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Wildcat11 was lurking around the locker room/team during the hours leading up to the game and I wasn't worried but the team had a very serious tone and there were many serious faces during the pregame. Some of the typical jokers were cutting it up but for the most part it was all business. I wasn't concerned that they were too tight because it wasn't a "nervous" quiet but I hadn't seen the team in that type of per-game mood since Willamette.
About the game itself, it was a tight first half as the 'Cats offense was "this close" to finding a good rhythm but was just missing some big gains/sustainted drives by inches and the defense was bottling up CLU pretty well but the Kingsmen were able to strike with 1:36 left in the half to move the score to 14-12 'Cats. However, 1:36 was too much time for the CLU to leave on the clock and that's when the game turned. The 'Cats were able to put together a 60 yard drive in :56 seconds to take a 21-12 lead into halftime and it was all 'Cats from that point on. That drive was just a back breaker to CLU's spirit and momentum and just showed how good Linfield's offense can be when they are humming.
With the win the 'Cats will head out to the Twin Cities to play the West Region #1 seed St. Thomas in a West Region Final rematch from last year. UST is dang good and they returned about 90% of their starters from last year that have to be licking their chops at getting another crack at Linfield on their home turf. However, I'm loving what this Linfield team is doing. A great balanced offense with a tough as nails defense and outstanding coverage special teams. Linfield has the formula and team that can go on the road and win in a very cold and hostile environment.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Not getting hung up on "revenge": Yeah, "revenge" was part of the motivation and it had to be a factor in the minds of the Wildcat players (It would have been with me as a player). If anything it was a matter of guys not feeling they played their best more than getting back at CLU. However, Coach Smith didn't even mention the word in his pre-game talks and the players mentioned it only in small doses in the hours leading up to the game. I thought it spoke to the maturity of this team. They were focused on what they were doing instead of "getting back" which can lead to sloppy play in the name of "revenge". After the fact, there were a lot of extra wide smiles for correcting that early season loss but the players saved that emotion until they took care of business on the field.
Offense Line was flat fantastic: Big standing ovation to the the Wildcat earth movers. 200 rushing yards (4.9 a carry) and not a single sack on the day. And about those zero sacks; it wasn't like Boehme was chucking and ducking either as he could have made a few turkey sandwiches on multiple occasions. What a turn around from the first game of the season where CLU really created a lot of issue for the 'Cats offensive line. I just can't say enough about how well they were prepared and that they just flat performed. Great job big dudes.
LBs had a day: Coach Smith called these guys out after the game for answering the bell on Saturday. Sam Higgins, Bubba Kukahiko, and Alex Cederberg were tackling machines and performed beautifully. Those guys had a game to forget down in LA back in September but have improved each game during the season and have become a very fine line backing crew for the 'Cats. These guys balled out of their backside yesterday.
Defensive Line stuffed CLU like a Thanksgiving Turkey: Linfield D-Line was the hammer all game long. CLU could only muster up 73 net rushing yards and 30 of those was on one play where a "certain" DT tried to push over a CLU back built like a bowling ball instead of wrapping him up (but we'll forgive him!). The 'Cats defensive line was incredible all game long and just took away any sort of rushing attack from the Kingsman. As a former defensive lineman it warms WC11's heart when you watch our D-Line kick the other guy's rear parts for a full 60 minutes.
485 yards of offense: 197 rushing and 288 of passing with 40 rush play and 35 passing attempts. Just awesome and Linfield fans have to be thrilled with this balance and production. It wasn't too long ago when Linfield was a "passing team" with no run game. Yeah, those passing teams were freaking incredible during the 04-05 run but when that 05 senior class left it became an issue. Coach Smith and his offensive coaching staff (Coach Nagel and Coach Hire) have worked so hard over the past few years in changing the make up of the offense and yesterday was just a watershed mark of just how far the program has come in being an aggressive yet balanced offense. Kudos to the players and staff
Special teams coverage: 40, 20, 22, 20, 18, 30, 29. Those numbers are where CLU started their drives after Linfield kicked off. You just can't ask for better starting field possession than that as a defense (sans the opening kickoff that went out of bounds). I can't begin to tell you what a weapon our coverage teams have become. They will be tested by one of the best in DIII next Saturday but this group was huge yesterday. Great job young bucks!
Eric Hedin and Simon Lamson: As I've mentioned before I'm not big on calling guys out in the game wraps but I need to make another exception here (hope you can understand). Eric Hedin had another monster game (6 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, and just created issues for CLU). With those 3 sacks, Eric is now the program's single season sack record holder with 21. He came into the game tied with old WC11 at 18 but Mr. Hedin put his stamp in the record book with a emphatic butt kicking on the CLU offensive line. The guy is just a beast and he continues to play at just a high level (*cough* better be a 1st team all-american *cough*). Also, have to mention the effort Simon Lamson had yesterday. Probably Simon's best day as a Wildcat with his 4 TD's and 99 rushing yards. Yeah, he's had game with more yards but none of those games matched Simon's effort and the desire he displayed yesterday running the ball. Just a tough and gritty effort. (BTW...Aaron Boehme was also the man but AB is always the man as I could mention him every week. I think we're spoiled by his play at this point.)
Wildcat WR crew: I'm starting to run out of html but 9 different Wildcats caught a pass yesterday and just were way too much for CLU to handle. Linfield's WRs just offer up too many options and choices for defenses to cover them all. We lost a couple of great WR's in 2009 (Patterson and Gunner) but this 2010 group has created their own identity and have emerged as a force to be dealt with.
Linfield DBs put on an island but get it done: OK...I know that I've mentioned every position group at this point and you may give me a hard time here because CLU did pass for 320 yards, however, the passing stats don't tell the whole story. Eric Rogers did get loose but the Wildcat secondary had to patch work again when we lost corner Tyler Skore for the game early. Compounding the fact is that Linfield was 100% committed to the rush and we put a ton of pressure on our secondary to make due with minimal help. Yeah, CLU got some things in the air but at the end of the day our secondary made the plays we needed to salt the game away.
Eric Rogers getting loose. Call me a hypocrite but I think the players and coaches would agree this would be a "bad". No defensive guy likes seeing a WR getting 100 yards on the day let alone 200 yards. Rogers is a hell of a DIII WR and made some great plays but I know this had to leave a bit of a sour taste in our secondary's mouth.
Some dumb penalties: The 'Cats were penalized 8 times for 58 yards but the issue was 3 of those were on 4th down plays where Linfield turned CLU away but the drives were extended because of a penalty. Of those 3 drive extending flags, CLU converted two of them for touchdown. Not good at all.
Nada: Nothing ugly about winning your first round game in big fashion over a team that beat you in the season opener.
From the coaching staff: Linfield obtained a full compliment of cold/wet weather capes a few years ago that are very nice. However over the years these capes have thinned out due to guys taking them home or when they graduate, etc. The team REALLY needs those capes back this week for the UST game. It's going to be dang cold so we need to make sure we have the proper gear. It's a "no foul, no harm" policy if you're a former 'Cat and may have one of those in your closet. The team just needs those back ASAP. Please contact Coach Hire or mail, drop off, give to your buddy that's on the team, etc. We need to try to round these up ASAP. Do your job to help the 'Cats!