Linfield ate 'em up early and often
(Photo courtesy from Linda MacClanathan)
As dominate as the ‘Cats were defensively, the game was still even at half. The Bearcats defense did a commendable job in slowing down the Linfield rushing attack and subsequently limiting the effectiveness of the ‘Cats O in that first half. To top it off, Willamette set up their only scoring on the day on a blocked punt and forcing a fumble deep in Linfield territory. But whatever was ailing the ‘Cats in the 1st half was wiped away as offense made great use of prime field position and put up four 2nd half touchdowns.
The 5th Linfield touchdown of that half was the game-breaker, as Colin Forman, blocked a Bearcat punt and fell on the ball for a touchdown with 6 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. That block for TD broke the game wide open at 24-10. After that, the Bearcats threw a pick to safety Kyle Wright and the very next play Mickey Inns (who was tremendous) threw a 38-yard bomb to Charlie Poppen to put the dagger in the Bearcat’s heart. It was a wild sequence that displayed how quickly Linfield’s been exploiting teams in the 3rd quarter as the ‘Cats have been outpacing opponents to the tune of 108 points to 7 points over the course of this season during the 3rd frame.
The win is Linfield’s 4th consecutive over Willamette and 11th victory over the Bearcats since 2000 (11-2 vs Willamette over that span).
It was a tremendous win for Linfield as the ‘Cats moved to 7-0 on the season and 4-0 in Northwest Conference play with two games remaining. At this point, all the ‘Cats have to do is win one of the remaining two to clinch a piece of the NWC and auto bid (have the head-to-head over Willamette and PLU) but who are we kidding? Linfield isn’t playing to share anything with anybody in the conference this season. This team is looking to go 9-0 and establish a case to be rewarded a number one seed in the NCAA playoffs. Over the past weeks, Linfield has held onto the number one strength of schedule in Division III football but the ‘Cats will probably move out of the top spot with UPS and Pacific bringing that number down. However, I think Linfield has laid out a case (up to this point) that they’ve played the toughest schedule in Division III and have done nothing but win and continue to improve as a team. The ‘Cats are the real deal.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Getting it done: I’m starting to run out of praise for this group but I’m continually impressed by how this Linfield team responds to the challenges that get thrown at them. Willamette is a good team. They had physical players, speed, tons of experience but Linfield forced them on bended knee by the time it was all said and done. It’s impressive and I’m not taking this team and their effort for granted. This is special and I’m going to savor it.
Defensive shutdown: The ‘Cats took a team that came into the game putting up 42.3 points per game, 544 yards per game, 192 first downs (27 per), and a QB that puts up 367 yards passing per game, while completing 68.2% of his passes, and Linfield did them like that? Wow. Big shout-out to the defensive staff for putting together a GREAT game plan and to the players who made it happen on the field. Willamette ended the game with 5 first downs, 12 yards rushing, 96 yards passing (41.9% completion rate), and held the Bearcats to 4 of 19 on 3rd down. That would make the saltiest say; "Man, that was some salty defense."
2nd half offense: After struggling along in the 1st half, the ‘Cats offense came alive after halftime. I don’t know if Linfield even changed anything they were doing. The offense executed better and started to make plays. The Bearcats pass rush was voided out by the ‘Cats great pass blocking and gave plenty of time for the ‘Cats to attack that Bearcat zone. The offense looked so much better during that half of play.
Special Teams once again: Awesome once again. Yeah, Linfield gave up a block and missed a couple of field goals but the overwhelming positive impact this group had on the game was outstanding. Colin Forman put his stamp on the win with a huge kickoff return to swing the Linfield field position battle to start the 2nd half and then had the game breaking blocked punt for TD. Great effort. Also want to give a big hand to punter Josh Repp who had a masterful game punting the ball in terrible conditions. Also, another big hand to the coverage teams who continue to be a major force for this program.
The Pressure Game: 7 sacks? Damn. The Linfield front 7 brought the house and made Willamette’s Josh Dean look indecisive and unsure about himself with the overwhelming pressure the ‘Cats applied from snap one of the game. Willamette should have started to charge Linfield’s defense rent since the ‘Cats were essentially living in the Bearcat backfield. I loved the effort and execution from the ‘Cats defensive line and linebackers on Saturday.
Mickey Inns: The old saying about football is that quarterbacks get too much credit and too much blame for their team’s success or failings. That’s true, but I still feel compelled to point out that Mickey Inns played another tremendous game on Saturday. The guy was putting the ball on the money in some terrible conditions, showed tremendous pocket awareness, and put the ‘Cats offense in great position time-and-again with his checks at the line of scrimmage. To top it off, he’s tough as nails.
Making plays on the ball: After the PLU game, Coach Smith challenged both the Linfield defensive backs and receivers to start making more plays when the ball is in the air. His guys have responded as both the Linfield secondary and receivers where hyper-competitive for the football once it left the quarterback's hand. A lot of time it gets down to pure desire and the ‘Cats showed plenty of that on both sides of the ball.
Scout Team: I’m not around the team Monday – Friday so I don’t have the knowledge or my eyes on what goes on during practice but multiple players have talked to me and heap nothing but praise about the work the Linfield scout team has been putting in. As I former scout team member, I know how tough the role can feel at times but the impact you can have on Satuday’s cannot be measured. The performance on the field this season cannot happen without this unit of players getting it done during the week. Great work fellas and keep banging away.
Home Sweet ‘Catdome: The ‘Cats are currently riding a 22 game home winning streak as Linfield hasn’t lost a game at the ‘Catdome since 2008. Along with the home wins, Linfield also had put together 23 consecutive Northwest Conference victories and moved their regular season mark to 33-1 since the start of the 2009 season.
Charlie Poppen (#6) is sky-high after hauling in a 38 yard bomb.
(Photo courtesy from Linda MacClanathan)
Goal line sequence: Linfield’s first possession of the 2nd half saw the ‘Cats move the ball to the one yard line to set up a 1st and goal. Linfield immediately gets a false start to push it back 5 and then picks up a dead ball personal foul after 2nd down to push the ‘Cats back to a 3rd and Goal from the 17. With the game tied at 10-10, it was a brutal offensive sequence to start the half.
Rush Game: Linfield didn’t rush the ball as they had wanted to on Saturday. I have to tip my cap to Willamette’s rush defense as I think they did a nice job tackling at the point of attack for most of the game and consistently stayed in their gaps against the ‘Cats zone running attack. I’m sure the coaching staff and players will be taking a look to see where they can make the adjustments as this team moves forward.
The Weather: It rains a lot in the Pacific Northwest but it hasn’t been that soaking wet and windy on a game day at the ‘Catdome since the 2006 game vs Whitworth and that memory wasn’t a positive one. Still ticked about that game.
Initially, I wanted to get on the students for not sticking with it and gutting it out in those conditions as the end zone bleachers were barren as the game progressed but it was miserable out there. So instead of riding the fair-weather students, I’ll take this space to salute those that took on the conditions head-on and had the ‘Cats back on Saturday. Our fans are incredibly smart about Linfield football and I'm picking up the vibe from our fans that they're sensing something is happening with this team. They feel it too. Great work ‘Catdome and let’s keep it up!