|Another week of staying together.|
Man, that was fun. Linfield and Mary Hardin-Baylor played a very entertaining playoff football game this past weekend in Belton, Texas. The game was filled with big plays, stretches of stifling defense, big moment after big moment, some sloppy play mixed in, big coaching decisions, and who was going to make that last big play. It all ended with Linfield in the victory formation as the ‘Cats came out on top 31-28. So proud of this group of young men and where they have been and where they’re going. It’s been such a hard and rough month in the game of life but these Wildcats have found a bit of salvation in being able to stay together through the game of football. The way this group continues to play as one and honor Parker has been commendable and all of that was on display in Belton.
For all the huge amounts of success the Linfield Wildcats have experienced over the decades as a program, one of the biggest sore spots for the ‘Cats was the fact that Linfield has never won a (flight) road playoff game in program history. Now, the Linfield historians are going to jump my stuff about Linfield’s 1986 road win at PLU in the 1st round of the NAIA playoffs. Yes, Linfield does have a road win to their record but what I mean is Linfield getting on an airplane, flying somewhere, and knocking off another team in their house. It’s been a monkey on the ‘Cats back for a long time but Linfield was finally able to break through that glass ceiling and it was earned.
So, with that said, the ‘Cats have zero time to savor the road win as Linfield will once again be hopping on an airplane. This time Linfield is headed to Chester, Penn. to face the tremendously stout and explosive Widener University Pride (12-0) in the National Quarterfinals. The ‘Cats have been playing to keep their season alive for the past month and the degree of difficulty keeps getting pushed up a notch. Linfield fans may not know much about our East Coast opponent but Linfield is walking into a Lion’s den. The Pride is built in a similar fashion to the ‘Cats with a great defensive front and explosive play-makers that can put up points in a hurry. Back-To-Back long flights, 3 hour time difference, fantastic opposition, all point to the biggest challenge to date if the ‘Cats wish to continue this postseason ride. However, what a freaking great ride it has been!
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Getting it done: Coach Smith talks often to his team about taking it one play at a time before the ‘Cats hit the field for action. Coach constantly hammers on not letting the success or failure his team experiences during the throes of competition to dictate the effort you put into that next play....for good or bad. Keep pushing, keep trying, and we’ll see where we stand at the end. That philosophy was on display in the ‘Cats victory as Linfield tasted wild swings of failure and success during the game but this group of guys never wavered and stuck together through it all.
#play4parker pic.twitter.com/FstCVZWNEYOffensive Line Protection: I thought that was a fantastic performance by the Linfield offensive line. The ‘Cats offensive line and running backs were brilliant in giving Sam Riddle clean pockets most of the game and allowing the ‘Cats to convert a number of huge 3rd downs that allow the ‘Cats to control the game. Linfield’s offensive line has been tremendous in 2014 and Saturday was another standout performance.
— Brandon Hazenberg (@CoachHazenberg) November 29, 2014
Rushing defense: While giving up 205 yards for a 5.3 per carry clip doesn’t seem like a great day, a huge chunk of that production is when the ‘Cats brain-farted and allowed an untouched 74 yard rumbling TD early in the 1st quarter. Besides that rush, Linfield held UMHB to 131 rushing yards on 38 carries (3.45 per rush). Limiting the Cru rushing attack was a key ingredient in Linfield’s victory.
Defensive Backs: The ‘Cats defensive backs came up with huge plays all four quarters of the action this past Saturday. From Mikey Arkans coming up with the scoop and score off of Alex Hoff’s QB strip to start the scoring, to Dylan Lewis coming up some clutch defensive plays, Keanu Yamamoto being rock solid in run support, Kyle Belcher taking his man out of the game, and then to Jordan Giza who came up with two game saving plays on UMHB’s last drive of the game.
Receivers making plays: I know Linfield had a couple of major uncharacteristic drops that could have resulted in scores but you also have to recognize the fact that the Linfield receivers also made play after play. Linfield Tight End Levi Altringer had his best game to date in hauling 6 catches for 92 yards, Erick Douglas III had some monster catches, and Charlie Poppen and Evan Peterson came up big in the 2nd half for the Linfield offense.
Special teams: Like I wrote above, all three phases of Linfield took turns in poor play on Saturday but along with some rough moments, Linfield also turned in some tremendous efforts on special teams. I thought all three of Linfield’s kickers booted the tar out of the football (Kevin McClean, Cayman Conley, and Michael Metter) in terrible windy conditions and the ‘Cats kickoff coverage was nails as well.
Sam Riddle: People give way too much credit and way too much blame on the quarterback. It comes with the territory when you play that position. Sam isn’t looking to be singled out so I’ll keep it brief……number 10 played a hell of a game. Not too shabby for an honorable mention All-NWC QB.
The people of UMHB: Tip of the Wildcat cap to not only a first rate football facility (Crusader Stadium is unreal) but an even bigger tip of the cap to the people of UMHB. From the Cru players, coaches, parents, fans, and facility people, everyone was welcoming and made you feel good about being there. UMHB will win it all sooner than later. They have too many good things going on not to.
Good luck to @Linfield_CatsFB in the rest of your season. #LinfieldStrong(All of these nice people at UMHB makes it easy to forgive that one UMHB baseball player for poking fun at our staff rocking the cargo shorts.)
— UMHB Football (@crufootball) November 29, 2014
All three phases taking turns screwing it up. That was one of the more crazy elements about Saturday’s game. The Linfield defense, offense, and special teams all had their “Oh, crap.” moments against UMHB. UMHB converting 3 fake punts, a punt return for TD, sure fire TDs dropped, letting a fullback rumble 73 yards untouched, turnovers. Even in all of those tough moments, the sideline never wavered, and the ‘Cats never stopped coming.
Putting the ball on the rug: Linfield put the ball on the carpet multiple times against UMHB and it almost cost Linfield the game. Widener is one of the best takeaway teams in the country. Linfield has to get that ironed out before this weekend.
Well, it sure isn’t Crusader Stadium. Linfield scores their first flight road playoff victory in program history, knocks off UMHB, back to the elite 8 again, and getting another week for this family to stay together….nothing ugly about that.