(Photo by Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos Here)YEAHHHHH!!!!!! What a way to close out the 2009 home season by our Linfield Wildcats beating the University of Saint Thomas 31-20 in the West Region Finals (I don’t care what the NCAA calls it…that was the West Region Final) as the ‘Cats advance to the Semi-Finals of the Division III playoffs. Linfield is now 12-0 and in the incredible history of the Wildcat program only 5 other teams have reached that mark (1982, 1984, 1986, 1992, and 2004). You all know the 80’s teams won the NAIA titles by going 12-0, the 1992 team lost in the NAIA title game to finish 12-1, and the 2004 team would take it one step further by finishing the season 13-0 and winning Linfield’s first NCAA DIII Championship. Yeah, this 2009 team is in rare air but why stop now?
In regards to the Regional Final, UST was a fine football team and lived up to their billing as a big, physical team, with some great play makers. UST was able to create problems for the Wildcat offense that nobody has done all year long while their offense had moments where the Tommies were tough to stop. However, Linfield stuck to what they have been doing all throughout the season and the playoffs: the ‘Cats just keep making big plays on both sides of the ball, put up points with a more balanced offense, stretches of shutdown defense, and other aspects of the team rises and make major contributions. This season has been a complete team effort by Linfield. For the faithful: this year has been a wild ride for the Catdome family that has had the ‘Cats backs and never lost the faith over the past few seasons. This has been one to savor.
So the ‘Cats now advance to the DIII Semi-Finals for the 2nd time in program history and now have a chance to play for a birth in the National Title game. We all know who the opponent will be (The Warhawks of UW-Whitewater). DIII fans that have been around will talk about the 2005 Epic where Whitewater was able to knock off Linfield in what many people that attended the contest call the “greatest game” they have ever seen. However, there isn’t one player on the current 2009 rosters that was on either of those '05 teams. While it’s fun for the fans to talk about that 2005 epic, the game on Saturday is about 2009 for both Linfield and UWW. These young men are playing for Right Now and a chance to play for the 2009 championship.
Before we dive headlong into a week of previewing the UWW/Linfield game let’s reflect on the Good, The Bad, and The Ugly of last week’s 31-20 win over the Tommies of St. Thomas.
Takeaway kings: It doesn’t matter if it’s Apple, Berry, or Cherry, the ‘Cats continue to create turnovers that have been a key to this season’s success and this weekend was no different. The ‘Cats came away with 5 turnovers (3 picks, 2 fumble recoveries) that helped Linfield lock up the win. That brings the total up to 16 Linfield takeaways in 3 playoff games. Outstanding.
Special Teams was special: I’ve been hounding the special teams group all year long for various reasons and the main one was the ‘Cats Kickoff coverage but Linfield’s special teams unit came though incredible huge by locking up the Tommies great return game, a huge punt block, a good kick return game, and a big 41-yard field goal. It might have been the best the Special Teams have played all year.
Goal Line Offense: Linfield’s offense front was able to punch in the rock 3 times from short distance against a big and physical defense. Linfield runs the spread even on the goal line so you really have to tip your cap to the earth movers up front and the RB core for getting the push up front.
Bend but don’t break team: Linfield had their chances to really boat race UST but give the Tommies credit for fighting back and taking the momentum on a 29-yeard TD by Fritz Waldvogel to make it a 4 point game (24-20). At that moment, a lesser team might have had the wheels fall off and let UST take over the game but Linfield calmly answered with a great kick return that set up a 10 play, 52-yeard TD drive to put too much distance for UST to overcome. Great composure by the ‘Cats.
The ‘Catdome Fans: Once again, the attendance number was only 2,864 but the crowd seemed twice that size with the amount of noise and energy the ‘Catdome was pumping into the game. The Linfield Student body FINALLY showed up in the South Endzone and made a difference. Good work by them but the older fan base was the crew that got it done all playoffs. Great work “old” cats for showing how you get it done as a home crowd.
Battered Boehme: St Thomas blitzed out of all sorts of different looks yesterday and was able to sack Boehme 3 times yesterday and put a number of hammer jobs on him though out the game. Two of the sacks didn’t come from UST beating guys but seem more like protection breakdowns in communication. I’m sure the O-Line and Running Backs will get on the chalkboard and get that corrected this week.
More Drops: I was really on the fence if I was going to mark this down as a “bad” because a few of those drops would have had to been outstanding efforts in order to bring the ball down but I know this WR core expects to make those tough catches so I’ll hold them to that standard. Needless to say Linfield has to get those drop off the books headed into this Saturday.
UST’s 4.2 avg per rush attempt: The ‘Cats defense got it done when it mattered most but Linfield has a bigger rushing challenge this upcoming Saturday, so I had to point out UST’s rushing average. Linfield really has to tighten that up.
Nothing. A Linfield playoff win, a perfect day of December weather, a birth into the National Semi-Finals…what could be Ugly about that? I could point out some of the Linfield player and coach playoff mustaches but I’m going to leave that alone. That would be like mocking Sampson and his hair. Don’t mess with the power of the playoff ‘Stach!