Friday, August 31, 2012

2012 Around The 'Catdome: Week 1

This is where you need to be tomorrow.  'Catdome
Welcome back to our first roundup of the 2012 season.  If this is your 1st Friday on the ADvantage welcome to our link roundup.  This is the spot to get caught up with everything 'Catdome, the NWC, and Linfield future opponent's as WC11 has laid out every news article, report, video, blog that I can find with relation to the 'Catdome.  The first week has a lot to chew on so close the door to your office,  freshen up that cup of coffee, and dive in head first on what's happening around the 'Catdome.

Linfield Sports: Coach Smith talks 2012 fall camp (video player on right)

Newsregister: 'Cats Defensive Backfield will be front and center early in season

Newsregister: It's Game Week For the 'Cats

Newsregister: 'Cats are loaded and ready to go

Newsregister: End of 2011 still has bad taste how last season ended.

Newsregister: 'Cats ready to fire up 2012 Fall Camp

Statesman Journal: Linfield aiming high

NCAA.COM: Linfield Among Group Expected to Contend for NCAA Title Run

NCAA.COM: The 'Cats Tyler Steele is one of the Nation's Best Run Defenders Linfield vs Menlo Game Preview

WIldcatSpread40's YouTube Page: WS40's NWC game picks Former Willmette QB wins starting job for CLU Still not sure why O-Live gave top billing to a team that's going to finish in the bottom half of the NWC Willamette to start new era 

The Almanac: Oaks Senior QB is ready for 2012 and Speckman's offense Menlo opens up 2012 with Canadian Road Win Menlo Oaks WR: "We're going to be 10-0 this year"

ubcathletics YouTube Page: Menlo vs UBC Game Highlights Local Corvallis area HS grad looking to make impact for Bearcats

FullAccessSports YouTube Page: Interview with new Head Coach Glen Fowles

FullAccessSports Podcast: Weekly Bearcats Podcast says Bearcats have dumped fly for new offense Boxers open up season against Simon Fraser UPS is now recruiting nationally because they can't beat NWC schools local recruiting. Rats are feeling good about themselves in 2012 Whitworth offensive lineman looking to lead young rats o-line unit. The Rats are just have some fun being a bunch of dudes throwing eggs. Wheeeeee. New Coach, Old Staff leads Bearcats into 2012 (pdf)

pacificindex: Boxers feeling pressure to win Pacific gets steamrolled 51-14 in season opener vs Simon Fraser

Thursday, August 30, 2012

2012 NWC Pick 'em Contest: Week 1

'Catdome 24/7/365

Alright back in the saddle again!  If you're new to the blog every Thursday Wildcat11 shares with you his deep and profound thoughts on the upcoming weekend of games around the Northwest Conference and a few National Games.  Actually, the posting board community has a number of conference pick 'em contests each season where posting members compete for the title of that board's picking champion.  Winning a pick 'em contest is an honor that won't get you a cup of coffee at the local mini-mart but you do have bragging rights over a group of people with nicknames like "sflzman", "bluenote", "(509)Rat", "Wildcat11", etc, etc.

Not to brag but you're reading the thoughts of the 2010 NWC pick 'em contest champion.  That's right.  But what I don't want to tell you is that I followed up that defense with a pedestrian 76% correct picking ratio last season (55 out of 72) in 2011.    It was ugly.  So this is a big year for old Wildcat11.  Can I get back to the top or will once again my early season faith in the Rats cripple my chances?  Let's get to week 1!

Northwest Conference:

Simon Fraser over Pacific (at Pacific):  THURSDAY NIGHT LIGHTS!!!!  The Boxers finally have players on their roster that will be in their 3rd year in the program.  That’s a big deal and they have some nice players dotting their roster.  They host for the 2nd consecutive year Division II member, Simon Fraser (Burnaby, Canada).  SFU is in their 1st official year as an NCAA Division II member as last season was a transition year for the Clan who put up a 3-7 mark on the season.  Pacific actually led this game last season before SFU rallied late to take the 36-28.  I expect the Boxers to be game once again this year against the Clan but SFU should be the favorite.

Sewanee over Puget Sound (at Sewanee (Sewanne, Tn.)):  Last year Sewanee flew up from Tennessee and pulled out a 34-23 win.  UPS will be better at QB this game with their now Sophomore QB showing some signs of being a solid player and a majority of their starters returning from last season.  Sewanee was a .500 last season and are gunning for another even record this season.  If UPS can stop the rushing attack of Sewanee then this is a game the Loggers can have but I’ll take the Tigers to edge out UPS.

Whitworth over College of St. Scholastica (at St. Scholastica (Duluth, Minn.)):  Out of the Whitworth camp you keep hearing that they’re opening up the season against a 2011 playoff team.  That would be impressive if St. Scholastic and their auto-bid conference (UMAC) didn’t stink worse than the Riverbend landfill.  Yeah, St. Scholastica was 10-0 last season and for that prefect season they were rewarded the 8 seed out in the West and were slapped 48-2 by St. Thomas in the 1st round.  Just for reference, MIAC laughing stock Hamline lost to UST 49-0 last season.  The Rats should plaster this CSS team.

Hardin-Simmons over Willamette (at HSU (Abilene, Tx.)):  Abilene, Texas has not been kind to the Northwest Conference over the years.  Linfield, Whitworth, and Willamette are a combined 0-4 in the middle of West Texas.  Both Willamette and HSU are in transition.  Glen Fowles is in his first year at the helm of the Bearcats and are playing with the offense and defense schemes while HSU is year two into a new coaching regime.  HSU lost a number of seniors off of last season’s 6-4 squad but should have plenty of decent players to fill the gaps as expectations are the Cowboys are going to have a ASC contending season.  Willamette has talent and still a good roster but many have no idea where this team is going to go after a disappointing 4-6 2011 season.  I think this will be a competitive game but I’m giving HSU and Abilene the slight edge.

West Region Game of the Week:

Coe over Monmouth (at Coe):  Monmouth lost their all-everything quarterback last season and should have a considerable backslide.  Coe football’s twitter handle has ripped off our “Expect To Win” mantra (see the ETW hash tag) so as much as I’d like to see them get slapped I’m still expecting the Kohawks to win.

National Game of the Week that’s not played in the United States:

St. Norbert over John Carroll (Dublin, Ireland):  I don’t know what’s cooler?  Playing a football game in Ireland or playing a football game in Ireland, in a stadium with the name of “Donnybrook Stadium”.  That just sounds like a place American Football should be played at where fans get free pints of dark beer.  Should be a close one between two slightly above average D3 schools but I’ll take the Green Knights.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

2012 Game 1 Preview: Linfield (0-0) vs Menlo College (1-0)

Linfield and Menlo hook up for one last time .

The 2012 Linfield College Wildcat football season is officially upon us this Saturday at 12:30 pacific standard time. I’m always excited for Linfield football and my anticipation level is as strong as ever. Coming off a great 10-1 season the ‘Cats have a fine core of experienced returners in impact positions once again donning the Purple, Red, and White. There are questions that will need to be answered as the 2012 ‘Cats are nowhere near a finished product.

Those that have been following Linfield for anytime understand this 2012 season has sky high expectations.  Those expectations come along with being a Linfield football player but 2012 has the 'Catdome as eager as ever. Each season, the ‘Cats not only expect and work towards winning the auto-bid out of the NWC but are also gunning to get back to the Stagg Bowl. The road to Salem, Va. will not be easy. Linfield’s first three non-conference games are against programs that can beat Linfield if the ‘Cats don’t play to their expected level of execution.

Being around this team during fall camp you can sense that this team is on the verge of doing something great. There are some spots that Linfield needs to iron out and polish, but it has a long time since I can remember seeing a Linfield roster this deep with veteran and young talent.

Waiting for Linfield will be a worthy 1st game opponent in Menlo College as the Oaks make their way up to the ‘Catdome for what could be the last time ever. Coming along with the Oaks is long-time Willamette head coach Mark Speckman who assumed the head coaching duties at Menlo this past Spring.  Speckman is looking to infuse a talented Menlo roster with cohesion that has sometimes lacked in the Oaks previous seasons.

This will not be the Oaks of past years, where at times, Linfield bullied and battered the Oaks in the ‘Catdome. Menlo is returning a bulk of their defensive talent that bottled up the Wildcats most of the game last year down in Atherton. The Oaks offense should be much more potent under Speckman’s tutelage and Menlo is always a dangerous on special teams. Bottom line is that Linfield better understand that they are facing a challenger that knows this series is ending between the two programs after this Saturday. This is Menlo’s last chance to get in the win column against Linfield and that 0 for 13 mark has to be a big topic of conversation at Menlo this week. Beating Linfield would be a launching pad for a Oaks program looking to reboot and make a run at the NAIA playoffs.

Get To Know A Wildcat:
Big #78 will be a key member of the 'Cats offensive line
#78 Steven Schultz, Sophomore, Offensive Tackle

Favorite Place in Mac to Eat: Golden Valley Brewery

Favorite Movie: The Dark Knight

Favorite Music: Hip Hop or R&B

Favorite TV Show: I don't watch a lot of TV so its hard to say

Favorite Pro Football team: Seahawks

Class I Most Look Forward to: Any business classes

Mac or PC: PC

Cpu Homepage: Google

What do you use more, Smart Phone or CPU: CPU

Twitter or Facebook: Twitter!

Car or Truck: I drive an Acura TL when I'm home

Xbox, PS3, or WII: Xbox

Favorite Coach Hire Saying: HBR (Heart Break Ridge)

Which offensive line could close down Izzy’s buffet if given the chance: Wert. He can throw down

Do you have a hidden talent that folks would be surprised by: I used to be into architecture and have actually drawn up a set of plans including floor plans, elevations, and 3D rendering

Your Favorite Part About Playing at Linfield is: The atmosphere and how close you become with your teammates. Also, it is pretty special knowing that you are playing for something much greater than yourself.

Post Linfield aspirations: Becoming an accountant for one of the Big Four Accounting Firms.

Wildcat11’s Keys to Victory:

Execute and Adjust: Linfield is coming into this game blind. They have zero tape on this retooled Speckman led Menlo squad (The ‘Cats didn’t get Menlo’s video from their win over U of British Columbia last week.) The ‘Cats are going to have to play a generic brand of football to start the game on both offense and defense and see what Menlo does. The Oaks hold the tactical advantage as Speckman can draw on his years battling the ‘Cats and the fact Linfield hasn’t made any radical changes to their schemes. The ‘Cats have to withstand the early waves of the game and get on the grease boards and make the adjustments.

Balanced Offense: Last season the Menlo defense held Linfield down to a season low 98 yards of rushing offense at a 1.7 yard per rush attempt. That’s not good. Linfield needs to be much more effective running the football on Saturday in order to make Menlo respect the running attack. Linfield rushing the ball will only allow the passing game more time to develop routes if the Oaks aren’t pinning their ears back. If the ‘Cats are able to run the ball then expect a big day from the offense.

Make Menlo’s offense one-dimensional: First thing that most people think of when it comes to the Fly offense is rushing. It’s understandable as the Fly is a run based offense that tries to stretch you sideline-to-sideline and get defenders in position where they have to make tackles in space. If that first defender misses then it’s usually a big play offense. However, the fly has always been most lethal when that offense has an effective passing game (see Willamette 2008). Menlo has a fine receiver in Robert Adan and flanker Michael Alexander is capable of being that duel threat back Speckman always covets. Menlo knows the ‘Cats are going to be explosive and fast on the defense front so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Oaks tested an unproven Wildcat secondary early and often. If Linfield is able to limit the Menlo passing game it’s going to force them into the teeth of the ‘Cats defense.

Special Teams emerge and perform: Last season the ‘Cats Special Teams were off the charts good. Money. However a number of those key contributors from last season’s special teams are assuming a greater roll in the defensive and offensive units.  It’s time for a new crop of Wildcats to make an impact. For years Menlo has been the best returning unit the ‘Cats face on a yearly basis. I’m not sure what to expect out of the ‘Cats coverage and return units as of yet, but look for big moments of this game to materialize during special teams.

Take care of the football and create opportunities: Turnovers and creating turnovers have always been a big part of football but this statistic has become paramount when two quality teams line up. Linfield had a fantastic season in 2011 but one stat that was somewhat disappointing was the turnover margin ratio. Linfield was only a +7 on the season. In 2010, the ‘Cats were slightly better at +9.  2009 was off the charts with Linfield being +26.  If Linfield wins the turnover/takeaway battle then the ‘Cats usually win the game. Saturday is no different.

Keep Inns upright in the pocket: Linfield’s offensive line has a bit of a new look and a big challenge on Saturday. Menlo loves to be physical and plays with an aggressive style. The ‘Cats have a fleet of fine receivers and keeping bodies off of Inns will be a major storyline in this game. Give Mickey and the receivers time and they’re going to get it done.


‘Cats by 13. Menlo has a game under their belt and will be highly motivated on Saturday. You know they want this game badly. With that said, Linfield has a chance to be freaking good in 2012. I expect the early part of the game to have some feeling out by the Wildcat side of the ball.  As the game progresses, I’m fully expecting Linfield to control the game and slowly build a lead and secure the game and move the 'Cats to 1-0 on the early season.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Game 1: Linfield vs Menlo Game Day Guide

View 2012 Linfield Wildcats Football Guide in a larger map

It's game week which means you're going to be packing up your cars and headed to the 'Catdome this weekend to watch the season opener for the 2012 Linfield Wildcats.  Are you new to the 'Catdome and McMinnville and not sure where to grab the best cup of coffee in town or where to get some food after the game?  That's where we come in to lend you a hand on some recommendations around town.

Just click on the Wildcat Head with the number 1 and a bubble will pop up with a gaggle of information on the game (start time, links to game video, audio, previews, tailgate location) and also some recommendations on what to do in Mac and where some solid places to eat.  Now, the Wildcat11's are not wine drinkers and McMinnville has a booming wine industry.  So if you are looking for wine makers in the area then here is the link to the Yamhill Valley winemakers association.

If you want a bigger look at the map then either click on the link on the info bar on the right or just click here.

Come back tomorrow for our big game 1 preview.

Update: For those are going to be attending the Linfield vs California Lutheran game on the 15th, the Linfield Alumni association has set up a Pre-Game BBQ.  The BBQ is for all Linfield fans, family, and alumni who would like to attend.  Here is the link for more information and how to register.  

The Linfield Alumni association is also hosting a pre-game BBQ in the parking lot across the street from Sparks Stadium when Linfield travels up to Puyallup, Washington to play Pacific Lutheran on September 29th.  Again, here is that link where you can register.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Top Ten Plays Of The Past Ten Years: Plays 3, 2, and number 1

2009 Linfield vs University of Mary Hardin-Baylor: 4th down stop turns game on head and the flood gates open. 

 This might be the most “controversial” of my top ten selections. It’s not a game winning TD pass with seconds left or a heart stopping field goal. But this play was the moment that broke open the dam and started one of the most remarkable stretches of Linfield play that I’ve witnessed over the past 10 years. Sometimes, it can be hard to pin down the moment when a game shifted and other games you can drive a big flag into the ground and say “This is it!” This 4th down stop late in the 1st half against Mary Hardin-Baylor was one of the latter.

We’ve talked about the 2009 Linfield Wildcats already in this top ten. This team came into the season after another disappointing 6-3 season that saw the ‘Cats take a home loss in the teeth against Willamette but saw that 2008 program make some fundamental choices late in the season that have been paying dividends ever since. The 2009 Wildcats came into the season tighter and more united than in the previous three years and it was evident in their selfless style of play.

After starting the season 6-0, the ‘Cats took control of the NWC race in a 30-27 victory at Willamette to seize control of the NWC and auto-bid race. Linfield didn’t look back for the remaining 2 games as Linfield turned away Puget Sound and blasted PLU to wrap up Linfield’s 1st perfect regular season since 2005. Linfield finished the regular season ranked 5th and was rewarded with a #2 seed in the West Regions of the NCAA Playoffs. It didn’t take Linfield long to prove they deserved those honors as the ‘Cats pelted California Lutheran 38-17 in the first round of the NCAA’s.

On November 28th, the second round of the NCAA playoffs hit the ‘Catdome. Linfield and Mary Hardin-Baylor faced off in a 2004 NCAA National Championship game rematch. If you didn’t know (how can you not?) the ‘Cats won a tight 28-21 game and UMHB’s head coach Pete Fredenburg was eager to get another shot at the ‘Cats.

In the opening quarter of play I understood why Coach Fredenburg was feeling that way. UMHB rolled out an offensive line that looked like they could not only move hay bales around all day but also chase down receivers in the secondary. They were a fantastic group of athletes that made it look like The Crusaders was cutting through the ‘Cats defense like a hot knife through butter.

The Cru set up their 1st possession of the game at mid-field and four plays later UMHB hit pay dirt on a 24-yard blast right through the ‘Cats. Linfield did manage to answer by putting together a 58-yard drive where Mina Kunioka kicked a 22-yard field goal to get Linfield on the board. The Cru’s offense didn’t blink an eye.

UMHB once against bullied Linfield upfront for 8 consecutive running plays before a 15-yard pass set up a 5-yard plunge to extend their lead to 14-3. The ‘Catdome crowd was unsettled and eerily quiet after that second touchdown. They were thinking the same thing I was at that time, “Oh crap, can we stop these guys upfront?”

Linfield started talking it out on the board and made some slight adjustments in trying to slow down the Cru offense and managed to pick up a fumble recovery and turned the Crusaders away once more as the ‘Cats kicked another field goal to make the count 14-6 late in the 1st half. Linfield was forced to punt deep in their own territory and after a short return The Crusaders started their last significant drive of the quarter on Linfield’s 43 with 5:09 left in the game.

UMHB picked up 6 yards on the 1st play of the drive. Then another 3 yards on 2nd down to make it a manageable 3rd and 1. Another run, but this time the ‘Cats Scotty Ray and Steven Dark shut it down for no gain. Then it was decision time for Coach Fredenburg. The Cru were in complete control of the game in limiting an explosive Linfield offense and finding gaps in the ‘Cats rush defense. He could have pinned Linfield deep and probably walked into the locker room with a 14-6 lead. However, Coach Fredenburg must have smelled blood and decided that being on the ‘Cats 34 yard line would be too much real estate for the Wildcat offense to cover if they failed on 4th down. He decided to roll the dice.

The Cru QB, Steve Noack, lined up under center with an I-Back strong right formation, An extra tight end checked into the game and was lined up off the ball right next to the down tight end to make the formation heavy to the right side. Noack must have stepped away from center at least three times to check with his sideline to make sure the play was still good. It seemed like forever with him stepping back and looking. The suspense kept building each time he stepped back from center. JUST SNAP THE BALL AND LET’S GET IT ON!

With the play clock getting down to three he snapped the ball. The Crusaders elected to run a fullback lead counter to that side they loaded up. It’s a play that needs just an extra beat to develop and that one extra beat is all Linfield needed to blow it up. Linfield senior defensive end Ian Estrada was in a three-point stance between the right tackle and was shaded over the tight end. On the snap of the ball, UMHB’s tight end and tackle crashed down hard to DT Paul Nishizaki and a linebacker. The extra tight end picked up Linfield’s Steven Dark. Ian Estrada was left unblocked. The reason Ian was left unblocked is because the Crusader fullback’s was to kick Ian out and create a track for the offside guard and running back to follow for the 1st down. In design it looked good but Estrada played it perfectly. It was pure instinct built into Estrada from all the years of drilling over and over again as a Linfield defensive lineman. If Ian was to take one more half step up the field he would have been kicked out but he knew the instant he didn’t get contested to get his head and body inside. There it is…the counter. Ian blew it up and created a pile that left the UMHB ball carrier with nowhere to go but into a pile of twisted bodies and fell to the ground short of the 1st down. Perfectly played.

The instant that the ‘Cats and Estrada turned The Cru away the game turned on a dime. Linfield exploded. The ‘Cats offense had their best drive of the game and moved 65-yards in 8 plays to move Linfield within 1 (14-13) on a head’s up end zone recovery by Buddy Saxon. The first half came to an end but the ‘Cats were just getting started.

Linfield’s defense played the most remarkable 3rd quarter. The quarter started with Linfield’s Taylor Skore picking off this pass that set up Aaron Boehme to capture the ‘Cats first lead of the game. Four UMHB plays later and Eric Hedin striped Noack and recovered the fumble for a 37-yard TD rumble to push the Linfield lead to 27-14. The ‘Catdome was ROCKING. UMHB went 3 and out on their next possession and the Linfield offense marched 79-yards to set up this Boehme to Saxon TD strike. 33-14 Linfield.

The Cru’s offense would get on the move and march down to the ‘Cats 15 and looked to crawl back into the game, but once again, the Linfield defense responded. This time it was Hedin with another strip and Christian Hanna with a beautiful 84-yard recovery for TD (Scoop and Score). 40-14 Linfield. The 3rd quarter came to a close after an avalanche of Linfield play making.

UMHB was able to pick up one other score but it was too little, too late. Linfield popped two more huge plays with a Trevor Patterson 70-yard gallop through the ‘Catdome and Freshman Linebacker Bryce Hayunga putting the cherry on top with a 37-yard pick-six to make the final score 53-21.

Linfield’s defense compiled 3 defensive touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and 3 fumble recoveries. Total domination and it all started with a Linfield player just doing his job in a game and season defining moment. That’s Linfield football.

2004 Linfield vs Mary Hardin-Baylor: Fleming's punt blocks sets 'em up and Jenkins knocks 'em down.

O.K.  I'm busted here.  I'm going with two plays from the 2004 National Championship game.  Let's just say that these are tied for the number 2 spot.  I do have a good reason for linking these plays together.  They did happen on back-to-back plays in the 4th quarter of the biggest game of the year in 2004 and had an incredible impact on who would walk away with Bronze and Gold (SPOILER ALERT: that would be the 'Cats for those of you that didn't know.) 

We've touched on the 'Cats 2004 with our number 5 play with Thomas Ford's dagger vs University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.  The table was set up for this season from the work of the previous seasons and the holdover of talent from 2003.  Add in the infusion of Brett Elliott on the roster and the stage was set for an epic run for the 'Cats.  After the team solidifying win out at UWSP the 'Cats started to use a four wide attack at almost an exclusive clip.  The 'Cats ran out receivers Casey Allen, George Carter, Brett McKechnie, and Brandon Hazenberg and said "You don't have enough people on your defense to guard everyone."  That statement would be correct as the 2004 Linfield Wildcats averaged 50.0 points per game.  Seriously, this was the point totals on the season from games one through twelve: 58, 46, 40, 48, 56, 35, 69, 62, 48, 52, 56, 52, and 28.  This team was a walking breathing video game on offense and who's defense came on strong to only allow 14 points per game during the 'Cats last 8 games on the season.

The 'Cats opened the 2004 playoffs as the number 2 team in the county and spliting 1st place votes with Mount Union.  Linfield was rewarded the #1 seed in the West Region and with that came a 1st round bye.  Division III playoffs don't have a bye anymore so Linfield probably saved Redlands from another slapping around (too bad).  Linfield actually opened up the playoffs in the 2nd round with 52-14 beating of the WIAC champions (UW-LaCrosse).  The West Region Finals was the 56-27 victory over Occidental out of the SCAIC (Oxy's Andy Collins was a hell of a quarterback.  Rest In Peace Andy.  You were a stud.)  And Linfield finished off their home season in hosting Rowan out of the NJAC in the National Quarterfinals.

That was a sight to behold.  Rowan came in to the game 10-2 and winners of the NJAC.  The Profs where a big and intimidating squad that looked every bit of the "Beast of the East" reputation that they earned with multiple trips to the Stagg Bowl in the late 90's early 2000's.  I was rather worried how we would match-up with Rowan physically but then the whistle blew to start the game and Linfield laid a 52-0 shellacking.  It might have been when this team peaked on the season as Linfield played an almost flawless game from start to finish in front of a bursting 'Catdome crowd.  Just give this a watch to get an idea.

So Linfield rolled into the Stagg Bowl looking to finally get a taste of squaring off against Mount Union but something funny happened along the way.  An upstart program out of Texas was pulling out a major upset and halting an always heavy favorite with a 24-yard TD pass on 4th and 12 with 48 seconds left in the game to win 38-35.  While that shocked the division 3 world, the 'Cats would soon find out that UMHB knew they belong and was playing for keeps.

2004's Road To The Stagg Bowl (This is worth the watch and sets the scene of the game)

Linfield would receive the opening kickoff in the 2004 Stagg Bowl and wouldn't wait long to open up the scoring.  It took only three plays before the 'Cats struck on a little bubble screen that Brandon Hazenberg popped for 39-yards and the touchdown.  Brad Mckecknie threw a perfect block the seal the lane for Haze and it looked like Linfield was going to do what they've done all season and turn the game into a track meet.

That wouldn't be the case as UMHB's zone blitzing scheme broke up Linfield's next possession and would for large chunks of the game.  UMHB's special teams turned in a gem and a 47-yard punt return set the stage for the Cru to get the game even at 7-7 in the 1st quarter.  Both teams would trade possessions and a Wildcat missed 30-yard field goal push the game to the 2nd quarter before Linfield would once again strike.  This time it was 'Cats running back Riley Jenkins who emerged onto the scene after Thomas Ford missed the entirety of the 2004 playoffs with a broken thumb.   T-Ford was a big part of the 'Cats success on the season but Jenkins had a huge post-season and was saving his best for last (Jenkins was name the MVP of the Stagg Bowl).  Jenkins took a 2nd down handoff from Elliott and ping ponged his way in the end zone from 14-yards out to push the 'Cats up 14-7.

Then a critical sequence of events went into motion.  The Crusaders went on a fantastic drive on their next possession and marched down the 'Cats 4-yard line.  On 3rd and Goal, the 'Cats Eric Hillison (who was my defensive MVP of the Stagg Bowl) picked off a UMHB pass at the 2 and returned it out to the 11-yard line.  On the very next play, Elliott went for a bomb to try to catch Mary Hardin-Baylor napping but was picked at the 47 and turned back to the 'Cats 30.  Then one play after that, UMHB went for their own bomb with better success as The Cru's Josh Welsh hit 27 year old P.J. Williams for the leaping TD pass.  The PAT was blocked as Linfield held the slight 1-point advantage. 14-13.

The action continued as the end of the 1st half approached.  The 'Cats offense, who had been bogged down all game, streaked 81-yards down the field in 1 minute and 35 seconds and capped off the TD drive with an Elliott 1-yard TD sneak to push out Linfield's advantage 21-13 with only 21 seconds left.   That second half was crazy with the wild swings of action and the crazy turn of events.  As crazy as that 2nd quarter was, the 3rd quarter was about as pedestrian as it could get. 

Both teams traded three consecutive 3 and outs to start the 2nd quarter before UMHB was able to pick another Elliott pass and The Crusaders took that turnover and drove down to Linfield's 9-yard line before having a field goal attempt blocked by Senior Rover Zach Fleming.  It wouldn't be the last time Fleming would make himself be known this game.  The 'Cats offense continued to sputter early in the 4th quarter with two more short possessions.  Once again, UMHB's punt return team came up big with another great return.  This one set up the Cru on Linfield's 39 and would get the game within 2 off a straight option play.  UMHB went for the 2-point conversion and hit it to tie the game at 21.

Linfield was able to move the ball to the Cru 42 before having to punt once again and pinned UMHB deep in their own territory.  Linfield forced the punt after three plays and only 7 yards.  4th and 2 from UMHB's 18 yard line.  Linfield's Zach Fleming was lined up on the right side of the punt protection and on the snap of the ball came flying off the edge untouched.  The miscommunication was the demise of the play for UMHB as Fleming closed so quickly he was at punter, Hunter Hamrick, before he could even get the ball released for the punt attempt.  Fleming played it safe and went for the block regardless and flew in front of Hamrick.    Hamrick attempted to drop the ball for the punt but Fleming's left leg came cracking down on Hamrick's legs and caused Hamrick to helplessly drop the ball on the ground.  Hamrick fell on top of the ball but the damage was done.  1st and ten Linfield from The Crusaders 10-yard line.

Linfield's offense came out and wasted no time to cash in on the golden opportunity as Linfield went four wide, ran a little rub route on the left side of the play and flared out Riley Jenkins out of the backfield.  Elliott immediately recognized that Jenkins wasn't manned up and tossed a little floater out to Riley.   Jenkins stuck his left hand up and smoothly brought the ball into his body.  From there, Riley gathered his legs and exploded the remaining 8 yards and launched himself from the 2-yard line for the diving go ahead touchdown with 5:51 remaining.  Linfield 28, UMHB 21.  Incredible.  All that was left was for Linfield to close out Mary Hardin-Baylor for the win.

2004 Linfield vs University of Mary Hardin-Baylor: Kelley Bertrand and company delivers Linfield the NCAA Championship.

After the 'Cats took the lead UMHB tried to answer back but was turned away by Linfield on a 4th and 13.  Linfield's offense went conservative instead of going for the kill and made sure they took care of the football.  After forcing UMHB to exhaust their remaining timeouts Linfield punted the ball away one more time.  On 1st and 10 from their own 20 and 49 seconds left, The Cru almost tied the game on a crossing route to P.J. Williams who broke open the play for a 50-yard gain all the way down to the Linfield's 25-yard line.  Wow.  UMHB had to stay in the air and threw incompletions on the next two plays.  A false start pushed back UMHB 5 yards to set up a 3rd and 15.  Linfield wasn't going to give up anything deep and allowed an 11-yard sideline route to set up the 4th down for all the marbles.

On 4th and 4 from Linfield's 19-yard line the 'Cats went for broke.  Linfield defensive coordinator Joe Smith brought the house but it might have not been not needed.  Linfield Senior Defensive End Kelley Bertrand blew out his ACL clean in the season opener vs Western Oregon.  It looked like Bertrand was lost for the year but he decided to go for broke and play the remainder of his last season with that torn ACL.  Bertrand was a lock 1st Team All-American before the injury but still proved to be a force when he returned at the midway point of 2004.  On the blitz call, Bertrand was paired off on UMHB's right offensive guard.  Kelley went for the bull rush and collapsed the lineman into the pocket where he engulfed The Cru's Josh Welch to secure the 'Cats 2004 National Championship.  No need to write more...just watch and enjoy.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

2012 Fall Camp is complete. Attention turns to the start of the season.

YOUR Linfield Wildcats wrapped up their 2012 fall camp with Linfield's annual scrimmage early Saturday morning as Linfield ran though endless situations as the entire roster had opportunities to turn heads and show that they're ready to find their roll on this potentially darn good team.

The fall camp wasn't prefect by any stretch. Linfield has some keys areas they are still needing to get a polished and solidify as they face a stiff challenger in Menlo on the 1st. Menlo is going to be loaded with physical athletes and with Speckman leading the charge you know the Oaks will be sound in scheme and preparation.

For Linfield, the expectations are where they should be and that's sky high. This roster has a number of positions stuffed with talent, depth, and experience. If the 'Cats are able to iron out the kinks that ailed Linfield during camp then this team is one of the very top elite in Division 3. The path to Linfield's goal this season is filled with top flight challengers and improved programs but while Linfield respects their future opponents you can sure as heck believe they fear none.

Above is a short clip from the scrimmage and below I tracked down Coach Smith and Coach Vaughan to talk about the Wildcat offense and defense. We'll wrap up our Top Ten Plays of the Past 10 years tomorrow with plays 3-1. Then, we'll jump into the game week mode with our tradition week on the ADvantage.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Top Ten Plays of the Past Ten Years: Plays 7-4

Let's skip the lead-in and just get to the goods.

2003 Linfield at Southern Oregon: Ty Mathews to George Carter....For The Win!

At the end of the 2002 season both Linfield and Southern Oregon had outstanding seasons in their respective divisions (Linfield - Division 3, SOU - NAIA).  Linfield finished the regular season 9-0 and won their first NCAA Playoff game before falling at the 'Catdome to Saint John's University (21-14) to finish up the season 10-1.  Southern Oregon also won their opening round NAIA playoff game and went back to Carroll College for the quarterfinal match-up.  Like the year before (2001), the Raiders let another late lead slip away to the Saints as Carroll rallied and beat SOU 35-31 on Carroll's way to another NAIA title.  The loss left SOU stunned and angry.

During the 2003 summer, the Raiders had a scheduling quirk and didn't open up their season until September 20th as they would host the 'Cats in Raider Stadium.  That late start played in the Raiders favor as down in Southwest Pac10 country, Arizona Wildcat Senior receiver Andre Thurman, was ruled academically ineligible before the Wildcat fall camp opened.  Thurman wasn't just a dude on the Wildcats roster but a player who ranked 9th in Arizona career receptions (105) and 11th in career yards (1,530), and had legit 4.4 game breaking speed.  Thurman was put in touch with the SOU staff and next thing you know Thurman was able to gain his eligibility by taking some on-line classes (Can you fog a mirror?  Good, you're in.) and next thing you know the Raiders have a game breaker on the outside to go along with returning 1st team All-American Running Back, Dusty McGrorty.  The Raider offense was loaded.

For the 'Cats, 2003 had many folks around the 'Catdome both a little nervous but very optimistic as the same time.   The 'Cats lost some tremendous players off that 2002 roster including a number of pieces on a great offensive line, our own legendary running back David Russell, and some fantastic defensive linemen.  But returning was a stand-out quarterback in Tyler Mathews, a group of great linebackers and defensive backs, an up-and-coming running back, and young core of wide receivers that would go on to have storybook careers (Casey Allen, George Carter, Brandon Hazenberg, and Brad McKechnie).  Folks around the 'Catdome didn't know it, but not only would this 2003 team match the success of the 2002 team, they would advance deeper in the playoffs and come within 6 points of beating the eventual National Champs (Saint John's).  Their success set the stage for Linfield's 2004 National Championship run.

As you could tell form the two paragraphs above but both the Raiders and 'Cats were loaded with play makers and this 2003 edition of Linfield vs. Southern Oregon wouldn't disappoint a big and rabid pro-raider crowd down in Ashland.

It didn't take long for the fireworks to start as Southern Oregon received the opening kickoff and after a few 1st downs, went up top to see just what they had in their Arizona transfer.  Turned out Andre Thurman was pretty darn good as he hauled in 42-yard bomb to open up the scoring.  In a theme that developed throughout the night the 'Cats answered as Linfield's Ty Mathews hit Casey Allen for the 18-yard TD strike.  The excitement of tying up the game lasted as long as a Linfield-Redlands telephone conversation (if Redlands picks up).  SOU's Andre Thurman took the Linfield kickoff at his own 8-yard line, found a seam on the left side, and it was off the races for a 92-yard kickoff return.  Uh-oh.

Linfield and SOU traded some possessions until the 'Cats hit a 33-yard field goal to make the count 14-10 SOU.  Two possessions later, the 'Cats would capture their first lead on a 26-yard Mathews to Josh Armstrong TD pass early in the 2nd (17-14 Linfield).  Another huge SOU kick return set up the Raiders in prime territory and SOU would once again take the lead at 21-17.  And on and on we went in that first half.  Linfield with an uppercut, SOU with an overhand right, Linfield with a left hook.  It was the equivalent of two heavyweights swinging for the fences time and again.  By the time the dust settled SOU went into the half with a 30-24 lead.

I don't know what the 'Cats talked about at half but whatever it was Linfield came out of the 2nd half gates on a mission.  Linfield's defense put a cap on the Raider's offensive explosion and kept SOU off the board for the entire quarter.  Linfield scored on three consecutive possessions as Mathews hit George Carter on a 36-yard bomb, a 22-yard Thomas Ford gut shot TD rush, and a 22-yard Garrett Wales field goal in the opening moments in the 4th quarter as Linfield raced out to a 41-30 lead.

That's when SOU's Dusty McGrorty put the Raiders on his back as SOU roared back off of two touchdown rushes of 23-yards and a 53-yard gallop with 5:05 left to give SOU the 42-41 lead.  That 53-yard run felt like a back-breaker that electrified Raider Stadium.  It left Linfield stunned but didn't knock the belief out of the 'Cats.

Starting on their own 35, Linfield turned to a strategy of moving the chains down the field.  An 8-yard pick up, 4 more yards and a 1st down.  Then a 8-yard rush by Ford but a tripping penalty pushed back Linfield to a 2nd and 16.  That didn't matter as Mathews found tight end Marcus Ward for a 19-yard connection for another 1st down at the SOU 39.  Three plays later the 'Cats faced a 3rd and 7  but the 'Cats converted on a 8-yard Allen reception.  After a 3-yard pickup from Hazenberg, the 'Cats lined up for a 2nd and 7 on the SOU 25 with a little over 1:30 left to play.

The 'Cats ran a little bubble screen and go as Mathews took one step back, pumped fake, dropped back one more step and floated up a beautiful little arching pass to George Carter who sliced his way between conversing defenders and fell into the end zone for the touchdown and a 42-41 Linfield lead.  Un-freaking-believable.  The 'Cats had to turn away SOU one more time as Linfield's Ty Smith would pick off the desperation SOU pass to close out the game.

2003 Linfield vs Wartburg:  Wales hits game winning field goal with zeros on the clock.

Back-to-Back plays from 2003 and they're both deserving.  As we talked about during our honorable mention posts, the 'Cats hosted Wartburg in the 1st round of the 2002 playoffs.  Linfield bloodied and batter the Knight for the 52-15 victory.  Once again these two teams would square off for another playoff tilt but this time it wouldn't be easy for the 'Cats.

The Knights were a fantastic football team in 2003.  A gritty and tough as nails defense (8.9 points allowed per game) with a number of offensive play-makers to boot (36.6 PPG).  Wartburg entered this 2nd round playoff game with an 11-0 record, #4 ranking, and looking to erase the memory of Linfield's throttling in 2002.

Linfield entered the game vs Wartburg with a 10-0 record after dispatching Redlands in a close 1st round playoff victory.  The 'Cats were explosive on offense with a Tyler Mathews led attack that averaged 44.1 points per game, and stand-out defense that only yielded 17.8 points against, and #3 ranking headed into post-season.  This was set up to be an epic showdown at the 'Catdome.  But that was a little problem...the game wasn't played the 'Catdome.

The weather leading up to the 'Cats 1st round playoff game vs Redlands was soaking wet.  It was a constant downpour all week long and the rain continued to hammer during the contest.  The aftermath was a muddy and sloppy sod surface that the NCAA deemed unplayable.  The solution was that Linfield had to move their "home" game 30 minutes south to Willamette.  The Bearcats has just installed the 1st field turf surface in the NWC prior to the season and the NCAA allowed the game to be held in the Bearcats home digs (Willamette wasn't using them for anything) with Linfield acting as the home team.  This didn't sit very well with the Linfield faithful.  In fact, seeing a home playoff game getting removed from the 'Catdome and played at Willamette of all places was the spark needed for alumni to open up their wallets to the tune of 1.4 million dollars so Linfield could revamp the 'Catdome.  A new field turf surface with additional bells and whistles were installed before the 2004 season to make an already great place to watch college football all the more better.

Right from the start of the game you knew this was going to be a knockdown brawl between these two talented squads.  Linfield and Wartburg traded possession to start the game before Linfield went on a huge 17 play, 80-yard drive that was capped off by Mathews hitting Josh Armstrong for the 17-yard strike.  Wartburg returned the favor by offering up a double-digit play drive that resulted in their 1st score of the game.  The PAT failed and left Linfield with a 7-6 lead.

The 'Cats would tack on a field goal and then see both teams trade the ball back and forth a few times before Linfield would seize control of the game.    With 1st and goal from the 10, Mathews dumped a little 5-yard out to Casey Allen who would proceed to go dump truck on the Wartburg corner and bully him back into the end zone for the 17-6 Linfield lead as the half would wrap up.

The 3rd quarter started in forgettable fashion as both teams were unable to get anything going against two fine defenses.  Then one of the most remarkable string of Linfield defensive turn backs occurred. Wartburg's offense started to get on the move, but time after time, would get turned back by Linfield.

With Wartburg on the Linfield 12, the 'Cats Chris Boock picked a pass.  The Knights back on the 'Cats 13 and Josh Ort with the interception.   Next possession, the 'Cats Ty Smith with another pick at the 40 yard line.  Then one more time, as Wartburg was again knocking on the door at the Linfield 16.  This time the Knights went with the halfback pass, and once again, Josh Ort would pick off the pass just outside of the goal line.  Four consecutive Linfield interceptions that kept turning away the Knights.  The problem was that the 'Cats offense was only able to muster up 3 points off the turnovers as the game entered the early stages of the 4th quarter (20-6 Linfield).

The Knight offense kept coming and was finally able to get the ball into the end zone without having a Linfield defender pick it off.  (20-13 Linfield, 7:26 to go).  The 'Cats offense continued stumbling in the 2nd half as the Knights kept getting to Mathews for sacks or pressures.  Linfield had to give the ball back to Wartburg with 2:42 left in the game and watched as the Knights put together a brilliant offensive drive.  It only took Wartburg 1 minute and 21 seconds to move 74-yards to even the game at 20-20 off a 9-yard TD pass.  The Linfield fans were stunned by the turn of events and how quickly the game went from all Linfield to looking like overtime.

But the Linfield offense, that had been kept under wraps all half, responded when the 'Cats need them the most.  Linfield started their final drive on their own 27 with 1:16 left in the game.  The first play on the drive was Ty Mathews throwing up a floater to Casey Allen that basically said "My guy is better than yours."  Ty was right.  Allen gracefully leaped into the air over the Wartburg corner to snare the Mathews pass and raced 35 yards to the Wartburg 38.  The very next play, the 'Cats caught Wartbug off guard as Thomas Ford rushed for a critical 17-yard game down to the Knight 21.  Linfield ran three more plays to get the clock down to 3 ticks remaining in the contest and sent Garrett Wales and the field goal team to bring it home. 

2004 Linfield at UW-Stevens Point: Thomas Ford 59-yard dagger points the 'Cats to victory.

After the 'Cats lost out in Saint John's in a tight West Regional finals (31-25) in 2003 the talk was almost immediately about the 'Cats being a title contender in 2004 with all of the offensive and defensive talent the 'Cats were bring back.  Saint John's went on to stomp RPI in the Semifinals and bury Mount Union by a score of 24-6 in the National Title game.  Folks that saw that 2003 Wildcat team knew just how close Linfield was to knocking down the door.

Fast forward a few short months later and there was some rumors floating around about a D1 quarterback transfer out of Utah that was coming to Linfield.  I didn't pay too much attention to it because rumors are just that.  A couple of days later, I pick up the Oregonian and on the top of the sports page is cut out of a quarterback (Elliott) with big bold print "Elliott To Transfer To Linfield."  Right then, I thought "OK, this guy must be pretty good if he's getting this kind of run by the Oregonian."  That might have been a little of an inner-dialog understatement.

Elliott transfer into Linfield during the spring of 2004 and immediately hit it off with his coaches, teammates, and the Linfield community as a whole.  Brett isn't a big timer type of guy where he acted like he was too important for his current situation.  We all have known this type of guy at one point of our life.  He who thought they should have been at "X" college but his coaches or someone else had held him back or didn't give him a good enough shake.  Nope, Brett was a normal college aged kid that liked to have fun with his friends, enjoyed the challenge in the classroom, and just happened to be an exceptional talent on the field.  It was a seamless fit between the 'Catdome and Brett.

So the anticipation was running at an all-time high headed into the 2004 season opener.  The 'Cats were wrapping up a $1.4 million dollar renovation of the 'Catdome, had Linfield ranked as a pre-season ranked #3, the program had a loaded roster coming off of two consecutive banner seasons, and people wanted to see if Elliott was the real deal.

It didn't take long for the 4,000+ fans that packed the 'Catdome to understand that some great was happening as Elliott accounted for six Linfield 1st half touchdowns (5 passing, 1 rushing) in the 'Cats 58-17 stomping of Western Oregon.  Elliott didn't take a snap for the rest of the game and the rest is history.

At least that's what some think.

A number of folks look back to that 2004 season and think that Linfield bashed and kicked around everyone on the schedule until the championship game when Mary-Hardin Baylor played a down to the last seconds cliff hanger.  That wasn't the case.  The very next week after WOU, the 'Cats faced a huge challenge out at UW-Stevens Point that almost derailed the 2004 season before it could take off.

The 2004 UW-Stevens Point Pointers were the #7 team in the land and had what many considered to be the best secondary in the country.   Linfield was making a long and hard trip out to the middle of Wisconsin to play a team that had not suffered a non-conference regular-season loss since 1981 and had not dropped a home game to a non-conference division 3 opponent since 1974.  The Pointers had huge front lines, all sorts of athletes, and a big strong quarterback that could do it with either his arm or legs.

The 'Cats showed up to Goerke Field and at first I thought we took a wrong turn and wound up in a cow pasture because the grass on that field must have been ankle deep.  Regardless of the height of the grass it didn't slow down the action on the field.  During the entirety of the 1st quarter the Pointers harassed and broke up the timing of the 'Cats offense while Stevens Point marched their 1st possession of the game 63-yards for the touchdown.  Linfield cracked the scoreboard with a big 48-yard field goal by Garrett Wales to start the 2nd quarter but UWSP answered right back with a pounding 73-yard TD drive to make the count 14-3 UWSP.

Linfield's offense started to find a groove as the 'Cats went four wide with Elliott and company slicing up the Pointers defense for two consecutive touchdowns to see Linfield surge to a 18-14 lead (Linfield hit a two-point conversion).  The Pointers didn't take long to respond as their big brawling quarterback moved UWSP quickly down the pasture and punched in a 13-yard TD scrambled where he ran over 2 different Linfield defenders.  Linfield went into the half down 21-18.

The action didn't slow down the start the 2nd half as UWSP once again marched right through the 'Cats defense for 73-yards and pushed the lead to 10 with the touchdown (28-18).  Linfield said "You can go 73-yards?  We'll go 80." as the 'Cats offense answered with an 80-yard TD march to keep the game within reach at 28-25.  At this point in the game, the 'Cats defense made some adjustments and  started to turn the tide on the Pointer offense and forced UWSP into a three and out.  UWSP put the 'Cats on their own 15 off the punt when the unthinkable happened.  The memory is a little fuzzy, but it was either a bobbled pass or the Pointer corner jumped the rout, regardless the Elliott pass went pick six.  UWSP - 35, Linfield -25.

The 'Cats next drive stalled out and the game went into the 4th quarter with Linfield down 10 and looking like the season would incur a major setback.  But the adjustments the 'Cats defense made kept UWSP at bay and the Linfield offense caught fire.

The first 4th quarter possession saw Linfield blaze 73-yards down the field for the TD (UWSP - 35, Linfield - 32).  UWSP's offense went three and out deep in their own territory and a 35-yard Hazenberg punt return set up shop for the offense at the Pointer 10.  One Elliott to Casey Allen pass later and the 'Cats took back the lead 39-35.

With the game slipping away, the Pointers bounced back and started moving the ball on the 'Cats once again.  On a 3rd and 10 from the 'Cats 35 yard line, the Linfield defense pressured the pointer QB and forced a throw.  Linfield Freshman corner back, Andrew Woods, would make a huge interception to turn back Stevens Point with 7:23 left in the game.

The 'Cats moved the ball out to their own 41 and that's when Linfield put the game on ice.  The 'Cats lined up with trips to the wide side of the field and single receiver on the short side.  Linfield went with a little swing screen pass where running back Thomas Ford flared out, Hazenberg came crashing down to crack a linebacker, and offensive linemen Dwight Donaldson and James Holan pealed out and look for Pointers to pick up.  The play developed beautifully.  Hazenberg sealed the backer, Holan eliminated the corner playing on Haze, and T-Ford found the seam and exploded for a 59-yard romp that finished off the Pointer threat and moved Linfield to 2-0.  The rest is history.

 2011 Linfield vs California Lutheran:  'Cats block party locks up a playoff win over the Kingsmen.

I'm not going to give this play the 30 paragraph treatment of the previous plays for a few reasons.  The main being this newer regional rivalry is very fresh and on-going.  Linfield plays CLU in a few short weeks and I don't want to give CLU any more material to turn into fancy motivational posters to hang on the walls in the athletic facility.  All I'll say, is this was a great playoff game between two familiar and top flight Division III squads.

It's pretty self-explanatory, if CLU hits this field goal late in the 4th quarter then the game gets tied up at 30 and is most likely headed to overtime where anything could happen. Thankfully the 'Cats defense and Tyler Steele came though in the clutch.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Top Ten Plays of the Past Ten Years: Plays 10 - 8

So here we go.  After two rounds of the honorable mentions we'll start revealing what I consider to be the top ten plays of the past ten years (2002 - 2012).  As I mentioned in the previous posts, my selection criteria is picking out the plays that had a crucial positive impact on a Wildcat game and or season.  There have been many outstanding individual efforts over the past ten seasons.  Plays that make you say "wow" but many came during games where the 'Cats overwhelmed or handled another opponent.   Then we have the plays that would have been sure locks as a top ten play if it wasn't for the fact the 'Cats lost a close game (yes, the 'Cats have lost a game here or there).  Nope, I picked out and ranked what I thought were plays that helped Linfield launch a great season or helped the 'Cats close out a game that carried a large amount of weight.  So let's start with plays 10 through 8 in this first helping.  Tomorrow, we'll roll out plays 7-4, and Monday we'll give you the top 3.

The Top Ten Plays of The Past Ten Years
 (Plays 10 - 8)

2002 Linfield vs Southern Oregon University:  Down late the 'Cats defense comes up huge.

Southern Oregon's Dusty McGrorty is the single best small college running back I've ever seen.  The guy was a beast out of little old Warrenton, Oregon and was the catalyst of SOU's best run in program history.  The guy rushed for a NW record setting 5,414 career yards, 75 rushing touchdowns, was a two-time first team NAIA all-american.  Along with that he was about as sure handed as a running back could be.  I've see Whitewater's Justin Beaver and Levell Coppage with my own eyes and while both Warhawk running backs have more career rush yards and TD's, I always felt that McGrorty was a more dynamic back than the now legendary D3 rushers out of UWW.  You might being asking "Why spend this time raving about someone from the other team?"  It's because of what the 'Cats defense did that few were able to do during McGrorty's star studded career, and that's make McGrorty put the ball on the ground.

Not only did the 'Cats defense get the ball out of McGrorty's hands but it was the circumstances and situation that it occurred that places this play in our top ten.  

In 2001, the 'Cats were young but talented.  The roster had an number of future All-NWC players and all-americans but were lacking some experience in key areas.  The 'Cats started the season off at 1-0 after dumping Whittier at home 36-13 and made the trip down to Southern Oregon to face talented SOU squad.  The result of that game was a 29-0 whipping the Raiders put on the 'Cats where Linfield could only muster up four 1st downs and 40 yards of total offense.  Yes, only 40 offensive yards.  It was one of the worst offensive nights in program history and the marks the last time Linfield has been shutout of a game.   The 'Cats would rally on the season and finish up 7-2 and grab a share of the NWC title in the process.  As I mentioned last week, the 'Cats won 6 in a row to end the season but where left out in the cold after the NCAA selected both PLU and Whitworth (Linfield defeated Whitworth two weeks earlier) out of the NWC for playoff berths. The snub lit a fire in the program as the 'Cats decided they've had enough and decided to "Leave No Doubt" in 2002.

The 2002 rematch against SOU had a giant circle around it in McMinnville.  The Raiders just came off a 2001 season that saw them come within moments of advancing to the NAIA title game but fell to Carroll College in a late 4th quarter rally.  SOU was again loaded with talent in 2002 and had their eyes on a NAIA title.  The atmosphere and tension in McMinnville on September 21st, 2002 was palpable as these two dynamic teams lined up in the 'Catdome.

Early in the game, Linfield squandered a prime scoring opportunity as both teams jockeyed for some type of momentum.  After another Linfield turnover the Raiders were able to strike twice to take an early 14-0 lead.  Linfield responded back late in the half and went into the locker room down 14-7.  The 3rd quarter saw the the scoring pick up as the teams traded touchdowns until the game was knotted up a 21 headed into the 4th quarter.

Again, SOU took control with an early 4th quarter TD (28-21 SOU) and looked to salt the game away as the 'Cats offense wasn't able to reproduce their results from the 3rd quarter.  After another Wildcat offensive possession sputtered the 'Cats pinned SOU at their own 12 yard line with 6:07 left in the game.  McGrorty, who had already rushed for 3 TD's and about 150 yards, took the ball on 1st and 10 for a 7-yard gain.  Then on 2nd and 3 the play occurred that saved the game for the 2002 Linfield Wildcats and lead to the start of an epic Linfield football season that established Linfield as one of the Division III elites.

SOU ran a simple inside zone play.  Just get big bodies on the 'Cats, hand the ball off to McGrorty, and churn out a 1st down to keep that clock running.  Linfield linebacker Harrison Bertch had other ideas.  It's hard to see in the clip but Bertch (#42) flies up and meets McGrorty in the hole and wrenches on the ball.  McGrortry has said in the past that during his near 1,000 career rushing attempts he's only fumbled four times.  This was one of those four.  Bertch twisted McGrorty and pulled on his carry arm and the pigskin fell on the 'Catdome sod.  You can see the SOU back reaching out for the ball but Linfield's Ryan Boatsman sniffed out the loose pill and pounced.  Linfield was 1st and 10 from the Raider 20 with 5:29 to play.  Four plays later the 'Cats got the equalizer off a David Russell plunge from 1-yard out that send the game into OT where Linfield would pound the Raiders into submission in two overtime periods for the 42-35 victory.

2009 Linfield at Occidental:  Jackson's pick leads to the 'Cats putting the Tigers on ice.

This next play isn't very well known to the Wildcat faithful.  The reason is the game was held down in Los Angeles in 2009 where only a few hundred Wildcat fans saw the 'Cats capture a huge road win early in their statement 2009 season.  Linfield launched up the top 25 ranking (#14) after a 37-22 opening season win over Hardin-Simmons and headed down to L.A. to play the 21st ranked Occidental Tigers to start the first of a four week brutal road trip that saw the 'Cats go to Occidental, Southern Oregon, Menlo, and Whitworth.  Before we get into the game let's talk about how we made it here.

After the 2008 season, Linfield decided to step away from the remaining year of their contract with Western Oregon University.  It was a hard decision but Linfield had to look at the reality of the situation and do their best to optimize their chances towards an NCAA playoff bid.  Linfield had to start playing as many Division III games as possible.  Playing non-division games just didn't help Linfield towards their quest in getting back to the NCAA's and it's why Linfield doesn't play Southern Oregon anymore and why this is the last year Linfield will be playing Menlo (NAIA).  When Linfield stepped away they had a one-year gap to fill the void before Linfield would start two-year contracts with La Verne and Cal Lutheran out of the SCIAC in 2010.  After calling some teams (Redlands didn't return our call), Occidental stepped up and gave the 'Cats a one-year offer but Linfield would have to pack a bag and come on down.  At the time, there were some giving Linfield a hard time in having to pay to get out of the 2009 WOU game, but in retrospect, it was a brilliant move by the program that's paid off more than the 'Cats could have ever imagined.

The moment you arrived on Oxy's campus you could feel the big game vibe.  Having Linfield in their house was a HUGE deal for the Occidental program.  Oxy was coming off a 2008 playoff appearance and had twice been slapped down by Linfield in 2004 and 2005.  The Tigers were primed to get a crack at a Linfield program coming off of three consecutive 6-3 seasons.  You could see it in their player's faces before the game that beating Linfield that night would be a monster statement about where Occidental stood with regards to the pecking order in not only on the West Coast conferences but in the West Region.

It was a muggy night game at Patterson Field as Linfield started off the game by shutting Oxy down on their first two offensive possessions.  On the 'Cats second time with the ball it looked Linfield was on the move but a Boehme was picked in Oxy territory and a nice return set up the Tigers in great field position.  Oxy started to find some soft spots in the 'Cats coverage as Oxy's QB was able to extend plays and find open receivers down field.  Next thing you know Oxy is up 7-0.

The 'Cats responded right away as Boehme found Trevor Patterson for a 50-yard strike but a failed PAT left the 'Cats with a 7-6 deficit.  Oxy and Linfield traded possessions but then a key segment of the half was put into action as Oxy's All-American kicker/punter boomed a 58-yard punted that rolled to the 'Cats 1-yard line.  Linfield wasn't able to move the ball out and had to saftey punt out of their own endzone.  The result was Oxy starting a late 2nd quarter drive in Linfield territory and punching in another TD.   Oxy 14, 'Cats 6...halftime.

Coach Smith wasn't pleased at all with Linfield's 1st half of play and let the players know that if they continued performing at this clip they're were leaving LA without victory.  Linfield pulled themselves together in the locker room and with a renewed confidence marched down the field for a field goal in Linfield's 1st possession of the 2nd have to inch the 'Cats closer at 14-9.  Two possessions later the 'Cats put together their best drive of the night in going exclusively in the air for a 11 play, 53 yard drive, to see Linfield take their 1st lead of the night at 17-14 in the opening moments of the 4th quarter.

Linfield's defense continued to hammer at Oxy and forced another three and out.  It looked like Linfield was rolling as the 'Cats extended their new lead to 24-14 on a 9 play drive that lasted a little over 3 minutes.  At that point, I thought Linfeld was salting the game away but Oxy responded and took the momentum back with a huge 11 play drive.  Oxy converted multiple 3rd down conversions and cross into the end zone to bring Oxy back within 3 at 24-21 with 6:12 left in the game.

The game was 100% up for grabs and if Linfield could put together a drive it would be all over.  Four plays later the 'Cats were punting the ball back to Oxy in hopes that the Linfield defense could come up big.  It didn't take long for the 'Cats D to respond.

On the second play of the Oxy drive the 'Cats were playing a deep zone where Linfield linebacker Jaymin Jackson had outside flat responsibility.  Oxy's QB, up to that point, had done a masterful job in his decision making but he got greedy as he tried to hit a sideline curl route.  That's when Jackson pounced.  Interception Linfield on the Oxy 38 yard line with 5 minutes left in the game.  Two Linfield offensive players later this happens to put the dagger in Occidental's heart and the 'Cats left LA with a team solidifying victory.  That pick was a key moment in one of Linfield's best seasons in program history. 

Linfield vs Concordia-Moorehead: Hazenberg TD sparks the 'Cats to victory.

The 2005 Linfield Wildcats were masterful.  I shared with you last week about how easy this team made it look at times with some fans getting upset at Linfield for not scoring FAST enough.   The only time Linfield was challenged all regular season was out in Spokane when Whitworth rallied late to only lose to Linfield by 15 points.  15 points.  That was considered a close game for the NCAA defending National Champions and #1 team in Division III.   Other than that game, it almost looked effortless.  49-7, 45-7, 42-13, 62-7, 38-7, 63-21 are just some of the results of the poundings the 'Cats were dishing out to a list of opponents that knew it was over before it started.

The 'Cats opened up the 2005 playoffs with a 63-21 bludgeoning of Occidental.  The year prior, the 'Cats also rolled Oxy 56-27 but the Tigers did make it interesting early in the game in holding multiple leads for before Linfield punched down on the gas.  2005 wasn't the same situation as Linfield opened up a 28-0 lead and never looked back.  It was another case of Brett Elliott throwing for 6 touchdowns, Casey Allen being unstoppable, and the Linfield defense swarming and creating chaos.

So after the Oxy game, I hear that Concordia-Moorehead (MIAC) will be the 'Cats second round opponent and I just chalked this up as the Cobbers just being another sacrificial lamb for the 'Cats to feast on.  So it was more than surprising when Concordia rolled into the 'Catdome and played a whale of a game.

Concordia had a great fan base come out to McMinnville that dressed up their sideline in the gold and maroon colors and even hug up a "This is COBBER country" banner along the guard rail.  Concordia looked like a typical solid MIAC team during warm ups.  Nothing alarming like when Rowan came to town the year before and looked like a D1 team dressed up in D3 clothing.  By appearance, Concordia  looked like a good group of athletes with a few big guys in the mix.....very much like Linfield.  Then I saw Concordia break out the Wing T offense in warm ups and the first thought that ran in my mind was "Game Over".  That offense isn't going to get it done vs Linfield.  Not a chance.

On Concordia's first possession the Cobbers punted but it wasn't until they broke off 11 plays and chewed up 6 minutes of clock.  Linfield tried to establish a running game (the team's only glaring weakness) but failed to get traction and punted the ball back to the Cobbers.  Concordia again went on another double digit play drive but this time saw the Cobbers take an early 7-0 lead with only 1:21 left to play.  No problem the 'Cats would respond in kind.  Three incompletions later and Linfield was once again punting the ball back to the Cobbers.  At that point, you knew that wasn't going to be easy as the 'Catdome filled with an uneasiness that hasn't been felt at Maxwell field in years.

Linfield was able to even up the count at 7 on their next possession and brought a small exhale from the Linfield faithful but Concordia kept pushing.  That Wing T style of offense I scoffed at during warm ups was slicing and dicing at very good Linfield defense.  A couple of yards here, a few there, and then a big play.  The Cobbers missed a 30-yard field goal attempt but Linfield was giving up the ball again after three plays.    Then it became serious.

With 3:27 left in the 1st half, the team running a stinking Wing T triple option offense moves 43 yards down the field and hits a 16-yard TD pass to a tight end with 57 seconds left in the half.  Holy Cow, Linfield was going into the half down to the Cobbers with only 7 points to their name.

There wasn't panic in the locker room.  The defense was talking about not only turning back Concordia but trying to limit the number of plays the Cobber offense was running and Linfield's offense was working it out.  Right before the 'Cats broke to head back out on the field Linfield's Brett Elliott rallied his team: "We're not losing this game.  Who's coming with me!?"  The locker room lit up and you could feel a swell of energy pulse though the 'Cats.  But as fast as that excitiment built up it quickly went back to uncertainty as the first Linfield offensive play of the second half felt an awful like the first half.  

Brett Elliott found Casey Allen for an 11-yard connection but the unthinkable happened and Allen was stripped of the ball and Concordia recovered.  The air went out of the building as Concordia took the miscue and drove down to the 'Cats 21 where the Cobbers looked to extend their lead with another field goal attempt.  The kick sailed up and right as silence filled the stands.  DING.  The kick drove into the right upright as Concordia squandered another opportunity.

Linfield immediatly went on the move.  16-yard pick up, 17-yard gain, followed by another 16-yard drive as Linfield moved deep in Cobber country.  The theme of the day struck once more as an Elliott pass was picked at the goal line.  This couldn't be happening, could it?  But at that point in the game the Linfield defense rose to the occasion in forcing a punt that rolled down the 'Cats 11 with 6:42 left in the 3rd quarter.

Once again Linfield's offense moved the ball in big chunks.  15-yard pass to Vierra, 8-yards to Allen, 23-yards to Keck, 12-yard rush by Vierra at set up a 1st and 10 on the Cobber 13 yard line.  A Wildcat false start to move the ball back 5 yards, then followed by an incomplete pass.  Then this play happened that turned the tide and opened up the flood gates for Linfield.  The 'Cats opted on 2nd and 15 to run a little under screen to receiver Brandon Hazneberg out of a trips set.  Haze took the the short pass but looked immediatly corralled by a trio of Concordia defenders.  Haze put on the brakes and hit a spin move to the outside with a serving of stiff arm to the 1st Concordia defender.  A second defender came off a block and Haze jabbed stepped him and threw up a stiff arm that the defender made it past and tried to wrap Haze up but #3 was able to keep moving.   Another defender looked to have clear shot at Haze but Linfield receiver Jared Thomas cleared him out with a shove, then at the four yard line one last Cobber came flying in to take Haze out but was cut off by Brad McKechnie to allow Haze to burst into the End Zone.  Electric.  Concordia - 14, Linfield - 14.

At that point it was all 'Cats, as Linfield's defense suffocated Concordia's offense who didn't threaten the remainder of the game as Linfield hit a beautiful pass and catch by Elliott to McKechnie to take the lead 21-14 and that set up Elliott to put the dagger in the win with his TD scramble with 4:41 left in the game.  The Hazenberg TD was paramount at that stage of the game.  It was pure heart, skill, effort, and teamwork that took a little dump screen and made it into a lighting bolt of energy the 'Cats needed so badly at that point in the game.  An iconic Linfield TD.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

2012 Fall Camp: A Little Bit Of Everything

The Wildcats practice fast, practice hard, but don't practice out of control. Like any good practice every minute of the time on the field is blocked out and scripted down to second so the 'Cats can maximize both individual and their team time. Linfield keeps it competitive during the entire practice but also making the situation as safe as possible for all. Football is a tough and violent game, but at the same time, every second of practice doesn't needs to be a Gladiator style duel to the death in the arena. Don't get me wrong, Linfield's practices are tough and physical, but not reckless. There's a big difference.

The clip above is a little bit of everything that I capture from this past weekend. There is constant coaching going by not only the Linfield staff but players working with each other with constant reminders. It's a big responsibility for the team vets to make sure they pull up the young bucks and show them how to play Linfield football. A good example of that is when I saw a new offensive lineman get frustrated during a pass pro drill and threw his helmet in disgust. A vet snapped immediately to "Pick it up!". No big explanation on why we don't throw our helmets at Linfield but he didn't need to. It's a little thing but it speaks to the culture of the program. Go 'Cats!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

2012 Fall Camp: Linebackers and RB's hook it up

Wildcat11 was lucky enough to get a camera on YOUR 2012 Linfield Running Backs and Linebackers hooking up to work on a finer point of the game and that's pass rush/pass protection.  When you think of running backs you typically think of, well, running the football.  However, if you have a running back that can't mix it up and doesn't understand pass protection schemes then he might as well just turn around to the QB and yell "Look out!!!!".    Having an RB that can not only tote the rock but as act as another blocker against blitzing linebackers or defensive linemen is a tremendous asset. 

On the other side of the coin, there are probably only a few things that are as much fun to an LB as getting a chance to have a free run at the quarterback.  Who wouldn't enjoy that opportunity to have an unimpeded 10 yard sprint at a quarterback who's looking down the field?  But the chances are if you don't get picked up by an offensive lineman you're going to have a showdown with a running back.  That's where you're money is going to be made as Wildcat LB.  Can you defeat the dreaded cut block?  Do you have the quicks to make an RB miss?  Or do you have the power to just blow that running back into the pocket?  Football is a team game but this drill is a great chance to show just what you can do in a one-on-one situation.

Monday, August 20, 2012

2012 NWC Coaches Poll…very interesting.

Last Wednesday released the annual Northwest Conference coaches’ poll and to nobody’s surprise the ‘Cats were the pre-season top pick by the conference coaches.  The ‘Cats have been the favorite for nine out of the past ten seasons and I have to think it’s almost a built-in reflex by the coaches.  You can’t really blame them with Linfield being a 3x defending NWC champ and with a large bulk of the roster intact for 2012. 
The target on Linfield’s back is always big and this season is no different when you consider the NWC’s improvement.  I’m not going to say the gap is closing on Linfield in terms of programs that are going to consistently challenge the ‘Cats for a year-in and year-out superiority of the NWC.  There are teams that are able to build up for a year or two of very good play but then comeback down after a talented class vacates.  There are teams that are in that model right now, but overall, I see some teams in the NWC trying to “program build” instead of shooting the moon for that one great season.  So while Linfield isn’t going anywhere or giving up the crown anytime soon (Coach Smith has the program rolling) the path through the NWC is going to get bumpier with better and more consistent challengers.  There’s nothing wrong with that, and in fact, is better for everyone in the NWC.

Now let’s turn our attention to the rest of the NWC poll.  Interesting is first word that popped into my head upon seeing it for the first time.  I didn’t see the order of places 2-5 at all.  In my opinion, I think some coaches put way too much stock in a team that has a “star” but didn’t consider the loss of a senior class that did much of the heavy lifting, and along those lines, discredited a roster that still has the second most talent behind Linfield.

This is how the coaches voted:
1. Linfield (6)
2. PLU
3. Whitworth (1)
4. L&C
5. Willamette
6. Pacific
7. UPS

And here is Wildcat11's 2012 NWC Pre-Season Poll:
1. Linfield
2. Whitworth
3. Willamette
4. PLU
5. L&C
6.  Pacific
7. UPS

Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own team so I think it’s safe to assume that Coach Smith’s 1st place vote went to Whitworth.  I have to say that Coach Smith and I are 100% on the same page (in terms of having Whitworth the best pre-season ranked team besides Linfield).  Some might say “The only reason you voted Whitworth that high is because the Rats played Linfield closer than any other NWC team last season.”  That’s partially true.  Whitworth did play Linfield close but I felt Whitworth played a little over their skis while Linfield started poorly and then took their foot off the gas in that 4th quarter. 

Regardless, the difference between Whitworth and the others in the conference is that Whitworth made Linfield pay for their mistakes and others in the NWC haven’t been able to do that. 

The main reason I put Whitworth as the 2nd best team is that they have the best set of skill players in the NWC behind Linfield.  They have a running back that can hit the big play, a strong armed QB that should keep improving, a big WR that can make plays over the top, and guys that can make the catches over the middle for the tough yardage.  On top of that they have a good defensive backfield with solid linebackers.  The Rats are going to challenge this season but where they could come up short is their line play.  Not only do they lack depth up front but I question on how good their starting offensive and defensive fronts will be.  That could be Whitworth’s undoing.

I was blown away by Willamette getting dropped all the way to number 5 and behind Lewis and Clark.  Do the coaches not remember the baptizing L&C was provided by the hands of Willamette?  That’s not going to change this season.  In fact, Willamette has a more well-rounded roster than Whitworth when you consider not only the skill players but by what Willamette offers upfront.  To me, Willamette’s a wildcard this season.  While the Willamette staff stayed almost intact (sans Speckman) they will have a new identity under Fowles.  What’s that identity?  I have no idea.  Only Willamette can answer that question.  I expect them to contend in the NWC at least this season.

PLU is going to be game this season.  However, I think that “game” hinges on the PLU quarterback play.  PLU has a number of capable receivers and a decent senior running back that offers up the feeling they can get back to their “big play” ‘Lute style of offense.  But what should be concerning for PLU is their quarterback situation.  PLU currently has four sophomore QB’s on their roster right now that have thrown a total of zero passes in a college game.  So unless one of these guys explodes on the scene or PLU was able to snare a legit QB transfer then I think the ‘Lutes will be solid but still on the outside looking in.

I get why people are putting L&C higher than they’ve ever been ranked before.  They have the returning NWC offensive player of the year that does it all for the Pios and he’s their engine that drives the boat.  I get it.  However, what I think was lost on the NWC coaches is just what the Pioneers lost from last season.  The Pios lost 13 out of their starting 22 players including all five of their front line defensive starters, their all-american tight end, their tailback, and best wide receiver.  The Pioneers did bring in some talented freshmen last season and some pure numbers, but I see the Pios having a year where they backslide due to get pounded up front by the bigger and stronger teams in the conference. 

Pacific is going to keep improving and should be better this season.  They have good schemes and are adding and growing talent but aren’t there yet.  I think it’s very possible they play some folks close and could snare a few more wins this season but they’re still not ready to make big waves.