Monday, December 8, 2014

‘Cats Win!!! Linfield delivers 45-7 knockout over Widener to advance to the Final Four.

A Band of Brothers.
FINAL FOUR!  What an incredible ride this Linfield team is taking all of us on. After the week 7 loss against Willamette, the ‘Cats 2014 season was in doubt. If Linfield dropped any of their last two regular season games to UPS or Pacific, the ‘Cats season was over.  Since that loss, the ‘Cats have responded in winning five straight, including 3 playoff games, 3 wins over ranked opponents, and two of those coming on back-to-back huge travel playoff games against previously undefeated teams.

The most recent previously undefeated team the ‘Cats defeated was the Widener Pride. It was a tremendous 45-7 victory in a soaking wet Chester, PA.  The Pride have a number of good things going. They look every bit the part of a top level program in Division III in terms of their size, physicality, and speed but Widener ran into a buzzsaw of a Wildcat team that left no doubt who was going to be advancing to the National Semifinals. The weather was soaking rain, but no wind, and Linfield clearly handled that better. Bad weather is part of playoff football in December. It's part of the deal all of these teams have to deal with. The Wildcats made the right adjustments to the conditions and used a suffocating defense that turned over Widener and the 'Cats paired that with a big play passing attack. The end result was a shocked Pride team and pure elation on the Linfield sideline.

Next up for the Wildcats is a return trip to Whitewater as Linfield will face the number one team in the country and defending National Champion. You’ll not read a single bad thing about UWW on this blog for multiple reasons. Those reasons include the fact that Whitewater is just not only so darn good, and have been for an extended period of time, but mainly because the program is filled with good guys as well great players. Linfield may have fallen short three times to UWW but each game was hard fought and cleanly played. No extra garbage but rather just players on both sides letting it rip.  The UWW staff, players, parents, and fans have always treated Linfield folks with respect and I’m looking forward for our guys getting the opportunity to measure up against the standard in Division III football, once again.

This 2014 Linfield Football team has continued to knockdown hurdle after hurdle that has seemed to recently haunt the program: “Linfield can’t win a playoff game on the road.” Check that one off…twice. “Linfield can’t get back past the Quarterfinals.” Check. The ‘Cats continue to ignore the perceived limits that have needled the program and welcomed each new huge challenge with open arms. I have so much admiration for how these young men handle themselves on and off the field.  I’ll tell you all day long that this is a special group of guys and they keep proving me right.  Why? Because this is a Linfield football team that continues to play for one another and they continue to play for Moore.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Playing Together:  This team has been through so much and yet they have forged an incredible bond of togetherness in the wake of losing Parker and have continued to play for him, his family, everyone associated with Linfield, and for every player on this roster. I shed some tears after this game, and not for the fact the ‘Cats won a football game, but because I know how much it means for these guys to get another week of being together.

Linfield’s Defensive Effort: What can you say about the ‘Cats defense? Widener came into the game averaging 39.8 points per game and they walked off the field with only 7.   The ‘Cats held the Pride to 2 of 18 on 3rd down (Wow!) and limited Widener to only 173 yards of total offense on the day (74 plays for 2.3 yards per).  The Linfield defense drove a salt truck from Mac to Chester and unloaded it on Quick Stadium.

Offense Making Plays: Tip of the hat to the Widener defense. They have some dudes and they made Linfield earn it on the offensive side of the ball. However, when push came to shove the Wildcat offense did what they’ve done all year and that’s take what the defense gives you and makes it work.  Widener was content in leaving the ‘Cats wide receivers in single coverage and Linfield said our guys are better than yours and kept attacking them play after play.  That lead to Sam Riddle tossing 5 TD passes to four different Wildcats (Payne, Peterson, Poppen, and Nelson) on the way to the route.

Great Special Teams Effort: Not very many people in Widener’s conference (MAC) kicked the ball deep to All-American Anthony Davis but as Coach Smith said in the post-game “We wanted to throw our fast ball and see if they could hit it.” Well, Linfield’s special teams forgot about the curve ball and threw Widener the heater time and time again.  Davis only averaged 19.37 yards per his eight kickoff return and only 6 yards per on two punt returns. Fantastic. Along with that, Michael Metter boomed a big 44 yard field goal in the driving rain to pretty much put the game on ice 31-7 in the early stages of the 4th quarter. Great Linfield special teams on Saturday.

Pressure: Saying the Wildcats turned up the heat on Pride QB Seth Klein would be a major understatement. You could see Klein in the pocket start to anticipate getting hit even when he was in a clean pocket. That’s when you knew Linfield’s defense was in total control on the Pride’s offense. Linfield’s defense not only piled up 7 sacks but did so time and again in critical downs.  Five of those sacks belonged to the NWC Defensive Player of the Year, Alex Hoff. It seems that as the games increase in difficulty and pressure, Hoff keeps raising his game to another level. He was dominating this past Saturday.

Pass Protection: Once again, the Linfield offense line faced a mammoth challenge against one of the best pass rushing teams in the country and the Wildcats’ offense line rose to the challenge.  The ‘Cats offensive line and running backs, where masterful in picking up blitzes and winning their individual battle and Sam Riddle continues to show GREAT pocket awareness while bodies are flying around him. Another awesome game for Team Beef.

Secondary/LB coverage:  Widener QB Seth Klein was one of the top rated passers in DIII with 3,199 passing yards with 33 TDs against only 4 picks. The challenge was big but the ‘Cats secondary and LBs answered the bell in picking off Klein 3 times (Linfield converted all three picks into TDs) and held him to only 11 out of 31 passing for 97 yards.  Their coverage effort, along with the pressure, was a major reason for the ‘Cats holding The Pride to only 7 points.

Receivers competing for the ball: The Linfield receivers did what they have done all year long and that’s get up in the air and make play after play. The ‘Cats made a season worth of highlight reel catches in four quarters alone and anyone that’s followed this team shouldn’t be surprised. Charlie Poppen and Evan Peterson were masterful. Along with them, Colin Nelson had a long TD pass and running back Spencer Payne showed his versatility out of the backfield with 5 catches.

Bonus Good:

Making the trip about more than just football: There are many football programs that make the Friday when you’re on the road just about practice, getting back to the hotel, and locking their players away with film and meetings for the rest of the day.  Coach Smith knew that being out in Philly might be a once in a lifetime experience for many of his players so he and the staff decided to make the most of it by practicing at the Philadelphia Eagles practice facility (NovaCare complex), and then taking the team to downtown Philly to run the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art (best known by the Rocky films), and then to Independence Hall where the team had an official tour of the birthplace of America.  It was such a fun and thrilling experience to make this trip not just about football.  (Thank you to the Ducks, Eagles, and to Coach Chip Kelly for letting the ‘Cats get that Friday practice in at the NovaCare complex. That was dang neat.)

The Bad

Nothing. Widener did do a solid job of limiting the Linfield rushing attack in stretches and gashed the ‘Cats defense a little but you expect those things happening when you’re playing against a 12-0 team.  Widener is a good football team but Linfield is better and it accumulated in the form of a 38 point victory.

The Ugly

Nothing. It was a great weekend and this is about our group of guys and they are something special. Go ‘Cats!

1 comment:

DS said...

Most enjoyable week.