome this weekend. From the little I’ve seen from Cortland State, they’re a big and well coached team with guys that can break it open for the big play. With that said, I truly believe if the ‘Cats bring an “A” effort to the ‘Cats, Linfield is going to find success and break open a tight game for the 2nd round victory. Go ‘Cats!!!