Tuesday, November 22, 2016

‘Cats Win!!! Linfield gets a Texas sized playoff win at Hardin-Simmons in the first round of the NCAA’s.

Linfield's defense put the wraps on the explosive Hardin-Simmons offense.
Photo Courtesy from Thomas Metthe: View the Abilene Reporter-News slideshow here
Darn it, Saturday was a fun day to be a Linfield Wildcat fan. We all know the backstory at this point with the ‘Cats in getting slighting by the NCAA and put on the road for the first round of the NCAA tournament against the #11 team in the country. While it was disappointing not getting to play in front of the ‘Catdome crowd this past Saturday, it was a blast for this team to rally together and land a solid, 24-10, road playoff victory over a standout Hardin-Simmons football team.

What can you say about this Linfield defense? The Cowboys came into this playoff game as one of the most explosive teams in the country in averaging 46.7 points per game and 53.6 points at home during the 2016 season, and the ‘Cats dropped the hammer on them defensively.   At first it didn’t appear that was going to be the case as the Cowboys’ offense looked to live up to their hype as they were converting 3rd downs and chewing up yards but after HSU scored their lone TD of the day with 6:27 left in the half, Linfield slammed the door shut on the Cowboys and began to overwhelm Hardin-Simmons at the line of scrimmage and with the tight secondary coverage. It was a brilliant performance by the Linfield defense.

#10 Skylor Elgarico and the Linfield secondary swatted away any hope HSU had in coming back.
Photo Courtesy from Thomas Metthe: View the Abilene Reporter-News slideshow here
On the other side of the ball, the Linfield offense started off the game with some poor field position  but slowly started to loosen up the Cowboys defense with a great combination of a pounding rushing game setting up a big play passing attack. Reed Peterson continues to shine as “Mr. Johnny Walker Blue” had a career day against HSU in piling up 11 receptions for 207 yards and 1 TD.  However, the ‘Cats were far from a one man show as the three headed monster of Payne/Cassill/Choisser combined for 173 yards and 2 touchdowns rushing behind another great effort from the ‘Cats offensive line. The ‘Cats offense did leave points on the field and I’m sure is the area that coaching staff would be quick to nitpick but productivity wise, it was a great effort by an offense that just seemed to assert themselves the longer the game went. 

With the victory, we all know what’s next.  Linfield will be back in Texas this weekend to play the number one team in Division III in second round action. Yes, Linfield did get run off the field by UMHB in the first go around and I’m not here to try to justify this or that about that 39 point loss.  It is what it is and playing for “revenge” isn’t what this Saturday is all about. This Saturday is about coming together and trying to get past a monster of a team and take another step towards the ultimate goal in this Division.  We’ll talk more about Linfield vs UMHB later this week but do take a moment to enjoy the journey this team is on. This is a special Linfield team. The more I see them, the more I know it.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Flat getting it done: The ‘Cats played a terrific football game this past weekend and minimized all the areas that have held back this team. Linfield marched into the heart of Texas and wore out a very good football team. While Linfield only beat the Cowboys by 14 points, that was going away and Linfield had a stranglehold on the contest that whole second half. Just a great effort by this program.

Making plays on the football: As Coach Smith said in the post-game huddle and in the press conference, in the playoffs it’s about making plays on the football and the ‘Cats did plenty of this against Hardin-Simmons. Linfield’s secondary broke up 7 passes on the day, the ‘Cats receivers made some huge plays on the ball to swing field position (EDIII & Peterson), and what can you say about Kennedy Johnson’s strip at the 1 yard line that saved an early touchdown score against the ‘Cats. That was an All-American level type effort by KJ. Bottom line, Linfield made more plays that Hardin-Simmons and that was a big ingredient in the Wildcat victory.

Linfield found its pass rush: Coming into Saturday’s game with Linfield, Hardin-Simmons had only given up 9 sacks on the year in 10 games. NINE. But the ‘Cats, who haven’t been a sack heavy defense this season, brought the pressure all game long in downing the elusive Ryan Breton 5 times on the day while applying constant pressure during the whole game. The ‘Cats have tinkered with their defensive front throughout the season and it’s paying dividends at the right time. 

The ‘Cats rushing attack: It’s been one of the biggest knocks on this Linfield program since the mid 00’s and that’s the ‘Cats can struggle rushing the football against top end Division III teams. While the ‘Cats still have more to prove on that front, Saturday was pretty darn good start in knocking down that criticism with 187 yards rushing on 45 carries (4.2 yards per rush) and two rushing touchdowns. To me, the Linfield Offensive Line wore out the Cowboy defensive front as the game progressed and was so active in getting on and sustaining blocks.

Sam Riddle and the passing attack:  I work hard on the blog on not trying to overly praise individual players because this is the ultimate team game but I just have to say how lucky we are to have watched Sam Riddle play QB for the ‘Cats this past three seasons. Sam is a flat out stud and at times makes the game look so easy when he’s slinging darts over the middle or lofting another perfect long ball. He’s been so fun to watch over the years and was once again against Hardin-Simmons. Riddle threw for 367 yards against HSU and dropped some absolute dimes to what has to be the most diverse receiving corps in Division III.  Every time Riddle dropped back you could hear the Cowboys sideline hold their breath.

#11 Erick Douglas III came up with this beautiful deep ball grab in the 3rd quarter.
Photo Courtesy from Thomas Metthe: View the Abilene Reporter-News slideshow here
 Shutting down the Cowboys and their run game:  HSU came into this game with Linfield in rushing for nearly 200 yards a game and Linfield stuff the Cowboy running game like a Thanksgiving turkey. The ‘Cats held the Cowboys to 15 net rushing yards on the day (22 attempts, 15 yards, 0.7 yards per rush).  I’d be real curious to know when the last time a Hardin-Simmons team was held to that low of a rushing output.

Taking care of the football: Linfield is already a hard football team to beat but when the ‘Cats take great care of the ball and don’t turn it over, it will be a tall task for ANYBODY in the country to knock off this Linfield team. The ‘Cats running backs and receivers did a tremendous job in securing the ball on contact and Riddle’s decision making was top notch all day long.

The Bad

Missed Opportunities:  Linfield had chances to really put some distance between them and the Cowboys but Linfield did miss three field goals and stalled on a 4th down in the first quarter on a promising drive. Don’t get me wrong, the ‘Cats offense had a brilliant day on multiple levels but if Linfield could have cashed on those four other possessions, the ‘Cats might have ran Hardin-Simmons out of their own stadium.

The Ugly

HSU Towel Wall:  It seems that the HSU coaching staff became very paranoid during the game that Linfield was picking their offensive signals so their solution was to build this impenetrable wall of two towels that could barely dry off a 5 year old. After each offensive play, these two unfortunate coaches had to run out on the field to create this wall that blocked the HSU offensive signals from…well…nobody.  If anything, watching these guy enthusiastically pop up their cotton shield after each play was probably the first time anyone from Linfield noticed the Cowboy sideline signal callers. The Cowboys did average over 50 points of offense a game at home so I’m sure it was confusing why Linfield’s defense was owning the line of scrimmage and how the ‘Cats defensive backs were blanketing the Cowboy receivers. It had to be that Coach Vaughan was picking HSU offensive signals and no other reason at all why Linfield held HSU to 0 points and 84 total yards of offense in that second half.

Friday, November 18, 2016

2016 Playoff Round One Preview: Linfield (8-1) at Hardin-Simmons (9-1)

Here we go.
The second season has begun. This is what everyone at Linfield has been waiting for since last December, a chance to be part of the 32 teams in the country playing to crown a national champion five weeks from now. But, Linfield is going to have to do this in a way that most everyone didn’t think was going to be the road laid at the feet of the program. And by road, I mean the road as in five possible road games in a row if Linfield is able to keep advancing in this post-season. And each step of that journey is treacherous and filled with some of the very best teams that Division III has to offer.  That first step begins out in Abilene, Texas against the runner’s up of the American Southwest Conference, the Hardin-Simmons Cowboys.

The Cowboys were the defending ASC champions coming into 2016 and came up one quarter short of being the repeat champs and knocking off what is now the Number 1 team in Division III, The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders. Needless to say that the Cowboys are the real deal and are also a National Title contender in the this field of 32 teams. The Cowboys are a historically outstanding program that has had to live in the shadow of the rise of UMHB and had to rebuild itself under Head Coach Jesse Burleson. The Cowboys took their lumps in the first couple of season under Burleson but he has grown this team under his identity into an explosive, fast, and hard-nosed program that has the talent to beat anyone in Division III.

Hardin-Simmons offense is currently average 513.9 yards per game (10th in nation) and 46.7 points per game (7th in the nation).  The engine of that offense is senior quarterback Ryan Breton who has thrown of 2,470 yards on the season, 22 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions.  Breton is a very creative player who can extend plays and who doesn’t need to be planted in the ground to deliver accurate passes. Breton has some outstanding targets as well as Sophomore Reese Childress is the Cowboy go-to receiver. The 6-1 target can do it all and will the best receiver that the Wildcat defensive backs have faced to date. But the Cowboys are far from a pass only team.  The Cowboys average nearly 200 rushing yards per game behind an incredibly physical offensive line. The ‘Cats have their work cut out on defense in what is facing possibly their biggest challenge of the year.

Flipping over to the other side of the ball, Linfield’s offense better bring it against a big defensive front and athletic linebacking and defensive back group.  The Cowboys are led by their Linebacker battery of Cory Ward, Josh White, and Matthew Hawkins who have combined for 254 tackles on the season.  That is pretty darn outstanding but the depth of this defense goes beyond their LB’s.  The Cowboys have been a sacking machine this season in piling up 33 QB sacks on the year while spreading the love throughout the defensive unit.

For Linfield, this is a huge opportunity to go on the road and beat an outstanding football team. I truly believe Linfield has grown tremendously since the UMHB game. The Wildcat offensive line had to make changes after center Will Heck broke his ankle and that was a setback for the offense.  The insertion of Center Gabe Mojarro into the starting role was the beginning of the reconfiguration and growth of the Wildcat line and offense. As Mojarro and the offensive line has jelled, the offense has continued to grow throughout this season and become a really damn good unit. The play of the Linfield offensive line tomorrow is going to be critical in establishing a rushing game and giving Sam Riddle time to operate. If this group can play to their potential, the Wildcat offense is going to be able to do be productive.  For the defense, the ‘Cats are going to have their hands full. This season, the ‘Cats hasn’t been racking up the sacks and HSU doesn’t give many up. So Linfield, is going to have to find ways to not only limit an effective rushing attack but try to get to the HSU QB. It won’t be easy but who said anything worth while was?

Wildcat11’s Keys To Victory

Be ready for a 60 minute battle: This is going to be a battle for the ‘Cats. The Cowboys are a hell of a team and so the ‘Cats are going to have to have all hands on deck for a full 60 minutes of football.  The ‘Cats will be to be their best selves tomorrow and limit the blemishes that have bogged this team down and play to the strengths of what makes this team one of the best. There will be ups and downs in the game but Linfield needs to ride the waves and keep their minds and focus on the present and doing their very best on the next play on if the ‘Cats are up or down on the scoreboard.

Limit the Cowboy rushing attack: Hardin-Simmons has a fantastic offense. One of the best in the nation so it’s not like the Cowboys couldn’t lean on their passing game or just rushing the ball to win football games but if lets the ‘Boys get loose on both the ground and air it’s going to be a short playoff run for Linfield. The Cowboys currently rush for 191.8 yards per game and are led by Jaquan Hemphill (83.7 yards per game and 11 touchdowns) with Shaun Williams offering up a nice counterpunch at (36.5 yards per game and 5 touchdowns).

Run the darn football:  This is a litmus test for the Wildcat program. Linfield HAS to be able to be effective running the football in the playoffs against elite level programs. We all know if Linfield can establish the rush, the offense is going to move the ball and puts points up on the board.  The Linfield offensive line has done nothing but improve as the season has progressed and the Wildcat rushing attack with Payne, Cassill, and Choisser has been a monster for Linfield.  Saturday is when the rubber meets the road for the Wildcat offense.

Can’t turn it over: Turnovers are what make this Linfield team good or makes this team great. When Linfield can keep the turnovers down this team can beat anyone in the nation but when Linfield is putting the opposition in prime field position or killing promising drives that is when Linfield is vulnerable and beatable. Ball security and decision making is of the highest importance come Saturday.

Keep the Cowboys off of Sam Riddle:  The Linfield offensive line will have their work cut out as are playing against a defense that has sack opposition quarterbacks 33 times this season. It isn’t just one player that is piling up the sacks for the Cowboys but have five players with over 3 sacks each. It’s not only the sacks but the ‘Cats have to keep Sam clean in the pocket and allow him to step into throws in what will be windy conditions at Cowboy stadium.

Limit the explosive plays: Hardin-Simmons offense is super explosive.  The Cowboys average over 10 plays per game that go over 20 yards or more.  HSU has over 102 of these plays per game with 62 of those via the passing game. The Linfield defensive backs will have a huge task as the Cowboys don’t give up many sacks and give their dynamic QB ample time to makes plays with his arm.

Make a difference on Special Teams: Alex Bell for HSU is a kickoff return weapon. Bell has 16 returns on the year, averages 38.4 yards per return, has three touchdowns, seven other returns of over 33 yards or more. Linfield has to find a way to keep the Cowboys special teams bottle up and now allow them to flip the field on the ‘Cats and give the HSU offense short porches to work with.


‘Cats by 1. Yeah, this isn’t going to be easy. Hardin-Simmons is a fantastic football team and right up there with UMHB in terms of talent, coaching, speed, and explosiveness.  Linfield is going to be in a battle in every way imaginable against HSU. However, this Linfield team has all the tools required to find a way to advance and overcome. I can’t wait to see what this Linfield team will do when it’s make or break.

Monday, November 14, 2016

‘Cats Win!!! Linfield rolls past the Lutes 27-10 and fly off to the NCAA's.

#88 Zach Kuzens had a monster day for the Linfield offense.
Photo courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos here.

Now that was a fun way to wrap up the regular season. PLU was game this past Saturday and jumped the ‘Cats early but it was a day that Linfield wasn’t going to be denied.  After giving up a first drive touchdown, the ‘Cats defense settled in and slowly started choking out the Lutes, while the ‘Cats offense was moving the ball at will but had three critical turnovers (a fumble, pick, and turnover on downs) and a missed field that bogged down the offense. However, looking down the barrel of a 10-0 halftime deficit, the Linfield offense turned the tides of the game with a huge 99-yard touchdown drive at the end of the 1st half that closed the game to 3-points and saw the ‘Cats firmly grab the momentum.
From there, it was just a matter of time before Linfield took command of the game in the second half, as the Linfield offense slowly wore down the Lutes and the Wildcat defense ate up PLU for the remainder of the game.  It was a game that had a playoff feel to it and was a great way to end the regular season.

That win makes it eight straight Northwest Conference titles (not league) in a row for the ‘Cats. Since 2009, the ‘Cats have ran roughshod through the NWC posting a 50-1 record in conference games. This has been such a great run of football that sometimes we can take for granted just how good this program has been for better part of a decade.

Along with the victory, the 2016 NWC All-Conference teams were announced with Sam Riddle being named back-to-back Northwest Conference offensive players of the year and Coach Smith being selected NWC Coach of the Year for the 8th consecutive time.  Along with Riddle, Spencer Payne (RB), Johnny Carroll (WR), Stephen Nnabue (OL), Zach Grate (DT), Jason Farlow (LB), Jake Reimer (LB), Mikey Arkans (S), Kennedy Johnson (CB), and Mitch Lewis (R) where named to the first team, while Bryan Cassill (RB), Reed Peterson (WR), Gabe Mojarro (OL), Dakota Smith (OL), Kela Grace (OL), Marcus McGovern (DE), Kyle Chandler (LB), and Skylor Elgarcio (S), where selected as 2nd team all-conference. Eric Igbinoba (WR), Kevin McClean (K), and Dylan Lewis (CB) were Honorable Mention selections as well. While individual awards are fantastic let’s remember these are a result of team success first and foremost. There are many guys that deserve mention as well such as Zach Kuzens, Erick Douglas III, Ryne Furmark, Ty Farber, Mitchell Kekel, Cory Stowell, Sutter Choisser, etc, etc, but the individual award process doesn’t allow to name everyone that is deserving for outstanding individual honors.   Congrats to all on all of your hard work over the years and your contributions to the program.

Now let’s move onto the playoff selections. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty stunning at first to see that our well-deserving program wasn’t rewarded with an opportunity to host a first round playoff game. This is the first time in Linfield’s 13 NCAA Division III playoff appearances that the ‘Cats were not rewarded with at least a single home playoff game. I think everyone was expecting to see Redlands to get shipped out to Linfield but in the end, the NCAA playoff committee thought it would be more unfair to have a one-seed UMHB have a rematch with Hardin-Simmons so the committee sent the sacrificial lamb (Redlands) to the Cru’ instead. OK, I can see and live with that, but what was very curious to see that Linfield was shipped off to play Hardin-Simmons instead. As tough as a pill that is to swallow, what the NCAA committee looked at was “results vs a common opponent” as the tie breaker and that takes us back to the UMHB meltdown.  We all know that Linfield has grown a ton since that second game of the year but Hardin-Simmons held a lead over the Cru’ in the 4th quarter of the game before dropping the 5 point decision. That is what sold it for the committee to ship Linfield out. It’s a shame to get punished for stepping up and playing top flight opposition but I would rather have Linfield shoot for the moon that just play a bunch of SCIAC scrubs year after year.

#8 Spencer Payne moved to 3rd on Linfield's all-time rushing list this past Saturday.
Photo courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos here
So this is the path that is before our ‘Cats and it’s a tough and hard road but this is a path that THIS Linfield is built for. The offense is explosive and the defense can shut down anyone in the nation but the first step in these playoffs is a lethal one.  Hardin-Simmons is NO JOKE and has all the talent, size, skill, speed to end Linfield’s second season this Saturday. So the ‘Cats have a big cake to eat and just need to focus on taking one bite at a time.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Rushing Attack: Man, that was a fantastic day rushing the football for Linfield. The ‘Cats just keep pounding and pounding away as Linfield would rush for 216 yards off of 41 carries (5.3 yard per rush) and be the catalyst for the Wildcat offense.  The Linfield offense line has done nothing by jell and improve over the season and has turned into a really damn good group and I love what the staff has done with the Payne/Cassill/Choisser running back by committee. Each guy has their own unique skill set and has found how to utilize it best behind this offensive line.

Defensive sticklers:  PLU had two prime opportunities in the first half to create some real distance between themselves and Linfield when two Wildcat turnovers put PLU in the redzone to start drives. The ‘Cats defense came up clutch with a spectacular sliding interception by Cory Stowell and then holding PLU to a field on the other PLU red zone opportunity. Both of those stops were massive to the early momentum of the game.

#4 Jake Reimer and the Linfield defense limited PLU to a season low 44 yards of rushing offense.
Photo courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos here
99 yards drive at end of the half: With 2:13 left to go in the half, PLU still had help Linfield scoreless and pinned the ‘Cats at their one yard line. Linfield responded with a momentum seizing drive what saw the ‘Cats drive the length of the field in XX seconds and punch in their first TD of the game with 46 seconds left in the half. It was at that point that Linfield took control of the ball game and went into the break with a head of steam.

Rush Defense: Linfield’s rush defense was outstanding vs PLU.  The ‘Cats held PLU to 44 rushing yards on 24 attempts (1.8 yards per rush) and it was a big reason why Linfield was able to hold PLU scoreless after the Lutes took the early 10-0 lead.

The Bad

Penalties: Any time you have over 100 yards in penalty yards, it’s going to win up in the bad category.  Linfield had some BAD penalties in that first half that killed a promising first drive for Linfield and wiped out an incredible Spencer Payne kick turn for touchdown. Linfield is going to have to play a cleaner game on the road.

Turnovers: The turnovers came *this* close of turning a manageable deficit into crater of a hole for Linfield.  Thankfully the damage was held to a minimum but that could have been really bad. Everyone knows at this point and the turnovers are what’s going to make or break this Linfield team in the second season.  No reason to keep hammering away at it as this point.

The Ugly

Not embracing Saturday as Linfield’s last home game of the season: This is a personal ugly as I didn’t fully embrace this past Saturday as the last time I would see this team an incredible senior class play on the ‘Catdome turf.  I was assuming that I would get one more shot to wake up in my own bed and roll over to one of the coolest venues in Division III football to watch some playoff football in the ‘Catdome.  I wish I would have smelled the roses a little better as this is a fantastic football team filled with tremendous young men. Thank you fellas for great memories at the ‘Catdome. Now lets get on this damn road and get after it!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

No game posts this week

Sorry gang for the lack of posts this week....just been super crazy at work and had some other obligations to fulfill. We'll be back to our regular scheduled playoff week posts starting on Monday.

Monday, November 7, 2016

‘Cats Win!!!! Linfield stomps in the mud and stomps Puget Sound in 33-7 victory.

Make that 8 straight Northwest Conference titles.

And the winner of the 2016 Northwest Conference automatic playoff berth is…..your Linfield Wildcat! Heck yes and what a way to do in a pig style football game against Puget Sound. The field conditions will come up a few times in the game review but dang that was a sloppy mess. I want you to think of Whitworth’s grass field and how nice that surface is and then just think of the complete worst and opposite and that would be the Logger’s Peyton Field.

While the field conditions and constant rain did narrow the Linfield offensive playbook, the ‘Cats did what they needed to do on offense in getting points where they could, flash the occasional big pass play, and then just grind the Loggers down in the rushing attack. It wasn’t the prettiest offensive performance of 2016 but it was effective in what Linfield needed to do in boat racing the Loggers.

On the defensive side of the ball, the ‘Cats just continue to impress. This has been a different defense than the previous two season, as Alex Hoff created so much pressure on teams in how they handled their pass protection, but this Linfield defense has carved their own identity in slamming the door on offenses on 3rd down and hardly yielding at all on 4th down.  It’s been a stout defense and one that I think is built for success in the post-season with their ability to make plays on the ball and continue to be a fantastic tackling group.

Now onto the season finale….The Lutes come to town and I’m excited about this match up.  While the Lutes don’t have the best win/loss record, this is a team that has the ability to give the ‘Cats a game and challenge the top ‘Cats of the NWC. Linfield is playing to own the Northwest Conference title outright as Linfield has clinched at least a share of their 8th consecutive conference title (which is extending the record Linfield broke last season with their 7th consecutive NWC title). It’s been such an awesome ride starting back in 2009. Heck, I still remember that opening game in 2009 when Linfield just blew away a 4th ranked Hardin-Simmons team in the ‘Catdome in the season opener. After three tough season, where Coach Smith was getting the program reorganized with his own stamp, the fruits of that labor finally paid off in the 2009 season and haven’t stopped since then. It’s been a glorious ride and I know that hunger hasn’t left this coaching staff, players, or program.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

One Goal down: After the ‘Cats loss to UMHB, the goal of reaching the post season came down to if Linfield was going to be able to clinch the Northwest Conference’s automatic bid. In rolling over Puget Sound, the ‘Cats just did that by owning at least a share of the NWC title but owning the tie breaker over Whitworth (if Linfield loses this weekend to PLU).  It’s one of the yearly program goals to reach the post-season and it feels great to see this team accomplish it. I NEVER take the playoffs for granted so it’s a great feeling to see Linfield represent the NWC once again.

3rd and 4th down defense: Linfield was already one of the best defenses in the country on 3rd and 4th down and this past Saturday did nothing but help solidify that standing. Linfield’s defense throttled the Logger offense to 1 of 15 on 3rd down conversions and 1 of 5 on 4th down.  The Loggers loan 3rd down conversion came on their 1st attempt of the day and Puget Sound’s only 4th down conversion was on a penalty. Linfield’s defense suffocated the Loggers all day long.

Rushing Attack: The field conditions really limited a number of Linfield’s options in the passing game so the ‘Cats had to lean extra hard on the ground attack and Linfield’s ground and pound was up for the challenge in rushing for 230 yards on 47 carries (4.9 yards per rush) and 2 rushing touchdowns, including a tough as nails run by Sutter Choiser and an electric run by Spencer Payne that set up a short TD blast by Spencer two plays later.

17 pass break-ups:  Linfield doesn’t keep this stat on the record books but the ‘Cats might have very well set a team record with pass break-ups. Linfield’s defense secondary was incredibly active all game long in wrapping up the Puget Sound passing attack and 17 break-ups is just crazy. Kennedy “KJ Island” Johnson had five alone as he’s been the premiere shutdown corner in the conference, while Mikey Arkans, Dylan Lewis, and Linebacker Jake Reimer all had multiple break-ups on the day.

Taking Care of the Football: Linfield’s starting offensive unit did a masterful job in taking of the ball in hard rain for much of the day and what could be describe as a quagmire of a playing surface. In fact, the running back trio of Payne/Cassill/Choisser have only lost one fumble on the 2016 season and Sam Riddle has gone over his last 100 passing attempts without throwing a pick.

Eliminating their rushing attack: The Loggers have tried to have more of a rushing attack this season but the Loggers wanted nothing to do with challenge Linfield on the ground.  The Loggers running backs and slot receivers could only muster 27 net rushing yards as a group on 12 rushing attempts.  The Loggers abandoned the rushing game in the 2nd half as UPS only called 2 running plays in the second half.

Kicking Game: Good day kicking on what is a terrible surface. Snapping was very good and Kevin McClean did a great job flipping field position and pinning the Loggers (37.5 per punt on 4 punts) and kicker Willy Warne drilled 2 of 3 on field goals (36 and 22 yard) and has done a great job in placement on his kickoffs.

Breaking out the old school: Props to the Linfield coaching staff for saving the wear and tear on the newer gear by breaking out the old school grass road uniform sets in what was a 3 hour mud fight. It was fun to see the huge LINFIELD name above the numbers at least one more time.

The Bad

Blowing a punt return for TD: My oh my, Kennedy Johnson had a gem on his hands when he picked up a bouncing punt of Linfield’s own 27 yard line and bowed back across the field to a wall of waiting Linfield blockers. It was a for sure return for touchdown but a block in the back killed the spectacular return and set the ‘Cats up in crappy field position on their own 12 yard line. 

The Ugly

Payton Field: I don’t think I’m being too cruel when I say that Puget Sound’s Payton Field at Baker Stadium is hot garbage. Puget Sound’s football facility is already the worst in the Northwest Conference and lacks any charm or character but man the field was something else and by something else I mean their surface isn’t good enough to be a cow pasture. But hey, at least their brand new field turf practice field is looking pretty good.

Friday, November 4, 2016

2016 NWC Post 'Em Contest: Week 10

Fox brought a butter knife to a gun flight last weekend at the 'Catdome.
Don't have a ton of time to chat this week about the conference.  I'm trying to pack for tomorrow's game up at Puget Sound and (509)Rat couldn't get his picks to me this week.  He said something about a Twilight movie marathon he was in the middle of. Who knows...

Short and sweet this week so let's get to the picks!

Northwest Conference Games of the Week:

Whitworth (6-2) over Willamette (3-5) (at Whit): This should be a runaway victory for the Rats on Senior Day and too bad they don’t finish the season tomorrow as they have to have the season finale at Lewis & Clark next week (talk about anti-climactic). What this is really about is two programs headed in opposite directions as Whitworth is positioning itself up for a big 2017 run at the NWC title as Willamette has become more lost in the woods the further the Bearcats get away from the Speckman era.

Pacific Lutheran (4-3) over Lewis and Clark (0-7) (at PLU): Talk about another snoozer. What I’m most interested in is who is going to be playing quarterback for the Lutes and this is mainly for selfish reasons since PLU is at Linfield next week. The one thing I’ll say about the Pios is that they’ve lost their last two games by 11 (to UPS) and 14 (to Willamette). It may sounds funny but that is a positive sign of growth for the Pios who are not getting run out of the building in every game like they in the middle of their season. Who knows, with the way PLU like being in close games maybe this will only be a single digit victory?

Pacific (3-5) over George Fox (3-5) (at GFU): Biggest tossup of the week, IMO.  I wasn’t impressed with George Fox. They have some size up front on the defense line but they are not very dynamic players and only have one good LB. The QB play for both teams is very spotty as both Summerfield and Schroder can fall on the range to decent to terrible from play-to-play. The biggest advantage Pacific has is their pass rush, linebacker play, and if Kobe Williams can get loose on offense (if he’s able to catch the ball). While I think GFU is a more discipline football team, I think Pacific will win the battle of trenches for a hard fought win.

West Region Games of the Week:

#25 Monmouth (8-0) over St. Norbert (6-2) (at Mon):  There is only one quarterback in the country that’s having a more efficient season at Quarterback than Sam Riddle (191.2) and that’s Monmouth’s Tanner Matlick (217.6). The Scots QB has tossed 22 QBs to 1 pick but he’s playing against Lewis and Clark level defenses each week. This is for all the marbles in the Midwest Conference as both teams are undefeated in conference play but the Scots not only putting up the points but have played great defense this year as well. Great Scots for the win.

Eureka (8-1) over Northwestern (8-1) (at EC): This is a 50/50 game for the conference title in the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference. Both teams haven’t been lighting the world on fire on offense but have been good enough to be standing on their conference pile at the end of it. I don’t know anything about either team but just taking Eureka based off my gut….but it just might be indigestion.

National Games of the Week:

#16 St. Lawrenence (8-0) over Hobart (7-1) (at SLU):  Big shout out to the Saints.  This is their best football team in a long time, and in fact, St. Lawrence was 0-10 back in 2012.  But they turned it around in 2013 and have been a Liberty League contender since then. Hobart has been the LL bully for the past six seasons so there is a changing of the guard feel to this one and I’m jumping on the Saints bandwagon.

#19 Wabash (7-1) over Denison (7-1) (at Denison): In looking up the history, Wabash owns Denison and that’s good enough for me. Wabash always best Denison.

Wildcat11's Week 10 Northwest Conference Power Rankings 

1. Linfield: The 'Cats left no doubt who is running the NWC last week.
2. Whitworth: Offense puts up crazy offensive numbers and terrible defensive ones as well.
3. Pacific: The middle of the NWC is a mess and the Boxers have a chance to claim it this weekend.
4. George Fox: Man, that had to be a long 20 minute bus ride from McMinnville last weekend.
5. PLU: Just haven't been the same since the 4th quarter of the Whitworth game.
6. Willamette: Well earned.
7. UPS: Get their shot to tug on superman's cape.
7.  Lewis & Clark: Been competitive the last two weeks...that something.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

2016 Game 8 Preview: Linfield (6-1) at Puget Sound (3-4)

Road Trip!
And off to Tacoma we go! After moving to 5-0 in Northwest Conference play the ‘Cats moved one step closer to winning a piece of their 8th straight NWC title, and more importantly, the automatic bid for the 2016 playoffs.  This Wildcat football team has come a long ways since that UMHB 2nd half meltdown as Linfield has grown up on the offensive and defensive lines over the past two months.  That growth of the interior coupled with better decision making with the football and a smothering secondary has propelled this Linfield team to beat NWC foes by an average of 36.0 points per game. This Saturday, in Tacoma, will be another chance to just see where this Linfield team is at.

Standing in Linfield’s way this Saturday is the Puget Sound Loggers. The Loggers are in a comedown year after having their best season in forever during 2015 that saw UPS finish 3rd in the conference with a 6-3 record. This season saw UPS start the year at 2-0 against the SCIAC and that led to UPS’s head coach claiming the Loggers are a “legit” football program. But those victories were fool’s gold as those tight victories came against some of the worst teams in that conference. Since then, it’s been a steady slide for UPS as the Loggers have stumbled to a 1-4 NWC record with this game left as a chance to wash out the taste in what has had to been a disappointing season for UPS.

For the ‘Cats this weekend, it's going to be an opportunity to see if last weekend’s game is a trend for this Wildcat team or if was an anomaly.  In some ways, I think Linfield fans will be holding their breath some to see if that crisp and sharp team from a few days ago will be loading the bus this Saturday morning or if it will be the team that can easily swat a team away but trips over their own feet at times. I’m curious as well and we only have to wait a little over a day to find out what we’re going to get.

(Forgot to track down a player this week so you get to watch Linfield smoke George Fox again)
Wildcat11’s Keys To Victory

Keep the Foot on the Gas: A big challenge this week for Linfield is keep their eye on the prize. After coming off two big wins and playing their best football of the season last week against George Fox, Linfield has to keep the hammer down. The last thing Linfield can afford is to slip into the patterns that have bogged down this explosive Wildcat team. No, the Wildcats have to continue emphasis winning the turnover battle, playing better kickoff coverage, and limiting silly penalties. We all saw what this team looks like when they minimize the mistakes and I’m hoping to see more of that this weekend.

Handle the field conditions: Not only is Linfield playing their last regular season away game of the season but Linfield is also playing their last game on grass this season. The UPS sod doesn’t have a great reputation and with the rain in the forecast you can expect muddy conditions. The ‘Cats are going to have embrace the mud and adjust to getting in and out of breaks and start/stop movements. I’m excited about an old fashion mud game and I hope the ‘Cats are as well.

Linebackers have to have a fantastic day covering/tackling: The Logger’s air raid offense is all about clearing the underbelly of the defense, getting the ball off quickly, and letting their receivers pick up chunks of yardage to help move the sticks. It’s a death of 1,000 paper cuts style of offense and if your Linebackers stink it can be very effective. Our Linebackers don’t stink and they will need to have a great day in covering all of those quicks and drags underneath to minimize yards after catch. The better this groups tackle, the better our defense will perform.

Run the ball and keep running the ball: Linfield is averaging 253.4 rushing yards a game in 5 Northwest Conference action. Linfield has done it with an offensive line that’s gelled and with a three headed running back attack. Linfield is going to need more of the same and even more so with what could be sloppy field conditions. The Wildcats offensive line need to continue to show why they’re the best unit in the conference by moving bodies and letting Cassill, Payne, and Choisser do their work.

Put a premium on ball security: I know the theme of mud and rain has been throughout this post but the elements will be a factor if the ‘Cats allow it to be. Linfield was brilliant last weekend with the ball security and a big reason why they smoked GFU. The ‘Cats have to make good decisions with the football at all times.

Special teams help own field position: I hope the ‘Cats kickoff team saw just how valuable they can be by pinning the opposition and letting the defense hold that field position.  It’s been a Linfield formula to success since 2009….great kickoff coverage, defense makes it hold, set up the offense with short field to work with, rinse, lather, repeat. Get after the Loggers this week and don’t allow them to flip the field in this phase of the game.

Get ‘em off the field on 3rd down: The Linfield defense has been fantastic on 3rd down for most of the season in only allowing teams to convert on 27% of attempts. In fact, Linfield has even been better on 4th down in yielding only 2 conversions on 15 attempts (13%) that puts the ‘Cats 5th in that nation in this category. The Wildcat defense is going to need more of this this weekend against the Loggers.


‘Cats by 21. Linfield is the better football team and program by a long shot.  However, the ‘Cats better come to play this weekend up on a surface this program doesn’t get much time on against a team that’s been beatdown and battered by the Wildcats in the Joe Smith Era. If Linfield plays a clean game there is no doubt that we’re looking at a Wildcat win but Linfield HAS to be the agreesors. If the ‘Cats are then it will be a fun bus ride home.