Monday, December 30, 2013

Introducing the 2013 Highlight Video Trailer: "Higher Ground"

Very excited to wrap up the new year with the release of our now annual highlight trailer video.  For those that don't know we make a long form highlight video that will run over an hour as we go game-by-game of the team's highlights with some games going past the 7 minute mark.  A few years ago Coach Smith and Hazenberg approached me and challenged me to try to create a short video to highlight the best of the long form highlight.  The result was the 2010 "Send Em Up" video and 2011's "Fear None".  I love these trailers and I'm excited to bring you the 2013 version.

The reason I choose "Higher Ground" by TNGHT is a few reasons.  1) The song is high energy and fun and that fits the 2013 team perfectly.  2) The song title, higher ground, also fits what Linfield College Football is all about.  This program is always trying to reach higher ground in everything the 'Cats do.  Even if the 2013 didn't reach that national championship goal this team did it while trying to reach higher ground and that's what the 2014 team will do and the 2015 team and so on. Always challenging itself, always trying to do better, always trying to reach higher ground. The song is fitting and I hope you enjoy our latest.  Go 'Cats!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Message from Coach Smith

Coach Smith has led the 'Cats to a 71-15 record since taking over the program in 2006.

On behalf of our entire staff and all of our players we want to wish all of YOU a very Merry Christmas!    I cannot express to all of you how much your support means to our players and to our staff.  It means so much to us and is a giant factor in this program’s success.   Please accept my thank you and sincere appreciation!

This season was quite a ride for all of us involved.   We knew we had a dominating defense returning and adding Tyler Steele back to that group made it downright lethal.    With that group on the field we knew opposing teams would have a hard time sustaining drives and putting points on the board.   Our defense lived up to its potential and became of one the finest defenses we have had here at Linfield.  We knew our offense had potential, but when Josh Yoder exploded on the scene as our starter, our offense began to fly at a rate we have not seen since Coach Elliott was at the helm.    Our special teams got better and better throughout the season, and late in the regular season they caught up to the offense and defense and we finally were able to attack in all three phases at once.   The ease and rapidity with which we dispatched most of our opponents this year was startling.

This team had a tremendous amount of fight in it.   It was cool and resolved, not getting too high and not getting too low, rather keeping a steady fire going throughout the entire game.   The sheer amount of injuries this team sustained before camp, during camp, and at the end of the season, would have crippled and hamstrung most teams.   I could not be more proud of this team for the way that we absorbed those and moved on with “the next guy up” filling the void.

We made no bones about “daring greatly” this year.   This team wanted it badly and more importantly they gladly paid the price to have the right to “dare greatly”.    This group worked and sacrificed as few Linfield Teams ever have.   From having played the elite level teams in D3 over the past 5 years such as Whitewater, UHMB, St. Thomas, Wesley, Oshkosh, and North Central, we knew what awaited us in Wisconsin.   We limped into that game a battered and bruised team, facing without question the best team we have seen in several seasons.    However, there was nothing wrong with our belief and spirit.    I will always remember with great pride the way this team “ran to the battle” and left everything we had out on that field.      As emotionally painful as that game was for all of us, that will go down in my memory of one of my proudest moments ever of Linfield Football.

We have begun recruiting in earnest, looking for young men of action and character that will continue our culture of excellence, young men that will carry on the Linfield Way of doing things and continue to make our program that shining city on the hill. 

Merry Christmas!
Coach Smith

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Linfield’s 2013 season comes to an end at Whitewater.

Through victory or loss our 'Cats stick together.
This past Saturday was a roller-coaster of a day from an emotional and physical standpoint for the 2013 Linfield Wildcats team.  The ‘Cats came into the 2013 quarterfinals beat up but determined to get back to the NCAA final four and get one step closer to playing for the ultimate prize, the National Championship.  It’s why these young men chose Linfield and put in the ridiculous amount of hours and time during the winter, spring, summer, and fall.   We all knew that Linfield was going to have to play a great game for four quarters to take down a tremendous Whitewater team in their home crib.  Yeah, the conditions were freezing cold but it wasn’t anything that affected the players on either sideline or the play on the field.  Linfield was ready and came out of the gates on fire in taking the opening possession all the way for an early 7-0 lead.  UWW’s kickoff team botched the following kickoff and Linfield was in prime position to take a 14-0 lead.  Linfield moved the ball within the 5 yard line and after a tough 3rd down spot on a Josh Yoder keeper put ball on the one inch line.  Linfield missed a great chance to punch it in on 4th down on a mishandled snap that gave the ball back to the Warhawks but the ‘Cats kept the pressure on with aggressive playing calling and great QB/WR play by Josh Yoder and his receivers. 

Early in the 2nd quarter Linfield stunned the UWW faithful after Yoder hooked up with Evan Peterson (who was brilliant on the day) for a 60-yard touchdown receptions.  However, Whitewater responded like you would expect a championship program would and came roaring back.  The Warhawks offense went to a tempo offensive attack that featured a number of bubble screens and short passing and then went up top in the red zone to a pair of big and athletic receivers to cut the Linfield lead to 17-14 going into the half.  

The teams traded some possession to start the second half and then Linfield made their move midway through the 3rd quarter.  The ‘Cats looked like their drive stalled around midfield and brought out the punt unit and hit a perfectly executed fake to keep the drive alive.  One offensive play later and the ‘Cats were sitting on a 2nd and 4 on the UWW 20 yard line.  Then the game changed.  UWW brought blitz and freed up a Warhawk LB off the edge and was able to blindside Yoder on a big hit that forced a huge fumble and turnover.  It was a critical sequence as UWW was able march 55 yards and take a 21-17 lead with 1:48 remaining in the 3rd.  At that point the Warhawk defense dug in and made it extremely hard on the ‘Cats offense for the remainder of the game.  The Warhawks would go on to push the lead to 11 on a 4th quarter touchdown but the ‘Cats didn’t roll over and battled for the remainder of the contest.  It just wasn’t meant to be that day as UWW would finish the day and Linfield’s season with a 28-17 win.  It was hard to witness and it hurt.  I think everyone associated with Linfield tipped their hat to Whitewater.  There was no fluky mud play or a last moment breakdown that lead to defeat.  UWW earned it over the course of the game and sometimes you just have to wear it.  The ‘Cats played so damn tough and hard but it wasn’t in the cards on Saturday.   

Seeing seasons end during the playoffs is always a hard thing to experience.  While the younger players on the roster have the hope and optimism of the next season the Seniors on that roster don’t have that luxury.  They all realize the finality of the situation and emotion pours out in the form of tears, covered faces, and the search for words to express to their brothers how much they love one another and share their appreciation for the wonderful journey they shared together over the past four seasons.

This team had another fantastic season.  It might be hard to feel that way right now but this team was great.  The rash of injuries Linfield battled before the season, in fall camp and during the season are well documented but you can’t let that be a woulda, coulda, shoulda.  That’s football and every program that makes it deep into the playoffs have to battle roster losses and having the depth tested.  You have to dance with the roster you have and these ‘Cats had a season performance that over 216 teams in division III would kill for.    We’ll breakdown the numbers, the season, and accolades in the coming weeks but wanted to wrap us this post on this thought.

I enjoy the Division III on-line community very much.  You can connect with fans from other parts of the country, talk some junk, become educated on the unique issues we face in Division III, and have fun talking football with like-minded folks.   When you’re Linfield and you fall short people are going to give it to you.  That’s the price you pay for being proud and successful.  A St. Thomas fan posted this thought about the ‘Cats after the loss.

Ron Doney, Dec 8th 10:14 pm: “If there is a team in the country that was anticipating a 'correnation' [sic] more than UST, it was those boys out west.  And once again......ouch”

Yeah, the 2013 Linfield Wildcats made no bones that this team was gunning and expecting to play for a National Championship.  Without a doubt.  It stings that this team won’t be loading up a plane tomorrow to held to Belton, Texas to play Mary-Hardin Baylor but that’s the reality.  But I do have to say I will NEVER apologize for Linfield being the type of program that dares greatly each and every season.  I will never feel badly or shy away from the staff, the players, and the fans thinking and gunning for the Bronze and Gold.  That’s what we do at Linfield.  There are no rings for conference titles (don’t get me wrong, I love winning NWC titles) because the NWC crown should be a marker on the road to something great and that’s a National Championship.  So fans from the NWC or around the country can take their jabs at the ‘Cats about coming up short when Linfield is so public with their goals but I know what Linfield is going to do.  This program will mourn the loss, then celebrate a tremendous season and an awesome senior class.Then, the 'Cats will dust themselves off and get back to work towards another run in 2014.  This program won’t go quietly in the dark and I feel so fortunate to be associated with coaches and players that are willing to put so much on the line year after year.  It feels damn good to be a Wildcat.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tuesday's Truths and Quick Hits (Special Wednesday Edition)

#3 Josh Hill and the Wildcat offense is going to have a big day against a great UWW defense.
(Photo Courtesy of Linda MacClanathan)
-By Cory Edmonds

Saturday was nearly one of the worst days of my life. Halfway through what was potentially going to be the biggest upset of the playoffs, I received a despairing text from my wife. Right before halftime she had ventured back to my brother’s house in McMinnville to check on our dog, Zoe. The text read, “Zoe got out and I can’t find her! Help!” Immediately, I rushed back to the house to help her search. Zoe isn’t very resourceful- she’s quite the princess- and so I was incredibly worried about her wandering so far from anything familiar. Luckily, with some help from friends, we were able to locate the rascal and retrieve her safely. By then, the Cats were about to begin the fourth quarter of their contest with Hampden-Sydney. I arrived back at the Catdome to witness Linfield take a 24-21 lead over the Tigers in a game that had previously gone so poorly for the Cats. I share this story with you because at the time I immediately related my strenuous effort to recover my pup to Linfield’s struggle to defeat Hampden-Sydney. In the first half, Linfield, just like Zoe, was lost- giving up big plays and turning the ball over in momentous situations. However, as they entered the second half they began to find their footing and by the fourth (just as Zoe was found) had rediscovered their identity, shutting down the Tigers with dominant defensive play. A day that started out headed towards disaster, ultimately resulted in a satisfying victory for Linfield, along with the reassuring recovery of my pup. The win secured Linfield’s second trip the NCAA Division III quarterfinals in as many years. After last year’s overtime loss to UW-Oshkosh, the Cats get another chance to take down a WIAC team in the quarterfinals, as they will play four-time champion, UW-Whitewater.
Zoe made it home safe and sound.
Against Whitewater, Linfield can not afford a half, or a quarter for that matter, where they get lost. Instead the Cats will need to be dialed in from the opening kickoff to the final whistle. To get a better sense of the challenge that awaits the Wildcats we will explore two truths the stats tell us about Linfield and then one truth the stats tell us about Whitewater. Finally, we will finish with a couple of quick hits on the upcoming game.

The Truth: Linfield must secure the ball and avoid turnovers.
The Stats Breakdown: Linfield’s near loss against Hampden-Sydney featured some very uncommon mistakes from the Cats and none were as damaging as the team’s three turnovers. Before Saturday’s game, Linfield had only given up nine turnovers on the entire year (less than one per game). These turnovers were amplified by the fact that all three occurred when Linfield was in scoring position; giving away the ball is bad enough, but giving away the ball and forfeiting points is downright agonizing. Despite the miscues, Linfield was able to fight its way back against Hampden-Sydney. However, against an elite Whitewater team Linfield would find the task of overcoming turnovers far more difficult. The Warhawks boast a tenacious defense that has consistently snatched the ball away from their opponents. On the year the Warhawks have captured 35 takeaways (20 interceptions and 15 fumble recoveries), as well as scored five defensive touchdowns. They will certainly be looking to gain an upper hand by means of turnovers and it will be up to Linfield to cede them no such advantage. A zero in the turnover column gives the Wildcats their best chance this Saturday.
What To Watch For: Look for Linfield to stress ball security on the ground and accuracy in the passing game. Linfield will likely utilize some short passes early on to get Yoder in a rhythm and decrease the chances of inaccurate throws. Expect a heavy dose of the run game (although Whitewater is only relenting 71 yards per game) in an attempt to loosen up the Warhawk’s stout defense. Clearly last week’s game did not go the way Linfield wanted; fortunately, it’s unlikely the Cats have a repeat performance in the turnover category, considering the Cats have been an excellent +20 in their takeaway to turnover differential on the year.

The Truth: Linfield needs to have a quick start.
The Stats Breakdown: The game time temperature for Saturday is predicted to be around 18 degrees. Yet, the Cats are going to need to come out hot and get off to a swift start when they take the field at Perkins Stadium. Linfield has accomplished this task before, as the Cats have averaged 30 points in the first half of games on the year (15 in the first quarter alone). A fast start is imperative against a stalwart Warhawk’s defense that, like Linfield’s defense, has shown an expert ability to clamp down in the second half.  In the first half of games this year, UWW has yielded 63 points (5 per game) compared to 27 points (2 per game) surrendered in the second half. Only allowing five points per game in the first half is clearly not a weakness, but it does illustrate that the Warhawk’s defense can be more susceptible to scoring in the first half before they can make adjustments. Linfield will need to take advantage of any kink in Whitewater’s armor and a quick start will accomplish just that. It’s unlikely the Cats will match their 30 point per first half average, but they certainly need to do everything possible to grab an early score.
What To Watch For: By no means does this mean Linfield will come out swinging for the fences. Don’t expect the Cat’s to just chuck it downfield like Hampden-Sydney did last week. Instead, look for a methodical approach from Linfield’s offense. This game will not be won in one play but it could be won due to one effective drive. The Cats will seek to establish the run and use play-action to involve the passing game. Linfield simply must avoid early three and outs and turnovers, as well as display a fiery willpower from the minute they step on the field.

The Truth: Whitewater is going to be a stiff challenge.
The Stats Breakdown: Linfield has competed with a number of quality teams this year- PLU, Willamette, Pacific, Hampden-Sydney- but none of these teams exists on the same tier as Whitewater. The Warhawks have always garnered attention and respect due to their defensive expertise, but this Whitewater team has also displayed effectiveness on offense. The Hawk’s defense is allowing a meager 7.5 point per game while limiting opponents to 224 yards of total offense. Additionally, they have seized 35 takeaways and have been especially suffocating on third down; teams are only converting 25% of their third down attempts against the Warhawk’s defense. Incredibly, they have only allowed teams to drive into the red zone 12 times on the entire year- that equates to one red zone visit per game. On offense the Warhawk’s have been just as tough. They average the following statistics per game: 38 points, 175 rushing yards, 229 passing yards, 404 total offensive yards, and 43% third down conversion rate. At their core, Whitewater is a run-oriented offensive attack and claim three backs with over 300 yards rushing and multiple rushing touchdowns; however, their effectiveness in the passing game is difficult to deny. On the year, starting quarterback, Matt Behrendt, has completed 64 percent of his attempts for 32 touchdowns and only one interception. This is not a ball club that turns it over often; in fact, the Warhawks have only seven turnovers on the whole year. The Hawks are also more than capable on special teams as they average 10.3 yards per punt return and boast two return touchdowns. All in all, this week’s game will certainly be Linfield’s greatest challenge of the year thus far; yet, it is a challenge they are certainly capable of winning.
What To Watch For: Whitewater will work diligently to establish their running game- spearheaded by Jordan Ratliffe (5.7 yards per carry, five touchdowns) and supplemented by Ryan Givens (5.5 yards per carry, three touchdowns). However, don’t expect to see a dual threat quarterback this weekend. Behrendt has only gained 88 yards on the ground this year and certainly appears more at ease in the pocket. Yet, much of his success will be predicated on the run, as the Hawks employ a heavy dose of play-action pass plays. Don’t be surprised if some of these play-actions passes are shots downfield. Similar to the past two weeks for Linfield, this week’s opponent possesses a top-flight pass catcher who is used to stretch the field. For the Warhawks that player is 6’5” Jake Kumerow (87 yards per game, 17 yards per reception, 14 touchdown receptions). Linfield will have to bottle him up in similar fashion to the way they limited Holton Walker’s production last week in the second half. To accomplish this task the Cats will also need to apply constant pressure, so expect the Linfield front four to be busy against a sturdy Whitewater offensive line (14 sacks allowed).  This week Linfield will play a complete opponent with few weaknesses, however, don’t expect the Cats to be intimidated as they also boast a complete team. This game may just be the type of contest that fans on both sides will be talking about for years to come. 

Quick Hit #1: Whitewater has been efficient in red zone as they have converted 84% of their red zone trips into points. However, they have only scored touchdowns on 64% of those red zone drives.  Holding Whitewater to field goals in scoring position could be a major key towards gaining the victory for the Wildcats.
Quick Hit #2: Whitewater’s Justin Howard is a pure athlete. The 5’11” junior is averaging 10.4 yards per punt return, 29.2 yards per kickoff return, claims two return touchdowns, and has hauled in 53 receptions for 428 yards and four touchdowns. Linfield needs to have eyes on this guy whenever he’s on the field.
Quick Hit #3: I don’t know how many times I can write this before it seems repetitive but this game will likely be decided by third down performance. In their three closest victories, Whitewater averaged a 30% conversion rate on third down which is 13% lower than their cumulative year average. Linfield’s defense has been dynamite all year on third down limiting opponents to a 30% conversion rate. Whichever team wins third down, may just win this game.

Monday, December 2, 2013

‘Cats Win!!! Linfield roars back in 31-21 victory over Hampden-Sydney

#5 Dom Forrest and the Linfield defense were all smiles in the 4th quarter.
(Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's 2013 Linfield Football photos here. )

Hampden-Sydney head football coach Marty Favret said his Tigers were going to come out to Maxwell Field to punch Linfield in the mouth.  He wasn’t wrong as H-SC stormed the ‘Catdome and dominated Linfield for the first 20 minutes of the game.  The Tigers did slug Linfield right in the mouth but H-SC didn’t know that this Linfield team has an iron jaw.  Down 21-3 at the 9:43 mark of the 2nd quarter, Linfield slowly took control of the game back from H-SC as the ‘Cats would score the next 28 points of the game to claim the 31-21 victory and advance to a regional finals for the 3rd time in the past 5 seasons.  There were a lot of tense moments during the game as H-SC was ready and threw everything at Linfield they could and came close to what looked like they could possibly score a mammoth upset in this year’s playoff.  But what can you say about Linfield?   For the majority of the season Linfield lit up the opposition but when push came to shove, this Wildcat team shoved back in a major way.

The game started to shift when Linfield’s defense was finally able to solve the Tiger’s offense.  In H-SC’s first five possessions the Tigers posted up 3 long touchdowns and 322 yards of offense (64.4 yards per possession).  After the ‘Cats gave up that 3rd and final score early in the 2nd quarter, Linfield put it together defensively in only allowing 120 yards of offense on H-SC’s next 10 offensive possessions (12 yards per possession).  The Linfield defense shutting down H-SC for the remainder of the game was key as it allowed a Linfield offense that had their issues converting drives for scores regain the lead to help secure the win. 

With the win, Linfield is able to advance to the regional final where the ‘Cats will be traveling out to the region's top seed UW-Whitwater.  We’ll talk more about UWW as the week moves along but what can you say about the Warhawks?  They’re a freaking great football program and Linfield is going to have to bring their “A” game this week in order to advance.  The Warhawk’s are led by an incredible defense that’s only yielding 7.5 points per game (71.1 yards rushing, 152.8 passing, 223.8 total per game) and an offense that’s putting up close to 40 points per game.  Linfield and UWW have history as the ‘Cats and Warhawks have squared off twice in the recent years with UWW getting both wins (2005 & ’09) and have the full respect from the Linfield faithful.  It’s a big week and a bigger game but this is why our guys come to Linfield, to get the opportunity to play the best of the best.  I’m excited to see how our ‘Cats respond.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

The Good

Resolve:  No doubt about it the ‘Cats were rocked but to see this team come together and figure out what needed to be fixed and put it into action was a thing of beauty.  The coaching staff was calm and cool at half and so where the players.  That belief and confidence trickled down throughout the roster and you could see as Linfield ripped the game away from H-SC.

3rd/4th down defense:  4 of 14 on 3rd down and 0 of 3 on 4th down.  Tremendous and those stops were huge.  The ‘Cats started to dial up the pressure as we moved into the 2nd quarter and that was a key element into getting those stops.

Special Teams:  What can you say. Huge. Huge. Huge.  Special teams had a great day for Linfield in coverage, kicking, the call to sniff out that fake punt was giant, and we all know the spark our returns teams added on Saturday.  People often overlook good special teams but you saw on Saturday in how big of an impact these groups can have.


Offense Reaching Deep:  It wasn’t the offenses best day in the office.  They’ll admit that to you but this group dug deep to take some of the pressure off the defense in the 2nd quarter in getting the score to 21-10 and came up huge in the 3rd in getting the go-ahead scores. 

The Bad

Bad Start/Giving up big plays:  I already mentioned some of the stats but Linfield got off to a horrendous start.  Credit H-SC for having a great early game plan in attacking Linfield and slowing down the ‘Cats offense but a lot of that was on the ‘Cats.   Obviously, Linfield can’t have that this upcoming week vs UWW.

Turnovers:  Josh Yoder has taken such great care of the football this year but Saturday wasn’t his day.  I don’t need to harp on it but the three picks either near or in the end zone hurt.  Yoder is a great player and competitor and I’m not worried about him moving forward.  The guy is a warrior and will be ready to go on Saturday.

Penalties:  8 penalties for 56 yards. 

The Ugly

Nothing ugly about winning a playoff game.  There are no style points in getting to advance in the playoffs.  Yeah, the ‘Cats took a few more injuries to spots that are already deeply depleted but this group of ‘Cats keep finding a way to step in and step up.  On to Wisconsin!