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Another thing I want to touch on was the fact that last Saturday was Senior day and for Linfield there are 23 Wildcat Seniors that played in what could be their final game the 'Catdome (playoff pending) but those Seniors and their families should be saluted for helping the 'Cats go 19-2 over the past two seasons, win back-to-back NWC titles, advance to the NCAA Final Four, and have an opportunity to try to be the last team standing this season. This is an outstanding group of young men for not only their commitment to their education but for doing things the right way as Linfield Wildcats. I was talking to Mrs. 11 the other day about this group of Wildcats and I said that if I was a player today there is no doubt that these 'Cats are the type of guys I would hang out with and no doubt become life long friends with. They are salt of the earth/Linfield Football guys that this program produces every year.
OK...enough of my fawning lets get to the meat and potatoes of this post...The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Awesome 2nd Half of Football: As Coach Smith said in his post game wrap with the team "Now that was a great 2nd half of football. As far as the 1st half.......now that was a great 2nd half of football." Linfield outscored the Rats 28-0 in the 2nd half, the offense scored in all 3 possessions in the 3rd quarter (drives of 65, 76, and 68), and the 'Cats defense dropped that hammer as Linfield out gained the Rats by a margin of 267 yards for Linfield to under 70 for Whitworth in the second half.
Rush Defense: 76 total rushing yards on the day at only a 2.5 yards an attempt is a great day in the office as once again the 'Cats held Adam Anderson to a very un-Adam Anderson type day at only 44 rush yards on only 12 attempts.
Red Zone Offense in the black: The 'Cats Red Zone offense was superior on 5 touchdowns in 5 Red Zone trips on the day. The 'Cats did it in a various of manners with a fade TD, slant route pass, and various rushing TDs. Just great balance in the Red Zone.
Guys stepping in and stepping up: Linfield was a banged up team (as is many teams at this point of the season) and again there were a number of Wildcats that received the opportunity to step into bigger roles on Saturday with 'Cats out with injuries coming into the game or during the game. Seeing guys like Eric Koczian step in for Ryan Henderson and play his backside off is an awesome thing to witness and was just one of many examples of guys trying to make the most of their opportunities.
DB ordering up a 2nd half shutdown sandwich: While the total passing stats may not be something the 'Cats DBs want to frame up most of the damage was done in the 1st half by the Rats passing attack. After the 'Cats had a little time to talk it out the Linfield Defensive Backfield was cash money in that 2nd half of play. Seriously, they don't get much of the press but you'll be hard press to find a better collection of defensive backs in Division III and when they are feeling it you can forget thrown the ball with any sort of consistency.
2nd half line play: The game really changed when the Wildcats defense and offense lines started to get loose and started to win their individual battles up front. The O-Line was great all game in pass protection but started to roll in the run department in the 2nd half. The 'Cats defense line slowly started imposing their will up front as the game progressed. D-Linemen like Nishizaki, Steel, Sparky, and Ray may not fill up the stat sheet (Sparky is 2nd in the NWC is sacks) but they have been dominate up front all year long.
Boehme and Hedin: I don't like to single out individual guys too much in the game wraps because it's a team sport but I do need to tip my cap to these two Wildcats. Aaron Boehme answered the bell big time in that 2nd half and did it all for Linfield. He punched in three rushing TDs, passed for two more, and just was the difference maker that we've been spoiled by over the past two seasons. Hedin really gutted it out last week. Playing hurt and sore he still came up with huge plays for the 'Cats defense line and if 100% he would have clipped the program's all-time single season sack record (held by WC11 *wink*). He'll get that in the next couple of games easily and by force. It would be a crime if these two are not your NWC offensive and defensive players of the year.
The total lack of student support: I knew I was way too quick to heap praise on the Linfield student body after the first two games when the 'Cat Students came out in mass to back the 'Cats vs Willamette and for homecoming vs Pacific. These past two weeks the student body support has just stunk. During the 3rd quarter I chatted up former players that have long graduated that where standing right in the middle of where the current students should have been packed and going all out.
I just don't get it...when the students come they are great but I can't put my finger on why they are so hit and miss. We have one of the VERY best small college programs in the country and a great venue. Is it the threat of bad weather? Do they think the games won't be competitive? What is the reason behind this lack of support? I'm not going to put the full force of blame on the students as the Linfield administration needs to be pro-active in how to jump start this student body. If anything it seems that the college has become more and more restrictive on the student section and has caused it to be more sterile.
For YEARS the program and college boasted about the fact that the player's fellow friends and fraternity brothers would haul couches in the south end zone and create their own "luxury boxes". The couches are now not allowed in the stadium (at least that's what I've been told). The gates have been pushed further back from the field and the college has banned backpacks from the venue for fear of students and fan bring in booze into the 'Catdome. This probably isn't just a case of the College administration coming down on the students without cause. I'm sure it's a case of a few bad apples spoiling the fun for the rest but there has to be someway the students can step up their game without violating the college's expectations of behavior while at the same time the college rolls back some of their stance on the couches, where the gates are, etc.
These players deserve to have their peers there in full force. It just adds some much more extra energy that helps create that "home field, Catdome advantage". Besides, if the students are not interested in coming to games now what makes you think they will want to come back after they are graduates and continue to support the program and Linfield? The core of the Linfield fan base is loyal to the core and the bone but it's not getting any younger. The college needs to be aware that the students of today will be that support system of tomorrow......Just some food for thought.
The 1st Half. I kind of fizzed out after my rant above but the fans, players, and staff knew that was a stinker of a half. Flat, stupid special teams penalties that gave the Rats prime field position, not sustaining blocks, not tackling well, not winning the individual battles, not making plays for the ball and on the ball, etc, etc. Coach Smith said it best after the game. "When we play like that (in the first half) we're pretty average but when we play like we did in the 2nd half, we're going to be pretty tough to beat" Couldn't have said it better myself.