Yes! After two weaker opponents the 'Cats received the challenge they were expecting from in the form of the senior laden 'Lutes. For almost 3 quarters it was punch/counter-punch as Linfield and PLU kept responding to big moments to keep the game in reach until the early 4th quarter when Linfield was able to ice the game away when our Wildcats were able to push the lead to 15 on a great Simon Lamson 28 yard TD run. Both teams came to play and the effort was there by both squads. Kudos to both squads.
For the 'Cats it allows Linfield to keep control of their own destiny and gives Linfield the inside track towards back-to-back NWC titles and the all important automatic playoff bid. Just a huge victory in that regards. A loss on Saturday would have almost eliminated Linfield from Auto-Bid possibilities and Linfield probably would not have a strong enough case for a Pool C bid that is cluttered by a number of one-loss/two-loss teams. The win was just....well...large for this Wildcat team. A tremendous job in winning vs a team that has been lights out on their home turf up to this point of the season.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Digging Deep: It wasn't the prettiest victory ever but it was a gritty effort by all three phases that made huge plays to get the job done. Linfield faced adversity and when it seemed the host had the momentum on their side another aspect of the Wildcat squad stepped up to swing the balance of the game back into Linfield's favor. It's a win like Saturday's that could help build character that our 'Cats might need further down the road.
'Cats Running Game: Linfield rushed for 177 yards at 5.1 yards a clip. It was a grinding effort by the 'Cats offensive line, wide receiver corp (working hard down field), and our running backs. Taylor Avritt picked up a hard nosed 43 yards (4.3 a pop) and Simon Lamson had a career day at 124 yards on 18 carries (6.9 yards a rush).
Stiffening Defense: PLU quarterback Jordan Rasmussen came into the game with a hot hand that led the 'Lutes to back-to-back TD drives late 1st quarter and early 2nd. It looked like the 'Lutes offense might have figured out the 'Cats rigid defense but after that 2nd TD score the 'Cats only gave up 155 yards on PLU's final 10 possessions (PLU picked up 187 yards on their first 5) and one short porch TD on a 4th down conversion. Very proud of the our defense figuring it out as the game progressed.
Stepping In and Stepping Up: The News Tribune Article was quick to point out the the 'Lutes lost offensive players during the game including their star WR, Greg Ford, early in the 3rd but what the "TNT" didn't notice is that 2 out of the 'Cats 3 top corners were lost in the first half to injury (Bryce Comfort and Taylor Skore). Linfield inserted Wildcat Rover (safety) Christian Hanna into one of those corner position for over 2 quarters of play. Hanna along with starting corner Nate Dixon gave a gritty performance to help shore up a short handed secondary. It was a perfect example of stepping up when the team needs you.
Special Teams making Special Plays: The Linfield special team's were not perfect on Saturday but the 3rd aspect of the 'Cats game made 3 huge plays that made major contributions Linfield's victory. Linfield's kickoff team was able to break return man Josh Hill for a giant 69 yard return to PLU's 11 that set up Linfield's 3rd TD on the day, the defense blocked a PAT that gave Linfield a little more breathing room with an 8 point lead and the final was the punt team being on the spot to recovered a botched return that set up the TD Linfield used to ice the game.
Going Streaking: With the victory Linfield moves to 5-1 and clinches the 'Cats 55th consecutive winning seasons that extends the 'Cats own college football record (all levels record). So many years of players, coaches, supporters, and Linfield administration are connected by this streak and the 'Catdome should feel great the 'Cats are able to keep the streak rolling. It's hard to wrap your head around just how long 55 years of winning more games than losing really is. It's a brotherhood that runs deep.
Too many 3rd and Longs: The 'Cats offense was 5 for 12 on 3rd down conversions (not great) and 8 of those 3rd down attempts were from 10 yards or greater. You're just not giving yourself the best odds to convert when you have to overcome 10 yards, let along 20 or 28 yards, to covert a first down.
Penalties: Linfield had 11 penalties called that cost Linfield 100 yards of offense and hampered the 'Cats offense and at times cost the Defense as well. WC11 is not one to ever point a finger at the officiating but the crew working this game threw some rather inconsistent laundry on both our 'Cats and on PLU (had 8 penalties called against of 78 yards). All of the flags flying mucked up the game a little which was too bad with both sides laying it on the line.
However, I'm not going to let the officials from the PLU game let my 'Cats off the hook. Over the past three games Linfield has had a total of 27 penalties called against them and that is just WAY too much (PLU 11 for 100 yards, Pacific 9 for 67 yards, UPS 7 for 63 yards). The players have to get this cleaned up because this trend can and will hurt the 'Cats in a vital contest. Let's get this worked out.