Photo Courtsy of Brad Thompson: View and Purchase Brad's Photos here
You smell that? That’s not the smell of fear but it’s actually the smell of the Wildcat’s 30-27 playoff victory over California Lutheran. What a great day in the valley and a great day in the ‘Catdome between two very worthy teams. It would be easy for me to take some light hearted jabs at CLU about the ‘Cats beating them for the 3rd year in a row in the playoffs but I can’t do it. They’re a very good team and as someone who was in St. Thomas last season to see your team put it all on the line and have it end in heartbreak us Linfield fans and our players know the feeling of coming up short. Bottom line, both teams punched and counter-punched. Both teams had flags go against them that put each other in tougher situations. Both teams made big plays to keep the game close, but at the end, the Wildcats ended the game in the area this Linfield team as excelled in all year long: special teams. The ending couldn’t have been more perfect.
Rounding back to the days headed up to the game I was struck by the very confident tone of CLU fan base about this match-up. Hey, our fans are always beyond confident (me included) but this week’s tone was different than the previous two seasons. Some were guaranteeing a CLU victory, comments such as this the “best CLU team” fans have ever seen, and CLU was on such a dominate roll in the SCIAC that they couldn’t be stopped. Etc, etc, etc. Obviously, this was the closest game of the previous 3 years but I felt like some on the CLU bandwagon was discounting what makes Linfield…well…Linfield. The ‘Cats are so solid in all three phases of the game, have outstanding coaching, toughness, fundamentally sound, and we have a lot of darn good players too. As a fan, I was nervous during fall camp headed into the season opener vs. this CLU team. We weren’t very healthy, I wasn’t sure how Inns and our young defensive front were going to perform, and it was hard not to question our chances were versus a hyper-talented and veteran laden team like CLU. As we all know, the ‘Cats put those questions to bed and gave you a look to why this team was going to be exceptional. This is not just a team but this is a brotherhood. It’s a group devoid of ego and focused on being in the moment. I may have had a small doubt in the late days of August but I don’t have any doubt now. Unlike the CLU faithful, I won’t guarantee a trip to the Stagg Bowl but I will say that I wouldn’t bet against this Linfield team anytime soon.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Total Team Effort: All three phases did their part to pitch in to get the job done on Saturday and that's what you want during the playoffs. A great effort by the staff, scout team, all the support people, and the players on the field. The 'Cats got it done the "Linfield Way".
Special teams/Josh Kay: The 'Cats special teams were once again great. There were only a couple of issues that bubbled up during this phase of the game but the coverage was good, the kickoff team set up the offense with great field position. Then you have the blocked field goal to win the game and Josh Kay was freaking clutch all game long. Coach Smith was right when he said Kay should have been the NWC special teams player of the year as Kay has proven all year long to be a big time weapon for Linfield.
Offensive Line/Josh Hill: I thought the 'Cats offensive line played brilliantly on Saturday. It was their biggest test of the season and the Linfield offensive line was physical, determined, and provided excellent protection in the pass game. A great effort by them and what can you say about Josh Hill's performance running the ball? It seems the bigger the game the better J-Hill plays.
Wide Receivers: Yeah, I know the offense only threw for 152 yards but I loved the way the Linfield wide receivers played. Totally fearless and battled about as fine of defensive backfield in the nation.
Defense, Defense, Defense: While CLU put up 444 yards of total offense but the bottom line is the Linfield only gave up 20 points on the day vs a team that had averaged almost 60 ppg in their last 6 contests. CLU put pressure on the 'Cats defense but time, after time, after time, the 'Cats defense turned CLU away when it mattered most and that's what made the 'Cats defense so great this year: they find a way to get it done.
Drew Fisher’s TD saving tackle: When Daniel Mosier broke that run early in the 3rd quarter I was 100% sure that he was gone for the touchdown. There was no way the 'Cats were in position to bring him down but the 'Cats All-American Safety might have made his greatest tackle in a long list of great take downs. The remarkable rundown tackle kept the touchdown off the board as Linfield was able to limit CLU to a field goal and changed the complexion of the game. It was an all-american play by one of the divisions very best players.
Linfield Faithful: Easily the smallest crowd of the season with the students starting Thanksgiving break and CLU not bringing up much of a crowd but the hardcore Linfield fans that were at the game rocked the 'Catdome all game long. Don't believe me just listen to the raw audio of the field goal block and it sounded like 20,000 fans instead of just a little under 1,600. Great effort 'Catdome!
Linfield CLU Block FG Raw Audio by Wildcat11
3rd Down Play: It was the 1st time all season long the 'Cats were outdone on 3rd downs (CLU 8 of 16, Linfield 5 of 14) on the season and it showed up in the total yardage as CLU was able to extend multiple drives off the legs and play-making of Laudenslayer. The 'Cats will need to tighten up this down this week out in Dover in order to give Linfield the best possible chance for success.
Giving Up Big Plays: I can't remember the stat but I believe the 'Cats gave up 3 or 4 plays of more than 30 yards and that's just way too many and it almost bit the 'Cats hard on Saturday. Credit CLU for making that happen but again the 'Cats have to get the big plays under wraps this upcoming Saturday.
Not Putting CLU away in the 1st half: Linfield had a prime chance to take a 20-3 lead into the half and possibly send CLU into the locker room with a lot of doubt creeping into their minds. However, CLU was able to convert a Hail Mary with no time left to make it a 20-10 Linfield lead and give CLU the momentum. It was a big play as the 'Cats were unable to shake CLU for the rest of the game.
Linfield fans limited access to 2nd round game: I'm not complaining about having to go on the road in the 2nd round but I do think it's too bad that Linfield has to travel such a great distance during a holiday week. This combination just makes the trip such an expensive proposition to overcome. I feel for the fans that want to go but even more so for the player's and staff's family that have sacrificed and supported their 'Cats year after year. Just a shame on announcing the site location so late(as every day counts in terms of costs of airfare) and for sending the 'Cats almost 2,500 miles away. Again, I'm excited to play a team of Wesley's caliber but not thrilled with how the NCAA handled it.