|Gone but never forgotten. RIP Parker.|
This past Saturday in the ‘Catdome there were tears of joy, tears of sadness, and at times, both were shed at the same time. Saying it was an emotional day of football would be an understatement as your Linfield Wildcats honored their teammate, friend, and brother Parker Moore in a resounding 55-24 opening playoff win against the SCIAC Champions, Chapman University Panthers. Linfield came out of the gates and left no doubt what the outcome of the day was going to be as Linfield used all three units to control contest and build a 38-3 first half lead. Linfield never looked back.
Chapman had a heck of year and did play Linfield close down in Orange to start the 2014 season. Panther Head Coach Bob Owens, who has done a magnificent job in building Chapman up, stated in the week’s lead up that his Panthers probably caught Linfield a little by surprise in the ‘Cats 21-14 opening season game in Orange, Ca. “We were maybe a little better football team than (Linfield) thought.” Sure, there might have been a little of that, but I clearly remember thinking to myself after the season opener that Chapman was already playing to the ceiling of their potential while I thought this Linfield team had a great chance to grow into a national contender. This time around, Chapman got to experience what a fully realized Linfield team looks and feels like.
With the victory, Linfield gets the opportunity to move on in the playoffs and travel out to Belton, Texas to face the #2 ranked University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders. When Linfield lost to Willamette in Week 7, I thought that if the ‘Cats could win out, and then win our opening playoff game, Linfield would be on the road to back Whitewater. But the NCAA tapped Linfield on the shoulder and said “Sorry, not that beanstalk here but that beanstalk over there is the one you need to go climb.” What I’m saying is that instead of one D3 giant I thought Linfield would face in the second round, we’re just getting another giant instead. But once you get past the first round of the playoffs, everyone is a good football team so we might as well go play one of the VERY best there is. Let’s go see if this Linfield team has something left in the tank.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Being Ready To Play: I wasn’t sure what to expect from the ‘Cats this weekend considering the week this program, college, and multiple communities have experienced with the death of Parker. However, as soon as I stepped into the locker room, I knew that this team was ready to go. Their hearts were heavy but this group of young people were determined to honor their fallen friend the best way they knew how and that was to perform.
Put Chapman away early: The Panthers had no chance. Linfield buried Chapman in all three phases to build a 35-0 lead before the Panthers could scratch out a field goal towards the end of the half. I think it was critical for Linfield to get the game out of reach early and Linfield did just that.
1st Half Defense: The Linfield defense forced 5 three-and-outs in the 1st half against Chapman. The ‘Cats were swamping anything the Panthers could throw at Linfield during the 1st half. The Linfield speed and physicality was just too much. At the end of the half, the Panthers only collected 4 first downs and gained only 61 yards of offense.
Balanced Offensive Attack: I loved the way our offense attacked Chapman’s defense. 227 yards rushing (4.9 per carry) and 279 yards passing (12.7 per completion) for 506 total offensive yards. This Linfield offense is so dangerous when you combine a clicking Linfield passing attack with Payne, Willis, and Riddle rushing the ball for big chunks. Saturday’s offensive performance is what Coach Smith and his offensive staff had to envision before this season started. The offense looked sharp.
Special Teams…again: I’ve been raving about the Linfield Special Teams unit and their second half of the season improvement and they continue to impress. A huge 63 yard Jordan Giza punt return for TD, two field goals, great coverage, great punting (42.0 avg, three punts inside the 20), and more booming kickoffs. Another banner day by Coach Haze’s guys.
Pass Protection: A few times on Saturday, I thought that Sam Riddle was going to break out a PB&J and start eating it while in the pocket with all the time his offensive line was providing. Riddle had a standout day throwing the ball (22 of 36, 279 yards and 4 TDs) and a big reason why was his big fellas giving up zero sacks on the day and minimal pressure.
‘Cats Receivers Making Plays: The Wildcat receivers had to be itching to get after it after Linfield almost exclusively ran the ball against Pacific the week before. There were a number of acrobatic catches by Charlie Poppen and Evan Peterson who came up with play after play for the ‘Cats. It was a fantastic performance by the Linfield receivers.
The Linfield Faithful and Students: The opening round of the playoffs falls on the start of the college’s fall break. That usually means that the student section is empty. This game’s crowds are typically smaller but still vocal. This past Saturday a number of students stayed the extra day to show their support for their classmates and added some great energy to the ‘Catdome. I have to take my hat off to all of the ‘Cats that came out and showed their love and support to the Moore family and his Linfield teammates. Go ‘Cats!
3rd quarter lull: There was a drop in that 3rd quarter in energy and emotion from the ‘Cats and anybody could understand. For many of our guys, this has probably one of the hardest weeks of their lives and I think a number of guys were running on empty in that 2nd half. However, kudos to the Linfield roster for rallying and then snuffing out that mini-rally by Chapman to put the game on ice.
Nothing at all. This is a great group of young men that have handled all of this with such grace in the face of incredible sadness. This isn’t going to go away just because the ‘Cats won a football game but I do believe this team will forge ahead with the full intention of staying together for as long as they can to honor Parker and to be able to play for each other.