(Photo By Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos Here)
Saturday was a GREAT day to be a Wildcat. I really don't know where to start with this game recap because there are just so many different aspects of the game that jump out in terms of things going the 'Cats way. The final score of 53-21 isn't truly reflective of the talent level of Mary Hardin-Baylor. The 'Cru is a fine team and a fine program but they just ran into a Wildcat team that became a runaway freight train in the 2nd half and UMHB was on the tracks when the 'Cats came through.
This whole playoff run has been so enjoyable for this Wildcat. With the victory, Linfield has run their NCAA playoff program record to 11-4 since 2000 and has now 10 home playoff wins (9 at the 'Catdome and 1 "home" game victory at Willamette, BTW, Willamette only has 1 NCAA home playoff victory in their program history too...ZING!).
But for myself, this run is becoming one of the most enjoyable of them all since I've been around the Wildcat program (1994). In the prior playoff runs these type of deep pushes in the NCAA's where expected before the season even started. Linfield fans just expected those Wildcat teams to be in the West Regional final and make a push to the Stagg Bowl. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed all of the success and memories of those great Wildcat teams but this year....it's something different.
I'm not saying the expectations where not there before the 2009 season kicked off, because they were. However, there was some uncertainty about what this team would do. Heck, the NWC coaches picked Willamette to finish first, other publications has Linfield finishing 3rd in the NWC behind Whitworth, and the Oregonian pre-season article mentioned that Linfield's winning season streak might be on the line with the monster schedule the 'Cats were facing. The 'Cats had big questions to answer and the only ones that might have truly believed that this team had stuff to make a run towards Salem might have been the staff and players themselves.
So here we are. Tomorrow the calendar hits December 1st and the Wildcats are still playing football. It's sweet and the tough road the program has been battling the past few seasons had made me enjoy this year a little more. Dare I say the adversity of the past seasons has made me a more "mature" Linfield Wildcat fan? Naw, probably not!
But now I'm saying to myself; Why can't they keep it rolling? Who is left standing to say "Linfield isn't good enough to win Walnut and Bronze?" I'm going to savor every moment of this playoff run but at the same time I'm saying to each of you: "Right now...why not Linfield?"
OK.....let's get to the game review at hand and dive into some The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
3rd quarter Defense. Remarkable how fast that game turned from a close contest to a full out roll job by the 'Cats. All phases of the Wildcat defense had a hand in making it happen. From the Defensive front pushing back and limiting the Cru running game, to the LB's and DB's making plays in the defensive backfield. That 3rd quarter might have gone down as one of the best quarters of Linfield defensive football and that's saying something.
Creating Turnovers. I have to correct people when they said after the game "If UMHB didn't give up the ball" That wasn't the case. It was Linfield taking the ball away from the Cru offense. UMHB wasn't putting the ball on the turf as much as the 'Cats were ripping it away and setting up the 'Cru quarterbacks for picks. Awesome playmaking.
Offense Got It Done: Mary Hardin-Baylor had a great defense. I mean, they were really good. But Linfield's offense is really good too and once the 'Cats made adjustments Linfield's offense really started to pick up steam and put together scoring drives of 58, 65, 79, and 72 yards to go along with being 5 for 5 in red zone chances. Just a gutsy effort by the Linfield offense.
4th down stand with 3:04 left in the 1st half: This was the turning point of the game. Linfield was down 14-6 with 3:04 left in the 1st half and The Cru went for it on 4th and 1 from Linfield's 34 yard line. If UMHB converts, then Linfield might have been looking at a 21-6 half time hole and the game might have had a different outcome. Instead, the 'Cats defense turns away UMHB and Linfield takes the ball and marches down the field to punch in a TD with :25 seconds left to make the score 14-13. That was a season changing moment.
Team's mental makeup: The early going of the game was shocking to say the least. The 'Cru just marched down the field twice and took what looked like was a commanding 14-3 early lead in the game. Instead of panicking and getting tight, the 'Cats just kept chipping away and adjusting their game plan. I didn't see panic just some frustration because Linfield knew they were not playing up to their standard. The 'Cats handled the adversity with grace and tenacity.
Linfield's older fan base: The Linfield alumni fan base just keeps getting it done. With the college closed for Thanksgiving and the student support was once again small it was up to the older Linfield fan base to knock it out of the park in terms of their support for the 'Cats. The crowd was loud and proud. I saw so many former classmates and former players that I haven't seen in years at the game and they rallied around this team. The official attendance was only listed as 2,500 but it seemed much bigger to me than that. Awesome showing.
Limited Running Game: This falls more into giving credit to The 'Cru because they did a great job in limiting the 'Cats run game to only 1.7 yards a carry (58 total rush yards) on Saturday. Obviously, I know Linfield's better than that and are going to have to be successful running the ball if the 'Cats will want to move on in the NCAA's.
Drops: During the game there we about 3 dropped balls in the passing game. I'm not too upset about it because the drops came from guys that I know are sure handed and I know Boehme wouldn't hesitate throwing the same passes to them again. That may seem nitpicking but those passes could have been big gainers for the 'Cats.
First two defensive possessions: Again, this falls more towards credit to the Cru but they moved the ball so dang well those first two possessions. We all know that Linfield made their adjustments but the Catdome was holding their breath for that first quarter.
Come on...perfect late November day, Linfield winning 53-21 over a great program, and finding out that Linfield gets to host the West Region Finals. I don't think there is anything ugly about that.