Thursday, August 16, 2012

Top Ten Plays of Past Ten Years: Honorable Mentions (Game Clinchers)

Yesterday I broke down just how I'm setting up my picks of the 'Cats top ten plays of the past ten years. I'm giving much more weight to pivotal plays that had a positive impact in a big game or on a big season. If an incredible play happened during a blowout/comfortable win or in a tough loss it's not going to make the top ten.

However, in compiling the list of possible top 10 plays there were just too many plays to ignore the ones that didn't have enough to push them over the top. So today and tomorrow we'll roll out the best of the rest starting today with plays that clinched a Wildcat victory. Let's get to the goods!


2010 Linfield at PLU: Fumble Recovery and Lamson TD Run.

During the 2010 football season PLU was a tough as nails out at their home field. The 'Lutes defeated Cal Lutheran, Whitworth, and Willamette all on their home turf.  So it didn't come as a great surprise when PLU gave the 'Cats a run for their money up at Sparks in 2010.  Linfield and PLU traded TD's early in the game and with PLU getting within 1 point early in the 3rd quarter (21-20) but Linfield answered right back in extending their lead to 28-20. 

At that point Linfield's defense had reigned in the 'Lutes but the 'Cats didn't fully close the door until early in the 4th quarter when Michael Chopp pounced on a muffed punt deep in PLU territory.  The big recovery set up a beautiful run just two plays later by running back Simon Lamson to seal the big NWC road win at 35-20.

2003 Linfield at Southern Oregon:  Ty Smith's picks turns off SOU's lights

This game was EPIC.  Honestly, I wish I could take you all back on a time machine to Radiers Stadium on that September night.  There were so many story lines and twists and turns in this contest.  SOU just came off a 2002 season where they were "this close" to playing for an NAIA title and the 'Cats were coming off a huge 2002 season.  In 2002, the 'Cats beat SOU in an overtime thriller that launched the 'Cats "Leave No Doubt" season and it left a bitter taste in SOU's mouth.  Leading up to this game SOU was going all-in on beating Linfield and had multiple guys on their roster that would see NFL action.

Both teams traded punch after punch with Linfield roaring back to take an 11 point 4th quarter lead to see SOU storm back to seize the lead at 42-41.  There is a play that happened late to give Linfield their final lead that WILL be in the top ten (spoiler, I know) but I had to give props for this game clinching interception by Linfield Safety Ty Smith. 

What made this especially fitting was that the week prior the 'Cats lost 1st Team All-American Safety Ray Lions for the season to a broken vertebrae in his neck on a hit vs Redlands.  Ty had impossible shoes to fill in stepping in for Ray but when it mattered most, like many Wildcats have done, Ty rose to the challenge and made the play he needed to make.  It was damn awesome to witness.

2005 Linfield vs Concordia-Morehead:  Brett Elliott takes a stroll.

Have to be totally honest, I was in complete shock in what I was seeing that day.  The 2005 Linfield Wildcats were remarkable on both offense and defense.  When Concordia came to town out of Minnesota in the 2nd round of the NCAA Playoffs I thought they had as much chance of winning that game as Redlands picking up the phone when Linfield calls about scheduling a game.  So you have to imagine my shock (and everyone at the 'Catdome) when the team from the MIAC punched Linfield in the mouth early and said "we're not going anywhere". 

I'll get into more details next week on this game (yes another moment in this game was a top ten) but this game clincher by Brett Elliott was wonderful.  Brett was such a master with his arm and vision that the VERY last thing you would have thought was Brett seeing the coverage on 3rd and goal from the 4 yard line and saying "Screw it, I've got this one".  The TD put Concordia to bed and set up the legendary showdown with UW-Whitewater a week later.

2007 Linfield at Southern Oregon:  Boustead bomb ends another Raider threat.

Yeah, Linfield didn't lose very often to Southern Oregon but it wasn't always easy beating the Raiders.  2007 wasn't any different as a Linfield came into the game still feeling the sting from a few early season losses and was in need of a win to build some momentum going back into NWC play.  It wasn't the barn burner from 2003 but it featured each team having dominate stretches of play.  Linfield took what looked like a commanding 24-3 halftime lead to see SOU storm back by shutting down the 'Cats offense and hitting some big plays.  ALL of the momentum was on the SOU sideline as the Raiders inched within striking distance at 24-22 with 7:43 left to play.

Linfield needed something to get the momentum back and to create some distance from the Raiders and that come in the form of a 44 yard TD strike from the 'Cats Trevor Scharer to Jordan Boustead right over the freaking middle of the field for the dagger.  Linfield muffed the PAT to bring the score to 30-22 to still give SOU some life but that TD broke the Raider will and Linfield fired up the bus for a easy ride back to the 'Catdome

2008 Linfield vs Whitworth: 4th quarter Rat sack puts the 'Cats victory on ice.

This one doesn't have the big flair or thrill as previous plays from above but regardless this was a game clincher.  The 'Cats entered the contest on a unfathomable two game losing streak to Whitworth.  Granted the Rats were the back-to-back defending NWC champs but Linfield just let Whitworth slip away in both 2006 and 2007.  Each of those losses were painful to witness as Linfield had multiple chances to close out victories but just didn't get it done.

Needless to say correcting those mistakes from the previous two years was a big deal to the 2008 squad.  The game was a fun and competitive battle that saw each team trying to shake the other but refused to go away (just like the previous two seasons).  Linfield took a 31-28 lead early in the 4th quarter off a 36 yard field goal and the balance of the game was put in hands of the 'Cats defense.  The Purple Pain responded by swarming the Whitworth offense in the final frame with the final blow coming on 3rd and 3 from their own 27 yard line as the 'Cats defense had a jailbreak to put down the Rats QB for one last time.  Whitworth punted on the 4th down hoping to get one last shot but the 'Cats offense ran out the clock and restored order in the NWC.

2009 Linfield at Willamette:  Boehme to Saunders to seal the deal.

The De Facto 2009 NWC Championship was played in late October down in Salem, Oregon as Linfield rolled into town.  Willamette was just coming off a "dream season" and there was talk about the Bearcats building a dynasty.  Whatever.  For Linfield, the 'Cats came into the game rolling at 6-0 and were looking break a two game skid that seemed like a 20 year skid with all the Willamette fans out of the woodwork telling us about it.  Well, the 'Cats derailed that bandwagon with a hard fought 30-27 victory.  I'll talk more about this game tomorrow as there was another play that isn't a top ten but deserves some discussion but let's get back to this play.

The 4th quarter of this game was a wild ride.  Linfield took a 23-13 point lead early in the 4th quarter to see Willamette answer almost immediately to get the game within 3 (23-20).  With 9:23 left in the game the 'Cats offense responded with an 11 play, 73 yard drive that only gave Willamette 3:24 seconds left to try to pull off the miracle.   The drive was a thing of beauty as Willamette kept dropping 8 defenders into coverage to only see Aaron Boehme pull it down time and time again to pick up another 1st down.  The TD to Saunders is getting the praise because it was the clinching score but the bigger play might have been the critical 1st down conversion on 3rd and 7 from the Willamette 39.  Boehme found Buddy Saxon from 17 yards and kept drive alive.  Really, that might be the bigger play of that game but I like the dejected sound of the Willamette radio guy's voice when Linfield puts it in the end zone.

Come back tomorrow as we'll review the rest of the honorable mentions as we take a look at the Momentum Changers, Record Setter, Game End'er, and the plays that would have been top ten if the 'Cats would have pulled out the victory.

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