Thursday, September 28, 2017

2017 NWC Pick 'Ems and Power Rankings: Week 4

The 'Catdome should be packed this Saturday.
The pick ‘em post is back after a week off.  Fox played last week while everyone took a powder but a single team playing isn’t enough for a pick ‘em post.  This non-conference season has been a little strange as it has told us a lot so far about Whitworth, Fox, L&C, Linfield, and Willamette but not too much about PLU, Pacific, and Puget Sound due to various reasons. 

Getting off the Linfield/Whitworth angle you can point to Fox as a legit contender in 2017.  For those that haven’t been around that probably seems remarkable that Fox is playing great in the 5th year of reinstating the program and 4th year in playing.  However, those that have been around the NWC for any significant time, this year isn’t that surprising as Pacific did something very similar in 2013 in their 4th year back as a program. Regardless, Fox has done a great job 3 games in and have served noticed heading into conference play that they’re going to be a handful in 2017.

Lewis & Clark showed some first signs of real progress since Jay Locey took over with the Pios winning their first game since the ex-Linfield Head Coach took over in 2015. The Pioneers knocked off Poman-Pitzer 40-29 on the road and could make a legit move in climbing out of the NWC basement in 2017.  And the most likely candidate to slip into the basement is Willamette. While the Bearcats have not been bad in their first two games but their performances haven’t inspired either. 

On the extended breaks were PLU, Pacific, and Puget Sound on various reasons.  PLU and Pacific were due to circumstances out of their control and UPS built in their schedule with a two week bye so their coaching staff could spend that time spamming high schoolers with their 5th offer letter from Puget Sound Football.  It’s hard to really get a gauge on all three of these teams. Yeah, UPS played twice but one of those games was against the living dumpster file known at Occidental but lost to a La Verne team who got blanked 53-0 by Whitworth. We’ll find out quick as PLU and UPS hook up for their rivalry game and the one-time upstart Pacific faces the current upstarts in George Fox.  The opening weekend should offer some clear lines where the 2017 NWC season is going.

Northwest Conference Games of the Week

Lewis & Clark (1-0) over Willamette (0-2) (at L&C):  Confidence is a heck of a thing and the Pioneers picked up a truckload of it with that first win. I’m not just basing this off of L&C getting a win but the fact the team the Pioneers beat, Pamona-Pitzer, won their season opener against Rhodes College.  That same Rhodes team beat the Bearcats in a wild shootout the week prior to kick off the season. It get dangerous when you play the “x team beat y, and y beat z, so x should beat z” game but it at least tells me that the Pioneers are ready to compete with Willamette and take back the Wagon Wheel trophy to the hill.

George Fox (2-1) over Pacific (0-1) (at Fox): What we’ve seen the previous two weeks out of Fox is exceptional defensive play. I’m still not sold on their offense but the Bruin defense has been good.  That will probably spell doom for Pacific, who in their only game, could only muster up 130 passing yards and 3 picks when you have one of the most explosive receivers in D3 with Kobe Williams. I just don’t think the Boxers are very strong behind center and that is going to get exposed this weekend in Newberg.

Pacific Lutheran (0-1) over Puget Sound (1-1) (at PLU): This will either be a statement game for PLU or a toss-up game where either team could win in the 4th quarter.  I think PLU QB Cole Chandler is a heck of a player but just doesn’t have very many weapons around him to fully utilize his skill set.  I talked up how good PLU’s defensive secondary was going to be and CLU hung 280 passing yards and 2 TD’s on the Lutes. So that is the match-up that will determine the game, what I think could be a good defensive backfield in PLU vs the pass first and pass later Puget Sound team.  Who wins that battle is going to walk away with the victory.

Wildcat11's 2017 NWC Power Rankings Week 4:

1. Linfield - Until proven otherwise

2. Whitworth - Have a chance to prove it this Saturday

3. George Fox - Bruins are going to challenge Whitworth and Linfield for the conference title.

4. Pacific Lutheran - Two weeks off so we'll see what if PLU found someone for Chandler to throw the ball to.

5. Pacific - The Boxers have also been on an extended break so we'll see how they look this weekend against the surging Bruins.

6. UPS - Big weekend for the Loggers.

7. Willamette - Better be ready this weekend for Lewis & Clark.

8. Lewis & Clark - Getting that first win in the Locey era might be the launching pad in crawling out of the NWC basement.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

2017 Game 3 Preview: Linfield (1-1) vs Whitworth (3-0)

You Ready?
After a week off to reassess this 2017 Linfield team and shake off a tough loss to the University of Mary-Hardin Baylor, the ‘Cats are back and kicking off Northwest Conference play with a giant football game. Coming to town is the undefeated and red-hot Whitworth Pirates who have lit up the competition and filled their roster with confidence that this is the year they could dethrone the ‘Cats as the top team in the NWC. The Rats have good reason to be confident, as their offense is led by one of the best quarterbacks in Division III in Ian Kolste who is paired with a deep and fine receiver group.  The Kolste led offense has been on a blistering pace in putting up 554.0 yards per game and tacking up 52.7 points per contest.  In watching Kolste, he’s in total command of the offense as he has a full grip on where his receivers are at all times and knows if his primary targets are not available, he can quickly unload to his always present release valves. It has been impressive to watch.

In all the talk about the Whitworth offense, what has truly made the difference and turned the Rats into a scary team has been the turnaround of their defense.   In the previous three seasons under the Sandberg era, the Rats defense has been the suspect at times in allowing 28.5 points per games from 2014-2016. So far this season, Whitworth is only allowing 7.7 points per game as the Rats defensively switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 front. The switch has been just what the doctor ordered for Whitworth as the Pirates defense looks much more physical at the point of attack and has done a fantastic job in keeps points off the board.  You pair the turnaround of the defense, with an electric offense, and solid special teams and you have a legit contender to come knocking for what Linfield has owned since 2009.

For the ‘Cats, I’m stating the obvious that this is big. The playoffs for Linfield started just as soon as the clock vs. UMHB hit 00:00. The path to reach the long term goals for this Linfield team is now much narrower than at the start of the season. The ‘Cats have had two weeks to grow from an UMHB game where Linfield’s staff was truly able to gauge where the roster needs to be fine-tuned before NWC play starts. What we do know is that Linfield’s defense has a chance to be very good.  Our defensive line can create pressure without the need to bring extra bodies and leave the secondary more exposed than needed.  That is a big reveal so far this season.  Along with that, our linebacking corp has lived up to the hype with their combination of experience, speed, and physicality.  Linfield is going to need our front line of the defense primed and ready to go because our emerging secondary is going to get their first real challenge in the passing game this weekend.

Offensively,  I know that the game vs UMHB felt like a step backward but Linfield, myself, and our fans need to realize that UMHB defense is the cream of the crop in Division III and the reason the Cru will be heavy favorites to repeat as Champs. There was no hiding from where this offense must improve upon but I’m incredibly confident that our offense is going to continue to grow as this season moves along and is going to become an explosive group. We have skill and talent bubbling all over the place, it’s mostly a matter of getting this group firing on the same page play after play after play. When this happens, the 2017 Linfield Wildcats are going to be a nightmare to deal with. But we all know that needs to start happening this Saturday in the ‘Catdome.  My gut feeling is that the identity of this offense is going to be a run-first offense and burn you with big passing plays. That’s where this offense needs to go to reach the potential that’s on the roster and once they get there....look out.

I’m fired up for Saturday. This is a gut check moment for our ‘Cats to see if they can answer the call and face a program that’s has been circling this game for about 3 years. Whitworth is a worthy challenger and Saturday should have a playoff game atmosphere.
Wildcat11’s Keys To Victory

Playing to this Roster’s Potential: This team is close to forming up like Voltron but they need to forget the Linfield teams of year’s past and just find their own identity and let it rip.  That’s been the beauty of Linfield football for the past 60 years.  Each team upon itself had its own unique skill set and personality. That’s what this 2017 team needs to decide; just who they are and jump into the fight with that identity as a shield and a weapon.

PRESSURE: The ability for Linfield’s front four to make Ian Kolste uncomfortable is paramount in this game. If Linfield can’t move him off his spot and can’t put him into the turf time after time, it could be a long game for the Wildcat defense.  Kolste internal clock is excellent but there are times where he’ll hang onto the ball to let the routes develop downfield. The ‘Cats defensive line has to be the hammer and have the gas pedal down to the floor the entire game.

Establish the Running Game: I’m sure the Whitworth coaching staff has been preaching it for two weeks that if the Rats are going to win, they have to limit the ‘Cats rushing attack. They’re right.  Linfield must be able to gash the Rats defense on the ground in order to control this game and set up the big play passing attack. If Linfield can get North/South and challenge the Whitworth safeties to get more involved stopping the run, the rest of the offense is going to open up for the ‘Cats.  

Win 3rd down: The Pirates currently sit #3 in the country in 3rd down offense in converting at a 57.8% clip (26 conversions on 45 attempts) and the Rats defense is allowing teams to only convert 18.8% of the time (9 conversions on 48 attempts – 4th in D3). That’s where these games with Whitworth has been won or lost since the 2014 season.  The ‘Cats defense has to have answers on 3rd down and Linfield must be in short yard situations during the game in order to get that conversion rate high and keep giving the ‘Cats offense the advantage.

Makes Plays on the Football: Needless to say but the ball will be in the air early and often against Whitworth.  I’m sure the Rats will try to show a run game to keep Linfield’s defense honest but the ‘Cats defensive backs are going to have their first real challenge.  Our DB’s have to rise to the occasion and be aggressive when that football gets put up in the air.  On the flip side, our offense has to do better as well on the deep ball and make those big plays that this offense needs.

Cash in on every scoring possibility:  Whitworth is going to score. I think Linfield’s defense has a chance to keep the Rats down but they are going to get points up on the board so it’s imperative that Linfield coverts on every possible opportunity to get the ball into the end zone or split the uprights. The ‘Cats can squander points on Saturday if they want to win.

Own the Field Positon Battle: Gonna have to get it done in this department.  Linfield can ill afford to give Whitworth short porches to operate offensively and the ‘Cats offense can spend the game pinned deep in their own territory. This ties back into winning on 3rd down but also on our special teams to be lights out.  Whitworth has some dudes that can hurt you in the return game do a great job in coverage. The ‘Cats special teams have to rise to the challenge and own this phase of the game.


‘Cats by 3. I’ve done lots of typing here but ultimately, like it is every game, it’s up to the players to execute the game plan and get it done. While Whitworth won’t have the physicality of UMHB, if Linfield sleeps on Whitworth’s ability to move the ball and job they’ve done on defense this season, then this game is lost before it begins. The Rats are legit and Linfield must put it together this weekend if the ‘Cats want to become the team they want to be this season.  I’m a believer and when the dust settles on Saturday afternoon it’s going to be a great day in the valley. Go ‘Cats!

Monday, September 18, 2017

UMHB boat race the 'Cats in 24-3 loss at the 'Catdome

Jason Farlow (#35) and the 'Cats defense played tough against the Cru's offense
Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos Here.
That was tough.  We knew what UMHB was all about coming into this game, a defensive juggernaut with a play making offense, and the Cru lived up the hype in a slowly suffocating 24-3 defeat for Linfield. After the first drive of the game where Linfield was effective in moving the ball and missed a wide open shot at a TD, the Crusaders defense put a lock on the Wildcat offense for the rest of the day in limiting the ‘Cats to just 141 yards of total offense in a text book butt whooping on that side of the ball. I hate writing that but it’s what happened.  The Crusader defensive line created chaos all day with their ability to penetrate and shed blockers like they were a passing breeze. The result were 9 punts on 11 offensive possessions and 5 three and outs. That was about as dominate performance on a Linfield offense that I’ve seen. 

Flipping over to the other side of the coin, the Linfield defense balled.  However, the Wildcat's defense made one early game mistake on an assignment and UMHB made the ‘Cats pay on an untouched 74-yard TD run on a veer option keeper on the Crusaders second play of the game.  Once that dust settled, the Wildcat defensive performance was outstanding. The ‘Cats physicality up front was impressive as well as their ability to pressure the QB on passing downs.  UMHB also tested the ‘Cats defense often on the edges and Linfield’s speed on the outside was up to the task.  The Wildcat defense flew to the football and didn’t allow the Cru’s short passing game break for significant gains.  The outcome of the game left over the 3,200 fans in attendance disappointed in the end results, but at the same time, hopeful that this team does have the talent and skill to develop into something electric as the season progresses.

On a side note, I loved the changes that the athletic department put into the Linfield game day experience.  “Streak Street” has some real potential just right outside the stadium, the student section rebranding was great, and all the new signage and additional booths, including a beer garden were a smash hit.  My only request is they either crank up the volume on that 3rd down siren or just cut it off all together.  The low volume on that siren doesn’t inspire at all.  Make that LOUD.

So where do the ‘Cats go from here? Well, the playoffs for Linfield started as soon the clock hit 00:00. If this Wildcat team has aspirations to make the division III playoffs then the margin of error is razor thin.  That means the path runs through the NWC and the goal of winning the conference championship and the automatic qualifier.  But this is far from a shoe-in for the ‘Cats.  Coming to the ‘Catdome in two weeks is the best Whitworth team that I can remember.  Yes, better than the 2007 team that went undefeated in the regular season, beat Linfield, and hosted a playoff game.  What has made the Pirates so dangerous this season is not entirely their electric offense (52.7 PPG through 3 games) but it’s their new found defensive prowess.  The 2017 Rats defense is only allowing 7.7 PPG and combine that with their pinball like scoring offense and you have a dangerous football team.   I think our defense is tremendous but Whitworth is going to probe and test our defensive secondary like the previous two games couldn’t and our young offense is going to battle another excellent defense as well.  If the ‘Cats don’t fix what has hampered them the first two game, Linfield will be looking at a 1-2 start and behind the 8 ball in terms of this programs long term goals. I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer but I’m just laying out the clear facts of this season. The 2017 Wildcats have a chance to be excellent but the maturation process has to be accelerated.

Success for this 2017 team isn’t going to come in a flashy video promo or a new game day experience at the ‘Catdome. Nope, success for this team is going to start Monday afternoon and it will come dressed in overalls and a hard hat in the form of hard work and attention to the smallest of details. The ‘Cats have two weeks to figure it out and I’m looking forward to the response.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Tremendous defensive effort: You take away the blown assignment long-TD run by T.J. Josey and the Linfield defense pretty much squared up the Crusaders offense until the late 4th quarter drive where the exhausted defense gave up the their only sustained drive of the night.  I thought the ‘Cats defensive line front played a fantastic game in terms of creating stalemates on the line of scrimmage and pressuring the quarterback.  There was a little bend at times up the A gaps but overall, the ‘Cats defense was as advertised, fast and physical. 

#98 Tony Kraus racked up one of Linfield's 7 tackles for loss against UMHB.
Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos Here.

No Turnovers/Low Penalties: The ‘Cats certainly didn’t hurt themselves on Saturday and that is a marked improvement over the opening game down in Chapman.  That was even more impressive considering the defense the ‘Cats offense was facing with the Cru.  I know this is a bit of reach in trying to find silver linings in getting bullied offensively but eliminating turnovers was a positive takeaway.

‘Cats legs: Freshman Punter Colton Ramos continues to impress (but has been kicking way too much for any Wildcat’s liking).  Ramos assaulted the football on Saturday with an average of 42.2 yards per punt, including a beauty that should have been downed at the goal line. Place kicker Willy Warne continues to show his growth and should be a critical weapon for the Linfield offense this season.  Warne was 1 of 2 on attempts this weekend but nailed a 51-yard attempt right at the end of the first half in a pressure situation.

The Bad

That kickoff return for a touchdown:  Any momentum the ‘Cats had going into the half down 10-3 evaporated on a 95-yard kickoff return by Bryce Wilkerson to start to second half.  Linfield didn’t even get a finger on Wilkerson as he split the coverage team like a hot knife through butter. It sucked because I thought our special teams had a solid day in coverage up to that point. UMHB had three big plays against Linfield and this was an ugly critical one.

Not making enough plays on the ball: Linfield had a few big of opportunities to make plays on balls on the air to possibly stem the tide of the game but couldn’t convert and it cost the ‘Cats. We have dudes that can get behind defenses and the speed to keep up with receivers but we had to be better on winning the ball.

Not in-sync offense: It was a pressure cooker of a test for this offense and the ‘Cats couldn’t find answers offensively.  Linfield blew a great opportunity during the first drive to strike for the touchdown but overthrew a wide open Tyler Torgerson, missed the field goal, and could find their foothold against an iron curtain defense after that.  For most of the game it seemed that our receivers would be zigging and our QB’s would be zagging in terms of the passing game were not one the same page.  I still feel this group will find themselves as they get more game action together but there is no chance to breathe with Whitworth coming into town.

34 yards of rushing: 29 rushing attempts for a net total of 34 yards. The Crusaders flat owned the attack on the line of scrimmage. The ‘Cats HAVE to be a threat in the rushing game if this offense is going to be productive for the rest of 2017.  It kills me writing this, because I love this group of guys and still believe they have the potential to be excellent, but they have to gel and get better or Linfield is going to struggle to finish 3rd in the NWC.

The Ugly

Being Kept out of the End Zone: For the second game in a row, the Crusaders have kept the Linfield offense from scoring a touchdown.  That stings.  Look, we’re talking about the best defense in the country at our level and possibly the best defensive line I’ve seen since watching DIII football but it sucks that our offense has been completely neutralized by the Crusaders.  To put it bluntly, UMHB physically owned us at the point of attack and UMHB’s speed at Linebacker cleaned up any hope of out flaking the push upfront. Saturday was a gauge to see where this offense is at and the result was a Christmas list length of items for the ‘Cats to try to fix in a hurry before Whitworth’s steamroller of a team comes to the ‘Catdome.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

2017 NWC Pick 'ems and Power Rankings: Week 3

The most wonderful place in the world.

Interesting week for the Northwest Conference. Not only do we have one but two games cancelled for various reasons. Both of them are not the fault of our NWC brothers but it’s still rough to see games get ripped from the players, staffs, and the fans. For the PLU game, I completely understand the circumstances and support the decision but I’m on the other side of the spectrum for the reasons behind Oxy pulled the rug out on Pacific at the last moment.

With the teams that are playing there are some very interesting match-ups. Obviously, the D3 game of
the week is happening in McMinnville but there are some other solid match-ups as well. The
Fox/Redlands should be a hard hitting and tight affair. Get a chance to see Whitworth cream a SCIAC
patsy, and I’ll be watching the CLU/Willamette. I’m watching that one not to see if Willamette can rise to the occasion but get a measure if CLU might be a team making a run again for that conference’s title and auto berth. I’m using a new camera tomorrow so my A/V nerd heart is pounding with nervousness so I need to cut this short, pound out these picks, and get back to reading the user manual and scouring YouTube for tutorials. My wife must really love me to put up with all of this.

Northwest Conference games of the week

#24 Whitworth (2-0) over La Verne (1-0) (@ Whit): The Rats last tune-up before they go on the break and great ready for the Linfield showdown. Whitworth is way under ranked in my humble opinion and should be a top 15 team, easily. They’re really freaking good this season. La Verne had a cupcake game against UPS and they spend two weeks drinking Pepto Bismol in trying to figure out just how the heck they’re going to slow down that offense. However, to me, I’ll be watching what has been a much improved defense for Whitworth. That is where the money is at if they are going to be the team to finally knock Linfield off the NWC perch. Rats roll.

Pomona-Pitzer (1-0) over Lewis & Clark (0-1) (at PP): It’s pretty amazing that Pomona and Lewis & Clark are playing a football game against each other while Occidental (the only program in SCIAC history to win NCAA playoff games) cannot field enough healthy players for the administration to allow them to play. Wow. I watched a pretty big chuck of the Pioneers game last weekend while sitting in our hotel room in SoCal (Yeah, I don’t know why either) and I have to say that I was a little bit disappointed in L&C’s inability to move the ball or have a stiff rush defense against Claremont Mudd-Scripts. If CMS had better QB play that game could have been out of hand earlier and that has to be tough for the L&C staff to know. In the pre-season, I picked this game as the single win for the Pioneers in the 2017 season but after last week I’m pulling back on that. The Hens are not a very good football team but I like them better that the Pios.

Pacific Lutheran vs Warner U: Canceled. This I can understand. The NAIA school based outside of
Orlando, Florida was a 1-year fill in game for PLU since the Lutes and Trinity had to call off their series early due to Trinity’s new conference membership adding games to their schedule. It sounded a little exciting to have a new team fly across country but it wasn’t meant to be as the fallout of Hurricane Irma has effected a large segment of the state of Florida. I feel for players on both sides but the impact of Irma goes way beyond a college football game.

Cal Lutheran (1-0) over Willamette (0-1) (at Willamette): Fourth year in a row this two have played in what has been a hotly contested series with some down to the wire moments. I don’t like Willamette’s chances in what looks like a much improved CLU football team this year. Beating PLU is a heck of a win because I think the Lutes will be sneaky good this season. The good for Willamette is that they found out that Mathew Castaneda is a major upgrade at QB. I watch the Willamette/Rhodes game and Castaneda throws a good ball and a great majority of the time puts it on the money. The Bearcats strength is their vet receiver group and having a QB that can feed them will make their offense much improved. However, I think the Bearcats defense is bad and the Kingsmen will shred it this weekend in Salem.

#20 Redlands (1-0) over George Fox (0-1) (at Fox): I’m expecting this to be a hotly contested football game. These programs have played in back-to- back games that were decided late into the fourth quarter and we might get another shot of that this Saturday at Fox. In watching the Platt vs Fox game, the Fox defense did a great job in getting tight in the red zone and were pretty physical against the run. Fox QB Grant Schroeder did throw for 4 TD’s but is lucky he only walked away with 2 picks. The still forces things too many times for my liking and is a turnover waiting at any time. Redlands has a solid defense this year but some questions are swilling if they have enough offensive punch. I think that’s a mix made for a late game winner by whoever possesses the ball last. My gut says Fox but I think Redlands will be a slightly better team.

Pacific at Occidental: Canceled. Read the story for the scoop. It’s sad that Oxy canceled the game when players were ready to play but what’s pathetic is this is what it has come down to for Occidental football. This is a PROUD football tradition and the only SCIAC program to win NCAA football games. They have fallen far and it falls on the athletic administration for Occidental. Anybody reading this should take note, this kind of botching of a football program could happen ANYWHERE in college football if you get the wrong administrative support. Even at Linfield. Be aware, vocal, and vigilant alumni bases.

2017 Wildcat11’s NWC Power Rankings week 3:
1. Linfield – When this 2017 team puts it all together, Linfield is going to be heart breakers and
game takers. HBR!

2. Whitworth – I’m ready to slot them at “1A” at this point. It’s gonna be a heavyweight prize
flight in two weeks.

3. Fox – If they can hang or beat Linfield or Whitworth falls right on the shoulders of their QB play.

4. PLU – They lost at CLU but I liked what I saw out of the Lutes. They’re going to be a tough out
for the conference.

5. Pacific – Boxers have one of the most explosive receivers in DIII and could only muster up 130
passing yards against a solid Dubuque. Not a good sign.

6. UPS – The Loggers finally got to truly smoke another team at home. Granted it was against a
dumpster fire of a program but it wasn’t too long ago when UPS was a dumpster fire.

7. Willamette – Could be a long, long year in Salem.

8. Lewis and Clark – It’s looking like a strong possibility at another 0-9 season.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

2017 Game 2: Linfield (1-0) vs Mary Hardin-Baylor (1-0)

Let's get this fired up!
What a way to open up the 2017 home schedule.  The number one team and defending National Champions, the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders, are rolling into town for a showdown of top ten teams in the ‘Catdome. This should be exciting for all involved. Both programs are about as familiar with each other at this point as two out of conference teams could possibly be.  For those uninitiated with the series (I don’t know why you would be reading this blog, if you weren't) , these two programs have a history dating back to the 2004 DIII National Championship game.  It was the first DIII trip for both programs and remarkable for UMHB in only being their 7th year in playing football. Linfield won a tight ball game 28-21, and the title, but it was not the last these two would see each other. 

Fast forward to 2009, and UMHB visits Linfield in the playoff quarterfinals. The Cru was rolling early but Linfield flipped the scrip and rode a slew of turnover to a 53-21 hammering. The two would not see each other until 2014 quarterfinals when Linfield was the road dog but found the way in a 31-28 thriller. It was the quarterfinals once again in 2015, when UMHB came back to Mac and saw Linfield storm back in a wild 38-35 Linfield victory.

At that point, the series was 4-0 Linfield and you knew that had to burn in the gut of UMHB head coach Pete Fredenburg.  The 2015 game feature some massive meltdowns by UMHB with their ball handling and getting some back-breaking personal fouls and Linfield's brilliant offensive play. However, It seemed that bitter loss was a launching pad in many ways for the Crusaders.  A final hard lesson served cold by the ‘Cats that the Cru used to make changes to their approach and helped galvanized an already top flight Division III program.

What the ‘Cats ran into down in Texas during the 2016 regular was tough. Linfield was game and played the Cru tight but the wheels fell off later in third quarter and the game turned into a rare blowout loss for the ‘Cats. Linfield bounced back and won another NWC title and a great 1st round road playoff game at Hardin-Simmons but couldn’t overcome an incredible Crusader defense and offense that could pop big plays when it they needed them most. Years of what seemed to be a mental strangle hold by Linfield against UMHB was over just like that, and Linfield had to sit home and watch the UMHB win it all.

So here we are in 2017, with a cast of many new faces for Linfield seeing the number one team in the country invading the ‘Catdome in a regular season game for the first time in series history. The Crusaders are once again led by the best defensive front in the country and a stack of offensive weapons that could break your back at any time. No lie, this is going to be a huge challenge for Linfield this weekend but a game like this is why our players choose to come to Linfield.  To play the very best in the nation and that’s what we have this weekend.  An up-and-coming Linfield squad against the established and worthy champs. It’s gonna be hard to sleep the next couple of nights.

Get To Know A Wildcat

#85 Drew Accimus, Receiver, Senior
Hometown: Woodinville, Wa. High School: Woodinville High School

Favorite place to eat in Mac: Grain Station

Favorite Movie: Remember the Titans

Favorite Music: Hip-Hop and R&B

Favorite show to binge: The Simpsons

Favorite Book: Mind Gym

Class I look forward to: American Politics

iPhone or Android: iPhone

Personal Mantra: Good is the enemy of great

Social media of choice: Instagram

A talent most people don't know about: I can make great PB&J sandwiches 

What first inspired you to play football: Growing up watching Husky games with my parents

Favorite Coach Smith Saying: Not enough sell to that route, family is going hungry tonight!

Favorite part of playing at Linfield: The relationships you build with your teammates and coaches

Post Linfield aspirations: Hoping to start my career in public accounting and earn my CPA

Wildcat11’s Keys To Victory

All about the little details: When you play a team as talented and experienced as UMHB, it has to be all the little details for Linfield to help carry the day. The ‘Cats can’t afford to blow assignments, jump off sides, line up incorrectly, make sure the right personnel groups are the field, etc, etc.  All of the little details, Linfield has to be spot on this Saturday in order to meet the Cru’s talent.

A sustained effort: The ‘Cats need to bring it every play of this game. UMHB is fast, physical, and have players that understand their roles within their structure. Linfield has to meet that excellence head-to-head for every play for a full four quarters.  I’m not asking Linfield to come out on the field jumping out of their skin because that emotion only last for so long.  My hope is that this Wildcat teams will decide to bring the effort and hustle every play, whistle to whistle. Don’t play tight or nervous but with passion and fire.  

Limit turnovers: In 2016, the ‘Cats lost the turnover battle to Mary Hardin-Baylor by a count of 7-1 over two games.  Those turnover were a major factor in the wheels coming off in the beat down in the regular season and help the Cru’ seal the playoff win in November.  Linfield didn’t get off to a promising start in 2017 with 4 turnovers against Chapman last Saturday and have to be so much better in protecting the football.  Turnovers will play a large role in what kind of football game is played this weekend.

Offensive Line performance: This will be the biggest regular season task for the ‘Cats offensive line. The Cru’ return 3 out of the 4 starters from that disgustingly good defensive line that was the heart of their 2016 championship season (along with LB Mullins and QB Jackson) and started the season off looking like they haven’t missed a beat in limiting a much improved Sul Ross State offense to 34 rushing yards and 174 yards total. I know our talented offensive line understands they are facing a big challenge but I feel this Linfield offensive line has a chance to be a standout group by the time it’s all said and done. They’re going to need to rise up and play a great game as a unit if Linfield is going to overcome.

Eliminating the big play: The Cru’s offense will have a new look at QB with left handed T.J. Josey switching from WR to take the helm at QB for UMHB.  This offense is loaded with weapons and the ability to break game changing plays at the drop of a hat. The Wildcat defense have to be excellent tacklers at the point of attack and not allow the Cru’s backs to get into the second level of the Linfield defense and the ‘Cats secondary need to meet the one-on-one challenges head on.

Meet the Special Team Challenge: Linfield will be facing a formidable challenge in special teams this week as UMHB has returned multiple TD’s against the ‘Cats in the return game in past years. Field position will be critical this weekend and that means the ‘Cats need to bottle up UMHB’s potent returners.  On the flip side, Linfield showed me a little something last weekend in our kick return game. The ‘Cats will need to bring that explosiveness again on Saturday.

Win the Ball:  When the football goes in the air, both the Linfield offense and defense has to win the football.  Both our defenders and offensive players have to be savages and attack the ball in the air and make the most of every opportunity to make plays on the football. There are going to be a handful of big game moments that come down to whose side is going to go up and make it happen on the football. 


‘Cats by 1. It’s going to take a great effort to unseat the number one team in Division III.  As I’ve stated above, this Linfield team is very much still finding themselves but have potential to be an excellent group. However, they need to accelerate the maturation process if they are going to beat the Cru’. If Linfield half steps and plays a sloppy football game, it won’t be pretty for the ‘Cats. However, I feel something about this group.  This team is young Wildcat team, but they’re a tight group, and I feel they’ll respond to the challenge and give UMHB all they can handle. Go ‘Cats! 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Here is your 2017 Linfield vs Chapman Mini-Highlight from the 'Cats 27-12 victory down in 'Catdome Cali.

Monday, September 11, 2017

‘Cats win!!!! Linfield puts the squeeze on Chapman in Orange, California.

It was a great way to kick off the season.

The ‘Cats started off a little shaky in the first half but Linfield put the clamps on the Panthers in the second half as the Wildcat offense started to find themselves in a solid 27-12 victory in Orange, California.  I’m sure many Wildcats watching and listening at home were scrambling to pull up the roster during the game (from the new and improved saying “who the heck is this guy?”.  That’s understandable as the 35 of the 60 players on the field for Linfield were first time travel roster performers for the ‘Cats. There was big combination of core vets of this program, players that have worked for their opportunities to shine, and newcomers to the program looking to make their mark.  While it wasn’t pretty or nearly a finished product on the field last night for the ‘Cats, it’s a very exciting roster and combination of talent. The ceiling for this group is high and if you could look past the mistakes that hamstrung the ‘Cats last night you can see this could be the start of a something great in the ‘Catdome.

(Post Game Interview with starting offensive guard Will Heck)

Looking back on Saturday night, I know the immediate reaction is to kick rocks about too many turnovers and some missed opportunities but let’s talk about some immediate improvements over the 2016 team shall we?  Our specials coverage last night was darn good against a standout returner against Chapman.  For a good majority of 2016 our kickoff coverage was dismal but I think this year’s team has so much play making talent that a lot of these hungry younger guys are going to be big contributors on special teams.  Next, Linfield’s pass rush is back.  The ‘Cats had one of the lowest (if not lowest) sack totals since the 1990’s. Our defensive line was solid but we just did not pressure teams very well and put quarterbacks down.  Chapman all but abandoned their drop back passing game after the first two series until late in the game due the constant harassment and physicality from the Linfield front four.  Three different DT’s (Grate, Stinchcomb, and Havilli) converged for sacks last night and Linfield defensive ends were making life miserable for Chapman.  That is a big development for the 2017 ‘Cats.  Third, the kicking game has improved dramatically as well. Bragging on the kicking game may seem silly but last night the ‘Cats legs were on point with huge field goals, flipping field position on punts, and consistent placement on kickoffs.

With that said there is a ton for Linfield to improve upon.  From little things all the way down to the big ticket items, but as you saw from this past Saturday night in SoCal, this 2017 might have something special cooking up.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Staying the Course: Chapman was game.  They are a well-coached and experienced team that played dang hard the whole contest and were giving the ‘Cats all they handle in the first half.  I loved the fact that this group was able to get together, talk it out, and respond with surging to the lead and snuffing out the Panthers in the second half.  

(Pregame interview with starting QB Troy Fowler)

Pass Rush:  As discussed above, damn that made an old defensive lineman’s heart fill with pride.  The ‘Cats d-line came out of the gates with their hair on fire and eliminated the Panthers longer developing passing game early in the 1st quarter. It wasn’t just one player but multiple ‘Cats penetrating Chapman's backfield. 

Rushing Attack: The ‘Cats debut of the rushing attack was a solid performance.  Linfield’s top three rushers were program newcomers in Freshman Dawson Ruhl, QB Aiden Wilder, and running back Chidubem Nnoli.  The ‘Cats collectively netted 217 yards on 45 attempts (4.8 yards) and showed some pop in the attack.  I think this aspect of the ’17 Wildcats will only improve as the season moves on.

Special Teams:  Tip of the cap to Linfield special team for a clutch and clean first game performance.  The Linfield coverage and returns teams were both up to task in locking in a solid Chapman returner in Jacob Isabel.  In a tight game it was crucial to bottle up the Panthers to make sure the field didn’t flip or give up a return for touchdown.  Along with that, Willy Warne stepped up a huge with big field goals to inch the ‘Cats close at half and then to gain the lead again on the first drive of the 3rd quarter.  Shout out to freshman punter Colton Ramos for this 40.0 yards per punt last night and take care of business in his first college football game.   

Defensive Backs stepping up: It was trial by fire for the Linfield new look defensive back field and they rose to meet their first challenge of the 2017 season.  Chapman was running their quick passing game due to the constant threat of the ‘Cats pass rush but late in the 2nd half, the Panthers had to open it up to try to get back in the game. Multiple times our DB’s were tested deep and our guys got after the football in the air and eventually came up with a big late fourth quarter pick by Anthony Guttadauro.

Offensive line performance: I really liked the way out offensive line played on Saturday.  It’s a promising start to a group that in all reality hold the keys to what this 2017 team can become.  This group was physical on the point of attack and for the most part provided ample time in the pocket in the passing game.  What I think I enjoyed the most was that Coach Hire was rotating multiple offensive linemen in during the game and that will only pay off as the season progresses as the ‘Cats develop that OL depth.

The Bad

Defensive red zone penalties: The ‘Cats had three drive big red zone penalties that hand wrapped and already gifted field position on the Panthers 1st TD of the game and then again in the 4th quarter that Linfield was able to survive but should have been put in the position in the first place.  Besides the one long run that the ‘Cats gave up, this was the biggest blemish on what was a darn good defensive performance.

Four turnover:  It’s not too often you can go on the road, give up four turnover, and win a football game by double digits.  Thankfully, your Wildcats are not your run-of-the-mill football team but it’s obvious that Linfield needs see improvement in this department. 

The Ugly

Nothing at all.  I honestly had no idea what to expect on Saturday.  I knew we had a lot of talent, some proven talent, and truckload of new faces, but I didn’t know how that was going to translate on the field against another opponent.  What we found out is that this could wind up some big things but their learning curve needs to look like a hockey stick with UMHB coming to town. The Cru’ is an absolute beast of a program so the ‘Cats need to keep working on the little things that might help carry the day against the defending champs.