Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Top Ten Plays of the Past Ten Years: Plays 10 - 8

So here we go.  After two rounds of the honorable mentions we'll start revealing what I consider to be the top ten plays of the past ten years (2002 - 2012).  As I mentioned in the previous posts, my selection criteria is picking out the plays that had a crucial positive impact on a Wildcat game and or season.  There have been many outstanding individual efforts over the past ten seasons.  Plays that make you say "wow" but many came during games where the 'Cats overwhelmed or handled another opponent.   Then we have the plays that would have been sure locks as a top ten play if it wasn't for the fact the 'Cats lost a close game (yes, the 'Cats have lost a game here or there).  Nope, I picked out and ranked what I thought were plays that helped Linfield launch a great season or helped the 'Cats close out a game that carried a large amount of weight.  So let's start with plays 10 through 8 in this first helping.  Tomorrow, we'll roll out plays 7-4, and Monday we'll give you the top 3.

The Top Ten Plays of The Past Ten Years
 (Plays 10 - 8)

2002 Linfield vs Southern Oregon University:  Down late the 'Cats defense comes up huge.

Southern Oregon's Dusty McGrorty is the single best small college running back I've ever seen.  The guy was a beast out of little old Warrenton, Oregon and was the catalyst of SOU's best run in program history.  The guy rushed for a NW record setting 5,414 career yards, 75 rushing touchdowns, was a two-time first team NAIA all-american.  Along with that he was about as sure handed as a running back could be.  I've see Whitewater's Justin Beaver and Levell Coppage with my own eyes and while both Warhawk running backs have more career rush yards and TD's, I always felt that McGrorty was a more dynamic back than the now legendary D3 rushers out of UWW.  You might being asking "Why spend this time raving about someone from the other team?"  It's because of what the 'Cats defense did that few were able to do during McGrorty's star studded career, and that's make McGrorty put the ball on the ground.

Not only did the 'Cats defense get the ball out of McGrorty's hands but it was the circumstances and situation that it occurred that places this play in our top ten.  

In 2001, the 'Cats were young but talented.  The roster had an number of future All-NWC players and all-americans but were lacking some experience in key areas.  The 'Cats started the season off at 1-0 after dumping Whittier at home 36-13 and made the trip down to Southern Oregon to face talented SOU squad.  The result of that game was a 29-0 whipping the Raiders put on the 'Cats where Linfield could only muster up four 1st downs and 40 yards of total offense.  Yes, only 40 offensive yards.  It was one of the worst offensive nights in program history and the marks the last time Linfield has been shutout of a game.   The 'Cats would rally on the season and finish up 7-2 and grab a share of the NWC title in the process.  As I mentioned last week, the 'Cats won 6 in a row to end the season but where left out in the cold after the NCAA selected both PLU and Whitworth (Linfield defeated Whitworth two weeks earlier) out of the NWC for playoff berths. The snub lit a fire in the program as the 'Cats decided they've had enough and decided to "Leave No Doubt" in 2002.

The 2002 rematch against SOU had a giant circle around it in McMinnville.  The Raiders just came off a 2001 season that saw them come within moments of advancing to the NAIA title game but fell to Carroll College in a late 4th quarter rally.  SOU was again loaded with talent in 2002 and had their eyes on a NAIA title.  The atmosphere and tension in McMinnville on September 21st, 2002 was palpable as these two dynamic teams lined up in the 'Catdome.

Early in the game, Linfield squandered a prime scoring opportunity as both teams jockeyed for some type of momentum.  After another Linfield turnover the Raiders were able to strike twice to take an early 14-0 lead.  Linfield responded back late in the half and went into the locker room down 14-7.  The 3rd quarter saw the the scoring pick up as the teams traded touchdowns until the game was knotted up a 21 headed into the 4th quarter.

Again, SOU took control with an early 4th quarter TD (28-21 SOU) and looked to salt the game away as the 'Cats offense wasn't able to reproduce their results from the 3rd quarter.  After another Wildcat offensive possession sputtered the 'Cats pinned SOU at their own 12 yard line with 6:07 left in the game.  McGrorty, who had already rushed for 3 TD's and about 150 yards, took the ball on 1st and 10 for a 7-yard gain.  Then on 2nd and 3 the play occurred that saved the game for the 2002 Linfield Wildcats and lead to the start of an epic Linfield football season that established Linfield as one of the Division III elites.

SOU ran a simple inside zone play.  Just get big bodies on the 'Cats, hand the ball off to McGrorty, and churn out a 1st down to keep that clock running.  Linfield linebacker Harrison Bertch had other ideas.  It's hard to see in the clip but Bertch (#42) flies up and meets McGrorty in the hole and wrenches on the ball.  McGrortry has said in the past that during his near 1,000 career rushing attempts he's only fumbled four times.  This was one of those four.  Bertch twisted McGrorty and pulled on his carry arm and the pigskin fell on the 'Catdome sod.  You can see the SOU back reaching out for the ball but Linfield's Ryan Boatsman sniffed out the loose pill and pounced.  Linfield was 1st and 10 from the Raider 20 with 5:29 to play.  Four plays later the 'Cats got the equalizer off a David Russell plunge from 1-yard out that send the game into OT where Linfield would pound the Raiders into submission in two overtime periods for the 42-35 victory.

2009 Linfield at Occidental:  Jackson's pick leads to the 'Cats putting the Tigers on ice.

This next play isn't very well known to the Wildcat faithful.  The reason is the game was held down in Los Angeles in 2009 where only a few hundred Wildcat fans saw the 'Cats capture a huge road win early in their statement 2009 season.  Linfield launched up the top 25 ranking (#14) after a 37-22 opening season win over Hardin-Simmons and headed down to L.A. to play the 21st ranked Occidental Tigers to start the first of a four week brutal road trip that saw the 'Cats go to Occidental, Southern Oregon, Menlo, and Whitworth.  Before we get into the game let's talk about how we made it here.

After the 2008 season, Linfield decided to step away from the remaining year of their contract with Western Oregon University.  It was a hard decision but Linfield had to look at the reality of the situation and do their best to optimize their chances towards an NCAA playoff bid.  Linfield had to start playing as many Division III games as possible.  Playing non-division games just didn't help Linfield towards their quest in getting back to the NCAA's and it's why Linfield doesn't play Southern Oregon anymore and why this is the last year Linfield will be playing Menlo (NAIA).  When Linfield stepped away they had a one-year gap to fill the void before Linfield would start two-year contracts with La Verne and Cal Lutheran out of the SCIAC in 2010.  After calling some teams (Redlands didn't return our call), Occidental stepped up and gave the 'Cats a one-year offer but Linfield would have to pack a bag and come on down.  At the time, there were some giving Linfield a hard time in having to pay to get out of the 2009 WOU game, but in retrospect, it was a brilliant move by the program that's paid off more than the 'Cats could have ever imagined.

The moment you arrived on Oxy's campus you could feel the big game vibe.  Having Linfield in their house was a HUGE deal for the Occidental program.  Oxy was coming off a 2008 playoff appearance and had twice been slapped down by Linfield in 2004 and 2005.  The Tigers were primed to get a crack at a Linfield program coming off of three consecutive 6-3 seasons.  You could see it in their player's faces before the game that beating Linfield that night would be a monster statement about where Occidental stood with regards to the pecking order in not only on the West Coast conferences but in the West Region.

It was a muggy night game at Patterson Field as Linfield started off the game by shutting Oxy down on their first two offensive possessions.  On the 'Cats second time with the ball it looked Linfield was on the move but a Boehme was picked in Oxy territory and a nice return set up the Tigers in great field position.  Oxy started to find some soft spots in the 'Cats coverage as Oxy's QB was able to extend plays and find open receivers down field.  Next thing you know Oxy is up 7-0.

The 'Cats responded right away as Boehme found Trevor Patterson for a 50-yard strike but a failed PAT left the 'Cats with a 7-6 deficit.  Oxy and Linfield traded possessions but then a key segment of the half was put into action as Oxy's All-American kicker/punter boomed a 58-yard punted that rolled to the 'Cats 1-yard line.  Linfield wasn't able to move the ball out and had to saftey punt out of their own endzone.  The result was Oxy starting a late 2nd quarter drive in Linfield territory and punching in another TD.   Oxy 14, 'Cats 6...halftime.

Coach Smith wasn't pleased at all with Linfield's 1st half of play and let the players know that if they continued performing at this clip they're were leaving LA without victory.  Linfield pulled themselves together in the locker room and with a renewed confidence marched down the field for a field goal in Linfield's 1st possession of the 2nd have to inch the 'Cats closer at 14-9.  Two possessions later the 'Cats put together their best drive of the night in going exclusively in the air for a 11 play, 53 yard drive, to see Linfield take their 1st lead of the night at 17-14 in the opening moments of the 4th quarter.

Linfield's defense continued to hammer at Oxy and forced another three and out.  It looked like Linfield was rolling as the 'Cats extended their new lead to 24-14 on a 9 play drive that lasted a little over 3 minutes.  At that point, I thought Linfeld was salting the game away but Oxy responded and took the momentum back with a huge 11 play drive.  Oxy converted multiple 3rd down conversions and cross into the end zone to bring Oxy back within 3 at 24-21 with 6:12 left in the game.

The game was 100% up for grabs and if Linfield could put together a drive it would be all over.  Four plays later the 'Cats were punting the ball back to Oxy in hopes that the Linfield defense could come up big.  It didn't take long for the 'Cats D to respond.

On the second play of the Oxy drive the 'Cats were playing a deep zone where Linfield linebacker Jaymin Jackson had outside flat responsibility.  Oxy's QB, up to that point, had done a masterful job in his decision making but he got greedy as he tried to hit a sideline curl route.  That's when Jackson pounced.  Interception Linfield on the Oxy 38 yard line with 5 minutes left in the game.  Two Linfield offensive players later this happens to put the dagger in Occidental's heart and the 'Cats left LA with a team solidifying victory.  That pick was a key moment in one of Linfield's best seasons in program history. 

Linfield vs Concordia-Moorehead: Hazenberg TD sparks the 'Cats to victory.

The 2005 Linfield Wildcats were masterful.  I shared with you last week about how easy this team made it look at times with some fans getting upset at Linfield for not scoring FAST enough.   The only time Linfield was challenged all regular season was out in Spokane when Whitworth rallied late to only lose to Linfield by 15 points.  15 points.  That was considered a close game for the NCAA defending National Champions and #1 team in Division III.   Other than that game, it almost looked effortless.  49-7, 45-7, 42-13, 62-7, 38-7, 63-21 are just some of the results of the poundings the 'Cats were dishing out to a list of opponents that knew it was over before it started.

The 'Cats opened up the 2005 playoffs with a 63-21 bludgeoning of Occidental.  The year prior, the 'Cats also rolled Oxy 56-27 but the Tigers did make it interesting early in the game in holding multiple leads for before Linfield punched down on the gas.  2005 wasn't the same situation as Linfield opened up a 28-0 lead and never looked back.  It was another case of Brett Elliott throwing for 6 touchdowns, Casey Allen being unstoppable, and the Linfield defense swarming and creating chaos.

So after the Oxy game, I hear that Concordia-Moorehead (MIAC) will be the 'Cats second round opponent and I just chalked this up as the Cobbers just being another sacrificial lamb for the 'Cats to feast on.  So it was more than surprising when Concordia rolled into the 'Catdome and played a whale of a game.

Concordia had a great fan base come out to McMinnville that dressed up their sideline in the gold and maroon colors and even hug up a "This is COBBER country" banner along the guard rail.  Concordia looked like a typical solid MIAC team during warm ups.  Nothing alarming like when Rowan came to town the year before and looked like a D1 team dressed up in D3 clothing.  By appearance, Concordia  looked like a good group of athletes with a few big guys in the mix.....very much like Linfield.  Then I saw Concordia break out the Wing T offense in warm ups and the first thought that ran in my mind was "Game Over".  That offense isn't going to get it done vs Linfield.  Not a chance.

On Concordia's first possession the Cobbers punted but it wasn't until they broke off 11 plays and chewed up 6 minutes of clock.  Linfield tried to establish a running game (the team's only glaring weakness) but failed to get traction and punted the ball back to the Cobbers.  Concordia again went on another double digit play drive but this time saw the Cobbers take an early 7-0 lead with only 1:21 left to play.  No problem the 'Cats would respond in kind.  Three incompletions later and Linfield was once again punting the ball back to the Cobbers.  At that point, you knew that wasn't going to be easy as the 'Catdome filled with an uneasiness that hasn't been felt at Maxwell field in years.

Linfield was able to even up the count at 7 on their next possession and brought a small exhale from the Linfield faithful but Concordia kept pushing.  That Wing T style of offense I scoffed at during warm ups was slicing and dicing at very good Linfield defense.  A couple of yards here, a few there, and then a big play.  The Cobbers missed a 30-yard field goal attempt but Linfield was giving up the ball again after three plays.    Then it became serious.

With 3:27 left in the 1st half, the team running a stinking Wing T triple option offense moves 43 yards down the field and hits a 16-yard TD pass to a tight end with 57 seconds left in the half.  Holy Cow, Linfield was going into the half down to the Cobbers with only 7 points to their name.

There wasn't panic in the locker room.  The defense was talking about not only turning back Concordia but trying to limit the number of plays the Cobber offense was running and Linfield's offense was working it out.  Right before the 'Cats broke to head back out on the field Linfield's Brett Elliott rallied his team: "We're not losing this game.  Who's coming with me!?"  The locker room lit up and you could feel a swell of energy pulse though the 'Cats.  But as fast as that excitiment built up it quickly went back to uncertainty as the first Linfield offensive play of the second half felt an awful like the first half.  

Brett Elliott found Casey Allen for an 11-yard connection but the unthinkable happened and Allen was stripped of the ball and Concordia recovered.  The air went out of the building as Concordia took the miscue and drove down to the 'Cats 21 where the Cobbers looked to extend their lead with another field goal attempt.  The kick sailed up and right as silence filled the stands.  DING.  The kick drove into the right upright as Concordia squandered another opportunity.

Linfield immediatly went on the move.  16-yard pick up, 17-yard gain, followed by another 16-yard drive as Linfield moved deep in Cobber country.  The theme of the day struck once more as an Elliott pass was picked at the goal line.  This couldn't be happening, could it?  But at that point in the game the Linfield defense rose to the occasion in forcing a punt that rolled down the 'Cats 11 with 6:42 left in the 3rd quarter.

Once again Linfield's offense moved the ball in big chunks.  15-yard pass to Vierra, 8-yards to Allen, 23-yards to Keck, 12-yard rush by Vierra at set up a 1st and 10 on the Cobber 13 yard line.  A Wildcat false start to move the ball back 5 yards, then followed by an incomplete pass.  Then this play happened that turned the tide and opened up the flood gates for Linfield.  The 'Cats opted on 2nd and 15 to run a little under screen to receiver Brandon Hazneberg out of a trips set.  Haze took the the short pass but looked immediatly corralled by a trio of Concordia defenders.  Haze put on the brakes and hit a spin move to the outside with a serving of stiff arm to the 1st Concordia defender.  A second defender came off a block and Haze jabbed stepped him and threw up a stiff arm that the defender made it past and tried to wrap Haze up but #3 was able to keep moving.   Another defender looked to have clear shot at Haze but Linfield receiver Jared Thomas cleared him out with a shove, then at the four yard line one last Cobber came flying in to take Haze out but was cut off by Brad McKechnie to allow Haze to burst into the End Zone.  Electric.  Concordia - 14, Linfield - 14.

At that point it was all 'Cats, as Linfield's defense suffocated Concordia's offense who didn't threaten the remainder of the game as Linfield hit a beautiful pass and catch by Elliott to McKechnie to take the lead 21-14 and that set up Elliott to put the dagger in the win with his TD scramble with 4:41 left in the game.  The Hazenberg TD was paramount at that stage of the game.  It was pure heart, skill, effort, and teamwork that took a little dump screen and made it into a lighting bolt of energy the 'Cats needed so badly at that point in the game.  An iconic Linfield TD.

1 comment:

doc said...

#8 OXY...was that not when we lost Simon Lamson on a play he should not have been involved in?