(Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's 2013 Linfield Football photos here. )
That was a fun football game. The ‘Cats had all they could handle from an emotional and well coached Pacific Boxer team this past weekend up in Forest Grove. It was a story of the Linfield offense getting off to a slow start and Pacific controlling the ball by converting a number of 3rd downs that limited Linfield’s 1st half offensive opportunities. It was a gut check for Linfield as Pacific grew their lead to 9 points early in the second half off a Boxer field goal. For Linfield, the 'Cats were at the point that if Linfield didn’t make their move, it might never come. But the ‘Cats responded in the form of a 63 yard drive off of 8 plays in the span of 3 minutes and 20 seconds. The game shifted at that point as Linfield’s defense would make keys stops and the ‘Cats tacked up two more scores to take a 28-16 lead with 6:35 left in the game. Pacific didn’t go quietly into the off-season as the Boxers found the end zone one last time with 2:12 left to get the game within six. Linfield would recover the on-sides attempt (two of them actually) and the offense picked up the game clinching first down to run out the clock.
9-0 and #NWC CHAMPIONS! #CatdomeWith the win, Linfield moves to 9-0 and captures their 5th consecutive undisputed NWC title. This is the first time in NWC history that this has been accomplished. Linfield did peel off six straight NWC titles from 2000-2005 but shared the title with PLU and Whitworth in 2001. The longest consecutive stretch of undisputed conference titles was held between Willamette (1934-37) and Linfield (2002-2005), but that has now been supplanted by this current run of Linfield’s (2009-13). Soak that in for a few minutes.
— Linfield College (@LinfieldCollege) November 16, 2013
So with the NWC crown and Pool A bid secured the NCAA released their 2013 brackets last night and Linfield drew a #2 seed in the “Whitewater bracket”. With three teams on the West Coast getting into the playoffs that led to what everyone already knew as Pacific Lutheran (8-1) will be getting on the bus and headed back play Linfield for the fourth time in the last two seasons. After Saturday’s game I heard the comment that Pacific was the best team that Linfield played this season. No disrespect towards Pacific (they played great this past Saturday) but that’s not the case. Pacific is the team that played Linfield best so far this year but Pacific Lutheran is still the best team we will have faced (especially with that rush defense). The Lutes season ended a week early so they’ve had the extra time to game plan the ‘Cats and I know PLU will be excited to try to avenge Linfield’s 29-0 win earlier this season. Beating quality teams twice in the same year is tough but Linfield has experience in this department (ask CLU) so here’s to another magical time known as playoff football in the ‘Catdome!
Proud of this program for how hard they work. WInning 44 of 45 regular season games over the past 5 years is remarkable. #catdomeThe Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
— Catdomealumni.com (@catdomealumni) November 17, 2013
Response to Adversity: Linfield went into the locker room at halftime being down for the first time this season. I was curious to see the response and the hallway/locker room vibe was true to this team’s makeup as the ‘Cats were calm and there was zero sense of any panic. You could tell that Coach Smith was truly excited for the chance to see this team play from behind and he was correct about Linfield's second half counter to the Boxers. The ‘Cats were gritty and showed some tremendous resiliency against a team playing with nothing to lose.
Rushing Attack: The ‘Cats unleashed their rushing attack in the second half as Linfield racked up 224 net rushing yards on 44 carries (5.1 avg). Josh Hill was tremendous in picking up an even 100 yards on 18 carries (5.6 yards per), Tavon Willis was critical in that late 3rd/early 4th quarter drive that saw Linfield recapture the lead, and what can you say about Josh Yoder? Our QB tacked up 94 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns on the day. A key part of those backs' success was the offensive line and receivers playing a great brand of physical football upfront.
Special Teams: The Special Teams unit was huge on Saturday. The punt team forced a big turnover on a Mikey Arkans hit and Chad Coburn recovery. Spencer Payne popped a key punt return for 23 yards to help set up the ‘Cats clinching offensive drive, and our hands team had to recover two on-sides kicks to help seal the victory. Coverage, kicking, and blocking were all rock solid and key to climbing back and winning that game.
Critical Defensive Play Making: The defense would probably like to have parts of this game back but when is started to get into crunch time the ‘Cats came through with some huge plays. Pacific had a great shot at taking a 17-7 lead at half on a turnover deep in Linfield territory but the defense kept the damage to a field goal. In the 2nd half, the ‘Cats D came up had a key stretch as Colin Forman knocked out what looked like a sure Boxer TD at the start of the half (wound up only being another field goal) and then coming up with two big picks, one by Forman and the other by Ian Zarosinski.
Red Zone Offense: While Linfield’s defense was making Pacific settle for field goals for most of the game the ‘Cats made hay with their opportunities. Scoring touchdowns with those red zone trips was so crucial considering how Pacific was shorting the game by time eating drives. There was nothing fancy in the red zone. It was the ‘Cats sticking to their ground game and Pacific being unable to stop it.
Slow offensive start: Very sluggish offensive start for Linfield as the 'Cats were having some issues getting their game plan established. Thankfully, the offense started rolling in the 2nd half but I’m sure that 1st half was one the team will want to toss in the trashcan.
3rd down defense: I mentioned last week about Linfield’s 3rd down defense being key against the Boxers. Pacific is not a hurry-up offense. While the Boxers do take some shots down the field they are a ball control offense and allowing Pacific to go 11 of 19 on 3rd down is a big reason why Linfield found themselves in a tight game. Props to Pacific because they were lights out that 1st half in getting the chains to move. The ‘Cats 3rd down defense this season has been fantastic so I’m not worried about it moving into the playoffs.
Penalties: 9 for 64 yards. The flags added a layer of unneeded complexity for the ‘Cats on Saturday. Have to be better here next week.
Career ending injuries: I don’t like talking about injuries on the blog in-season because it’s not my business to speculate on the injuries of players or program business. There are a couple of ‘Cats on this team that had their seniors seasons and careers ended too short and it stinks because these are fantastic young men. I appreciate what these guys have put into Linfield football. One of our players was accused of “taking the easy route” this past Saturday during the game action. That was said for his choice to go play for Linfield (because the ‘Cats win all the time) and that couldn’t be further from the truth. It takes personal believe in yourself to come to this program because you’re going to have to compete with a lot of great football players for your time and role in this program. Nothing is given and these guys have sacrificed so much over 4 years. It's what makes Linfield truly special. The players that had their last season cut way too short will want their teammates to move on but I wanted to thank them for all they have done. You will be missed.