|It may be hard to believe now but "The Streak" almost ended at Lewis & Clark in 1996.|
Let’s set the scene.
The year is 1996 and the Linfield Wildcats are playing Lewis and Clark. Their record at this moment is 3-4, meaning if they lose, their streak of winning seasons is over.
The score is 26-20, Linfield. There are 20 seconds left on the clock with Lewis and Clark on the 4-yard line, fourth-and-goal.
“It literally came down to the last play of the game,” recalled Coach Smith, the defensive line coach during the ’96 season.
“Time for just one play. As Lewis and Clark came to the line, I remember vividly looking over at our other coaches and smiling anxiously, saying ‘Alright here it is or the Streak, let’s go!’”
The ball was snapped as the quarterback rolled out of the pocket to the left, looking for the end zone.
“All I could think about was the ‘reminders’ we would repeat every Friday after practice,” said Matt Craven, a junior cornerback during the ’96 season. “They will not score on the run. If they pass it must be over the top.”
And that’s exactly what happened. The ball was thrown over the top toward the end zone where Craven deflected the ball out of bounds, incomplete.
“I was just watching the officials to make sure there weren’t any flags,” said Craven. “Once the field was clear, it was pure elation. We knew we could run out the clock.”
With his deflection of the ball, Linfield went on to win the game. The following weekend they pummeled Whitworth, finishing the season with a 5-4 record.
That secured Linfield’s 41st consecutive winning season. Two years later the Cats surpassed Harvard and Notre Dame for the collegiate record and continued on to where they are today, 59 consecutive winning seasons.
“For us coaches that year, the weight of the season was tangible on our shoulders,” said Coach Smith. “We started very slowly and had to win the next four of five games. We struggled to find ways to win but it never came that close again.
The streak literally came down to one play at the end, one play for 40-plus years of tradition. I never want to feel that way again.”
Luckily, with the reputation Linfield has in the college football circuit, he hasn’t had to. Smith has been a part of Linfield for more than 25 years, the past nine as the head coach.
“The streak gives the program something that is unique on a national level,” said Craven. “The quality attracts fine athletes. The consistency breeds success. My wife and I laugh that Linfield is the only college football program where you can visit 20 years later and still know most of the coaches.”
Like Smith, Craven continues his passion for the sport by coaching. He is the head coach at Bend High School and draws from what he learned on the field during his time at Linfield.
|Former All-Conference Corner Matt Craven continues to leave a football legacy in Bend, Or.|
“Coaching is much more difficult than playing,” said Craven. “Being a product of the Linfield program, I have always been a proponent of treating kids with respect. Kids want to get better and it’s our job to show them how.”
The Linfield program prides itself on four things: Team, Excellence, Attitude and Class. With those facets, the coaches hope to teach the boys much more than just how to beat teams like Lewis and Clark.
“I believe that the Linfield football team is the best class for life success skills taught here at Linfield,” said Coach Smith. “The nearly 80 percent winning percentage over the streaks’ span speaks to the power of our Linfield Culture.”
That culture is what brought the Wildcats to where they are today, 20 years later.
Plays like 1996s “Craven Saves the Streak” have gotten the Wildcats to where they are today. Another Saturday afternoon in Griswold Stadium, playing Lewis and Clark doing what they love and making all who love them proud.
“If the streak had ended [that game], I don’t think it would have made much difference in the Linfield program,” said Craven. “The program takes pride in developing young men. That would not have stopped because of a loss. There has never been a program as consistent as Linfield…period.”