(Photo by Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos Here)
YEAHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!! Now that’s what I’m talking ‘bout! It was a great day to be a Wildcat as Linfield jumped all over the Kingsmen of California Lutheran to advance from the 1st round of the NCAA Division III playoffs. Man, it felt like old times in the ‘Catdome with a crowd that was into the game from the opening kickoff to the overwhelming energy that was radiating off the players as they came up with big play after big play. It was just a fun day to be a Linfield Wildcat. I couldn’t be happier for the players, staff, fans, parents, and everyone that helps support the ‘Cats. A very satisfying day of Linfield Wildcat football.
I don’t want to jump right into the next round match up with Mary Hardin-Baylor because there is plenty of time to do that, so let’s just take the remainder of the day as fans and finish soaking in this past Saturday. Yeah, the wind was brutal but once again the football gods blessed the Catdome with not a single drop of rain. It was pretty wild because just a few hours later I thought that we were going to need to build a raft with the amount of rain coming down. It reminded me so much of the 04/05 playoffs when the weather looked awful but by the time kickoff would roll around it was near perfect conditions for late November football. It just feels like everything involving Linfield football has their Mojo working…from the performance of the team, the contribution from the alumni and older fans, to the weather. Great things are going on in the ‘Catdome.
The Defense: It wasn’t too long ago when people were freaking out about the Wildcat defense when a defeated UPS squad came into the ‘Catdome and looked like the Oregon Ducks offense. I was getting heckling phone calls from my SJU “friend” and the Northwest Conference board was near implosion. However, everyone associated or that has been following the team knew this was a very good defense. The stats have been fooling some because of some late scores against the young backup defensive units and a single bad performance vs UPS.
So it was great to see this defense get to shine and really put on a great performance vs what has been an explosive Cal Lu offense. Linfield sacked, harassed, and hammered CLU's quarterback all game long and the Wildcat defensive backs put on a show with play making picks and blanket coverage. Their best performance of the year and I believe they are just beginning to peak.
Linfield Rushing Attack: Awesome. I haven’t seen a Linfield team run the ball this well since the great 2002 squad. Cal Lutheran has a good defensive backfield so Linfield really needed to get the run game going and they did that with a balance of bone jarring runs between the tackles mixed in with speed and execution on the edges. The Linfield offensive line AND wide receivers did a great job in the run game on Saturday and should get the offensive game ball.
Pass Rush: Eight Sacks on the day and it wasn’t just one guy carrying the load. The ‘Cats had 7 different players get a piece of a sack on Saturday and they did a great job of keeping Toilolo contained in the pocket while putting constant pressure on the CalLu QB. It was a Jailbreak!
Pick City: Along with the 8 sacks, Linfield also piled up 4 picks on the day. It was a perfect blend of sometimes the defensive front forcing a bad throw for the pick or sometimes it was the coverage of the DBs that were allowing the rush to get there. This young defensive backfield is growing up right in front of us and its fun to watch.
Maika Kunioka getting’ it done: Our Frosh place kicker was a perfect 5 for 5 in PAT’s and nailed a 38 yard field goal try. Getting those PAT’s converted and pinning up those field goal tries are huge aspects of playoff football and Maika passed his first playoff test with flying colors.
‘Cats Backs: I know these guys deflect attention away but quarterback Aaron Boehme, and RBs Aaron Williams and Simon Lamson need to get called out individually for their hardnosed effort on Saturday. Yes, it’s a team game but these guys played brilliantly on Saturday and should get their props. Well done fellas.
Bad 1st half Turnovers: These were bad turnovers where Linfield just put the ball on the ground without CalLu having to do much work and a bad overthrow that led to a big end of half score for CalLu. The turnovers (along with the kick return) gave CalLu everything they put up on the scoreboard on Saturday and it’s just a reminder that taking care of the ball is paramount in the playoffs.
Giving up big kick return: Linfield’s special teams had a good day at the office except for the one bad moment which led to a huge return for the Kingsmen. It was a momentum stopper and allowed CLU to hang around the contest. It only takes a handful of plays to change a game and you don’t want one of them to be giving up a big kick return.
Instead of again bashing the Linfield student body for another lackluster showing (they were again pathetic), I’m going to praise the alumni base for getting out to the game and getting loud for the Wildcats. I saw former players that now live in Seattle/Tacoma, Central Oregon, Southern Oregon, and just from all areas of the Pac NW at the game. They and the Linfield faithful were awesome on Saturday. They were loud and helped give the ‘Cats that little sharper edge that a home crowd should. I think all the players would want to thank you guys for coming out and getting behind this team. It’s filled with fun and hard working young men so it was great to see so many that have come before them out at the ‘Catdome giving all they could from behind the sidelines. Great work Catdome family!