Monday, December 3, 2012
‘Cats season slips away in tough 31-24 loss to UW-Oshkosh.
Man, that was a hard one to experience. The margin between winning these playoff games against top flight competition is razor thin. Last week, I wrote in the North Central game wrap up: “If you want to be truly elite you have to find ways to minimize your weaknesses during the playoffs. Linfield did that this past Saturday and North Central didn’t.” This was in regards to North Central having a pattern all season long of putting the ball on the turf and it was partially their undoing against the ‘Cats in the second round. This past weekend it was Linfield that was unable to minimize their reoccurring issues, that at times, bogged down this great Wildcat team. Drive killing/extending penalties, losing the turnover battle, and PAT/Field Goal blocking. There were other factors that also played into that 2nd half comeback for Oshkosh such as some poor tackling on 3rd down and near the goal line, and the game turning goal line sequence where the ‘Cats couldn’t convert that 1st and goal into a TD (it never should have came to that (blown TD call) but that’s beside the point). What digs at me the most is the ‘Cats had multiple chances to fend off Oshkosh, and minor breakdowns, along with Oshkosh making the plays they needed, brought the game back to even and into what would turn out to be a brief and sudden overtime loss.
The reason this stings the most is because this is a TREMENDOUS group of young people that played their hearts out all season long. I hate it that their journey and this experience of a season ended and in that fashion. UW-Oshkosh is a fine football team that earned that victory on Saturday but Linfield wasn’t an inferior opponent. Maybe that’s what hurts the worst is that the 2012 ‘Cats had the talent and ability to get to the Division III mountain top and we came up short. Part of that is the reality of the playoffs. 32 teams enter the arena and only one gets to feel great when the dust settles five weeks later. Getting your heart broken sucks. It does every time this program has lost in the playoffs (16-8 overall NCAA playoff record for the ‘Cats) but Linfield keeps getting on their feet and putting it all on the line again. Why? Because the chase and pursuit of a championship is so worth it. The Wildcats keep getting back on their feet because the friendships and deep bonds these players forge will last a lifetime. The insane hours of workouts, films, route running, reads, agility work is where these players learn if the sacrifice and putting aside personal gain/glory is truly worth the chase of this program’s ultimate goal. Having that end short of what you wanted to be the finish line is hard but the hurt is not 100% about taking on the next opponent. Much of that hurt is because these players will not get the chance to come to practice today and rag on each other about what music should be booming in the locker room or tease their buddy for something they did over the weekend. They won’t get the chance today to talk a little smack about a catch they made during one-on-one or full line pass rush drill. It hurts the worst not because they don’t get to suit up next Saturday, but rather, it hurts the worst because they don’t get the chance to be on the football field today.
I want to salute this team for an incredible year of football. In the 97 years of Linfield college football (I think that’s the right number) this football program has only had eight teams reach the 11 win or greater mark. The list goes 1982 (12-0), 1984 (12-0), 1986 (12-0), 1992 (12-1), 2003 (11-1), 2004 (13-0), 2009 (12-1), and 2012 (11-1). Remarkable. I’ll probably get into a more in-depth season review a few weeks from now but what this team did was tremendous.
The 2012 Linfield Wildcats overcame the loss of the two players (Steele and Hill) that were not only the two best players in the conference coming into 2012 but would have been two of the very best in the nation at their respective positions. Losing Steele and Hill after the CLU game I wasn’t sure where this team would go and how they would fill the loss of their impact. What we found out is this team has remarkable depth up and down the roster and others emerged to take control of this team and lead the ‘Cats to one of the finer years in program history. It was a great season to witness the ‘Cats dealing with great adversity, adapting, and making a deep run in the NCAA’s. Thank you so much for your work and passion for Linfield football. This team was a complete joy to be around and the memories this team made will not be forgotten. Go ‘Cats!