Friday, August 17, 2012

Top Ten Plays of Past Ten Years: Honorable Mentions (Momentum, Game Ender, Record Setter, and more)

This is a long one but I think more than worth it. We're wrapping up our honorable mentions of the Top Ten of the Past Ten and I have a laundry list of plays to discuss. Please just roll with my ramblings for each play but I felt that I wouldn't be doing this justice if I just pasted up a bunch of YouTube videos and called it good.

Next Tuesday we'll start with plays number 10 through 7 on our march to number 1. Until then enjoy and Go 'Cats!

Game Ender

2008 Linfield vs Southern Oregon: Nishizaki pounces and that's the game.

The 'Cats were coming off a tough season opening loss at Hardin-Simmons (29-22) as the Cowboys pulled out a last minute win and Linfield lost Quarterback Aaron Boehme early in the contest due to a broken collar bone.  The result left Linfield with an 0-1 record and trying to find themselves on offense.

In a rare night game at the 'Catdome, the 'Cats and Raiders defenses bloodied each offense to the tune of a 0-0 tie at half.  The second half wasn't that much more explosive as the Raiders took a 7-0 late in the 3rd quater.  At that point the 'Cats offense started to find itself as a SOU turnover allowed the 'Cats Simon Lamson (running back) and Cole Franklin (QB) to get loose on the ground and tie the game at 7.  Linfield did have a great opportunity to end the game in regulation as Linfield put together a methodical 15 play, 95-yard drive that was stopped by a fumble into the end zone.  Going into overtime it looked like it wouldn't be the 'Cats night but Linfield put the ball in Franklin's hands and the young QB delivered on a one-yard plunge to put Linfield up 14-7 in overtime.

Then the moment came.   On the Raiders first offensive possession of overtime, the SOU quarterback made a critical mistake in putting the ball on the turf and Linfield's all-star defensive tackle, Paul Nishizaki, was the Wildcat on the spot to pounce on the fumble and end the game in an explosion of joy from the 'Catdome and Linfield bench.   I've seen the 'Cats mob the field after a few big victories and it's always a blast to see. That night was no different.

Record Setter

2006 Linfield vs Willamette: Scharer to Vierra make a mark in the record book with a 94 yard bomb.

There are not too many quarterbacks in Linfield's history that can say they have one over Brett Elliott but Trevor Scharer is one of those QB's.  In 2006, Linfield and Willamette faced off once more in the 'Catdome and on Linfield's second possession of the game the 'Cats offense was backed up against their own goal line.  In this situation how often do you see an offense take a chance on throwing up a fade along the sideline to see if they can catch a corner napping and get themselves out of terrible field position?  This was one of those situations on 1st down when the 'Cats offensive coordinator Jim Nagle just said "Let's see if we can get behind the defense."

The result was one for the record books as WR Josh Vierra broke loose and Scharer put it right on the money for the 94 yard strike.  The play lit up the 'Catdome and set the tone in the 'Cats 42-14 victory over Willamette.

Momentum Changers

2011 Linfield vs Cal Lutheran:  Linfield uses fake punt as a stairway to victory.

Coming into the 2011 season I was like many people that follow the program.  A little unsure on what the 'Cats 2011 offense was going to look like.  Linfield just lost their entire backfield the featured an All-NWC running back and 2 time NWC offensive player of the year quarterback.  Needless to say, the 'Cats had many questions to answer headed into an opening game against an experience and hungry Cal Lutheran football team.  The 'Cats fall camp was plagued by injury and inconsistent play by the offense and while I had faith in the 'Cats,  my level of concern was bordering into the red.

That level of concern went from bordering into the red to the needed being fully burried into it after the 'Cats first three offensive possession when the 'Cats went 3 and out, 3 and out, and 3 and out as CLU took the early 7-0 lead.

The 'Cats finally completed a pass on the last play of the quarter to only see that little tiny bit of momentum get squashed on a 3rd and 4 when Inns fumbled while in the pocket setting up another 4th down on the Linfield 39 yard line.  Now anyone that's followed Linfield for any amount of time knows that Linfield just doesn't gamble on special teams.  In my previous 16 years of Wildcat football I've NEVER seen the 'Cats run a fake punt.  I mean NEVER.  Linfield's staff and head coach Joe Smith knew the 'Cats had the potential to be exceptional on Special Teams and Special Teams Coordinator Brandon Hazenberg knew it as well.

The bottom line is that Linfield needed a spark and took a major gamble that could have blown up in their faces. If they were going to go for it that was the time.  Linfield punter Josh Repp calmly took the snap and for an instant it looked like any other punt but his personal protector James Testa leaked out of the backfield into the wide open middle of the field.  Repp raised the ball up and stepped into his throw just like he was in his backyard.  The result was a perfect pass to a wide open Testa who then turned and rumbled for 31 yards for the Linfield 1st down.  The 'Cats sideline and 'Catdome exploded.  The 'Cats didn't score on that possession but after that play Micky Inns started to settle down, the Linfield defense swarmed CLU, and Josh Hill exploded onto the scene in a 24-14 victory.

2002 Linfield vs Wartburg:  David Russell kicks off scoring barrage in the 'Cats first NCAA playoff victory.

The 2002 Linfield football team is still one that's close to my heart.  The Linfield faithful fell in love with their attitude that was embodied by their "Leave No Doubt" mantra.  This team was tough as hell and didn't mind mixing it up and asking for more.  The 2002 'Cats were born out of the dissapointment of the 2001 season where the 'Cats finished up the season 7-2 after starting off 1-2.  That 2001 team won a piece of the NWC Championship (3-way shared title with PLU, Linfield, and the Rats) in defeating Whitworth late in the season and looked like a sure fire lock for the NCAA playoffs.  It didn't happen.  The NCAA selection committee took two NWC teams but left the 'Cats at home and went with PLU and Whitworth.  It was hard to stomach to see the NCAA take a team that you just beat weeks earlier and felt like you had the better body of work.

That disappointment was the genesis of the "Leave No Doubt" motto.  It was self-explanatory.  Don't give the NCAA any reason NOT to take you.  Beat 'em all and be the last one standing.  The 2002 'Cats wore that attitude like an armor and went on to batter and beat on their 2002 schedule to finish up the season 9-0.  The result was the 'Cats being rewarded with not only an NCAA bid but hosting playoff games as well.

That playoff game featured the winner of the IIAC (Iowa Conference), the Wartburg Knights.  Now Wartburg is a good program in the IIAC and has a solid reputation around the nation.  But on that day, all the frustrations of previous playoff snubs and crappy muffed field goal playoff losses came to a head in the form of an old fashioned blood letting.  Linfield exploded on Wartburg for a 52-15 victory that was kicked off by the first of four touchdown runs by David Russell.  This was the 1st NCAA playoff victory in Linfield history (the 'Cats have a truckload of NAIA playoff wins) as the 'Cats let the nation know that Linfield is a force to recon with.  The 13 yard Russell TD  rush was the pace setter on the day where the 'Cats did what they wanted and Wartburg was helpless to stop it.

2009 Linfield vs Hardin-Simmons:  3rd quarter field goal block is the jet fuel that launched the 'Cats season.

Headed into 2009 the 'Cats were entering into the 4th season under Coach Joe Smith.  Unfortunately, the 'Cats were also coming off of three consecutive 6-3 seasons that saw Linfield finish as runner's up in the NWC in each of those seasons.  Cat fans were grumpy as was the program.  I wasn't thrilled with the previous campaigns but my campaign wasn't shaken.  Linfield was going to be "back", it was just a matter of when.  I can remember Pat Coleman (of fame) visiting Linfield for the 2007 Linfield/HSU game and having dinner with him and Mrs. 11 after the 'Cats win.  We talked about Linfield for awhile and I remember telling him that Coach Smith was going to get Linfield back to one of the elite programs in the was only a matter of when.

That "when" started in 2009 as the 'Cats complied one of their best seasons in program history with a trip to the NCAA final four and within minutes of Linfield's second berth in the NCAA Division 3 championship game.  That march towards that 12 win season all started with the season opener vs a tremendous Hardin-Simmons program.  HSU came into the game as a top 25 pre-season pick while holding a slight 2-1 series season advantage over Linfield.

The game was a seasaw affair in the 1st half with Linfield taking a 20-14 lead into the break.  At that point the game was a tossup.  The 2nd half started off in ominous fashion as a 56 yard kickoff return set up HSU in prime Linfield real estate.  The 'Cats defense responded with a 3rd down stop that set up a 42-yard field goal attempt to inch HSU ever closer to that Linfield lead.  What happened next is something that 2011 Linfield fans have seen before as then Wildcat freshman defensive tackle Tyler Steele powered his way past an HSU guard and got a big mitt up for the block.  The block was title wave of momentum as the 'Cats reeled off 17 unanswered points to build a 37-14 4th lead and was the first step in a year to remember in the 'Catdome.

2003 Linfield vs Pacific Lutheran:   Boatsman picks turns back PLU.

The 2003 Linfield vs PLU game was a beast.  Linfield was just coming off an exhausting and epic win down at Raider Stadium and hosting the 'Cats longtime rival, Pacific Lutheran.  That game had all the makings of a trap game as Linfield was feeling good after starting the year at 2-0 and had beat PLU the three previous seasons.  What happened was Linfield finding themselves in a dog fight with a crafty old rival.

Linfield was hanging onto a tight 10-3 lead late in the 4th quarter when the PLU offense came calling.  The Lutes started a drive around midfield when one of their backs broke lose for a 45 yard romp to the Linfield 8 yard line.  A holding penalty pushed the ball back to the Linfield 17 and put PLU in a situation to throw the ball.  On the very next play Linfield senior linebacker Ryan Boatsman stepped in front of a PLU pass at the goal line and raced 43 yards on the return.  It was a HUGE stop in a game that felt like the momentum was starting to turn towards PLU.  While Linfield didn't convert that turnover for points it created the separation for a big early season victory.

2009 Linfield vs Willamette: Boehme draws a line in the sand.

I LOVE this play. Just love it to death.  This play made by Linfield Quarterback Aaron Boehme said so many things about the 2009 Linfield Wildcats and the football program in general at that moment.  One play that said "Not today".  The play wasn't a TD, wasn't even for a 1st down but it lit a fuse on the Wildcat sideline.  You could feel a pulse of energy roll through the Wildcat faithful in attendance.

It was early in the 2nd quarter and Linfield holding a 13-3 lead over Willamette.  The 'Cats had a long 3rd and 20 from their own 47 and like what seemed to happen all game was Willamette dropping 8 and daring Boehme to throw.  But what Willamette found out was that Boehme could beat you with his legs just as well with his arms and took advantage of the deep drops in chewing off huge chunks of yardage in scramble after scramble.  This play was like so many in this game with one twist.  Boehme drops and doesn't see any available options down the field so he decides run.  As he picks up yardage he approaches the sideline where a Willamette corner back was in waiting.  Running out of bounds was what seemed like the logical conclusion to the play.  It wasn't in the too distant past where Boehme lost a season on lowering his shoulder on a defensive back so you thought there was no way he would do it again.

However, this wasn't just any other game.  This game was an opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the conference that Linfield had figured it out and wasn't messing around anymore.  As Boehme approached the sideline he lowered that same shoulder he broke the year before and sat that corner on his backside.   It was electric for so many reasons and lit the Wildcat sideline on fire.  While there where other plays in 2009 that effected the direct outcome of the game or season in a bigger manner, this one was a big old statement that Linfield was back and didn't have plans on going anywhere.


These are three plays that would have been mortal locks as top ten plays of the past ten seasons if it wasn't for that Linfield would drop each of these games.  All three happened in too close of playoff losses that still sting to this very day but the plays stand alone as 'Cats making big plays in big moments.

2009 Linfield at UW-Whitewater:  Jackson ends half with sack and keeps 'Cats within striking distance.

After winning their 12 victory of the season and a West Regional Championship, the 'Cats headed to a winter wonderland to battle the NCAA defending national champions, UW-Whitewater.  The 'Cats and UWW already shared a big NCAA moment with their epic 2005 match-up that ended a golden era of Linfield football and served as a springboard for UW-Whitewater's dominance in division 3.  This 2009 rematch wasn't about revenge for Linfield as the 2009 roster wasn't around during that game but it was more about a Linfield squad trying to reach the ultimate Division 3 destination, the Stagg Bowl.

The game started off by Whitewater racing out to a 10-0 lead and looked to be headed to a solid win over Linfield but the 'Cats kept banging away, kept making it hard for UW-Whitewater to move the ball with any consistency, and just handing around.  Linfield pushed across a TD to get on the board and made the game a 10-7 contest with 3:21 left in the half.  That's when Whitewater made a move to extend the lead and seize the momentum.  UWW hit a 45 yard strike to set up a 1st and goal from the 9 yard line and looked like a team ready to pounce.

1st down: Rush for no gain
2nd down: incomplete pass
3rd down: UWW QB keeps and rushes for 7 yards to the Linfield 2.  Calls timeout with 42 seconds left.

Instead of kicking an easy field goal, UWW goes for the dagger on 4th down.  On the snap, the Warhawks opt for a play action pass expecting Linfield to load up the box from 2 yards out.  It looked good in theory but the UWW offense didn't account for Linfield Linebacker Jayman Jackson coming off the corner.  Jackson nailed the QB for a 6 yard sack that killed the drive and wildly swings the momentum in Linfield's favor.  The 'Cats stormed out of the locker room to build a 17-10 lead early in the 4th quarter to only see UWW make enough plays to take a 20-17 lead midway through the 4th quarter.   Whitewater went on for the victory and made another trip back to the championship but Jackson's sack was a tremendous game changing play that should be remembered.

2010 Linfield at University of Saint Thomas: Boehme to Saxon.

In 2009 Linfield sent the University of Saint Thomas home packing in the West Region Final 31-20 in front of an electric 'Catdome crowd.  Entering into the 2010 season the 'Cats were riding high in the pre-season polls and Saint Thomas was starting to capitalize on the momentum they built on from the previous year.  Then the near unthinkable happened and Linfield opened up the season with a loss on the road to California Lutheran that dropped them in the rankings and put Linfield in an instant playoff mode.  The 'Cats responded by breaking off 8 consecutive wins and rolling through the Northwest Conference in domination fashion.  However, when it came to the seating of the playoffs the opening season loss came back to bite the 'Cats as Linfield was seated 4th in the West Region and UST (who was 10-0) seated 1st.  If Linfield could have pulled out that opening win, the 'Cats might have very well have been hosting any West Region contender once again.

But that wasn't the case as Linfield packed their bags after defeating CLU in a 1st round rematch 42-26 and headed out to the Twin Cities to square off against UST for the second consecutive year.

The game was another Linfield instant playoff classic as both teams flexed their might at various stages of the game.  UST jumped out to an early 10-0 lead and had at least two other chances to take control of the game but the Wildcat defense made play after play in that 1st half to keep breathing life into the Linfield.  Then towards the end of the 1st half the 'Cats offense started to hit a groove and found the holes in the Tommies defense.  UST and Linfield walked into the locker room at half knotted up at 10.

Linfield's defense continued to shine in the 3rd quarter in keeping UST in check and the 'Cats has prime opportuites to capitalize but missed two consecutive field goals to keep that game at 10-10.  The Tommies finally broke through with 7:25 left in the game after putting together an 80 play drive and punched through the touchdown.  17-10 UST.

Linfield made their move on the next drive in quickly moving deep into UST territory setting up a 3rd and 1 on the Tommie 23 yard line but a botched snap fumbled the back back 13 yards and left Linfield with a near impossible 4th down conversion that fell short.  At that point it looked like all was lost.  All UST had to do was grind out one, maybe two 1st downs, and the game would have ended.  Linfield's defense had something else on their mind and gave Boehme and the offense one more chance to get the score even after stopping UST on 3rd down.

So with 2:07 left in the game, the 'Cats went hurry up and Boehme and the offense broke off little chunk after little chunk of yardage until Linfield was deep in UST territory and it looked like the impossible might be possible.  After getting to the 13 yard line with a little over a minute left in the game the next three plays could only garner 6 yards and left Linfield with a 4th and 4 with :23 seconds left in the game.  Then it happened....Trips left, Boehme takes the snap, gets the protection, and the 'Cats Buddy Saxon finds a soft spot in the UST zone and settles down.  Boehme finds Saxon just as soon as Buddy started to throttle down and fired a fastball that Saxon scooped up for the score.  17 ticks left on the clock and the UST faithful was stunned.  Incredible play.

Linfield and UST went two overtimes deeps before UST was able to find the endzone and Linfield had a good shot but an excellent defensive strip ended the 'Cats 2010 season.  Heartbreak but in retrospect the game was played by two fine football teams that left it all on the field.

2005 Linfield vs UW-Whitewater:  Chris Boock turns the Warhawks away on 4th down.

This was the single greatest football game that I've ever seen played.  I'm not just talking about division III football but ANY football game that I had the pleasure to witness with my own eyes.  To set the stage the 'Cats entered the season ranked #1 coming off the 2004 National Title and brought back a truckload of the 2004 roster.  The 2005 'Cats didn't seem to miss a beat in just mowing down team after team after team during the regular season.  It just seemed almost too easy at times.  I can remember a story a buddy of mine told me from that year.  He was sitting up in the 'Catdome crowd during a 62-7 beating of Puget Sound and while the 'Cats had the ball there was somebody yelling at the coaches all upset that Linfield wasn't scoring FAST ENOUGH.  Incredible but 100% true.  While putting up a 62 spot some where unhappy because the offense wasn't decapitating UPS fast enough.  Brett Elliott should have just grabbed the mic after another TD pass and yelled out "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?"

The 'Cats won the first two rounds of the playoffs over Oxy and Concordia to set up a greatly anticipated West Region Finals against upstart and the then #2 ranked team in the land, UW-Whitewater out of the WIAC.  Whitewater featured a big and bruising roster that featured a future NFL receiver and what would be one of the most storied running backs in NCAA division III history.  It was a match-up of two incredibly explosive offenses that had two play making defenses standing in their way.

If you want to watch a recap of that game to get a feel of what it was like go check out this recap I put together a few years back.  It's a blow-by-blow account of two titans trading what looked like knockout punches to just see the other rise off up from the mat to punch back.  The 'Catdome has GREAT fans.  Just great knowledgable fans that know their stuff, but I've never heard or see a crowd that was that involved in a football game before.  You could feel this tension, nervousness, and excitement all wrapped into one as it swallowed up the 'Catdome on every snap.  Saying the fans where into the game would be an understatment.

After going back and forth UWW built a 10-point lead to see Linfield storm back with two incredible TD throws to see the 'Cats take a 44-41 lead halfway through the 4th quarter.  UW-Whitwater was on the move and driving deep in Linfield territory when the 'Cats Brandon Hazenberg picked off a pass on 4th and 8 to turn back UWW.  Linfield looked like they might be able to put some distance between them and Whitewater.  The 'Cats moved the ball out to their own 40 and then the 1st domino fell.  A UWW blitzing LB found his way to Elliott and stripped him from behind on a big hit.  The loose ball was picked up by a Warhawk defensive lineman that picked up a convoy to what looked like a huge defensive score.   But the 'Cats Brad McKecknie didn't give up on the play and was able to wrangle down the big UWW defensive body at the 'Cats 4 yard line setting up what was a mammoth goal line stand.

1st and Goal from the 4: Rush for no yards.
2nd and Goal from the 4: A 5 yard sack by a blitzing Hazenberg.
3rd and Goal from the 9: Incomplete pass on a tipped ball at the line of scrimmage.

So it came down to 4th and Goal and UWW opted for a comeback route in the front corner of the end zone.  It was well designed play and route but Linfield's All-NWC conerback Chris Boock wasn't going to be denied as he slipped his body in front of the receiver and lifted his left hand up to knock down the pass with 3:51 left in the game.  The 'Catdome became unhinged.  All that Linfield had to do pick up a couple of 1st downs and kill the clock but UWW held serve and forced the 'Cats to punt.  That's when the story turns south for Linfield as Whitewater was able to put together the game clinching TD drive.  Linfield still had little time on the clock and if they had 30 more seconds the 'Cats might have been able to get within field goal range and send it into OT.  While Linfield did lose the game it didn't feel that way.  It felt more like the 'Cats just ran out of time.

1 comment:

Hayden said...

Doing some great work here, RC! Love these videos.