|Mitch Kekel went pick six against the Bearcats this past weekend.|
|Photo Courtsey of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos here.|
It was a tale of two halves for the Wildcats as Linfield could only muster up a single score in the first half against Willamette but Linfield got their runaway freight train on track in the 2nd half and exploded for 42 points as Linfield would roll up the Bearcats 49-7. It’s Linfield’s seventh victory out of the ‘Cats last eight trips to Salem and this one was sweet because it locked up Linfield’s 60th consecutive winning season to extend the program’s all-level record. An incredible accomplishment but that’s just a footnote to what this 2015 team is trying to achieve. I think we all know what that is.
Coach Smith stated before this game that he was hoping to see the ‘Cats struggle at some point in the season so he could see how his players would respond to adversity. Coach’s wish was granted as the Wildcat offense was moving the ball effectively but thanks to a combination of some solid Willamette defensive efforts (I said before the game, it’s a decent defense) and Wildcat miscues, the ‘Cats sputtered as they entered deeper into Willamette territory. However, the ‘Cats offense answered in the 3rd quarter with two quick scores and then the Wildcat defense put the dagger in the Bearcats with back-to-back touchdowns as Linebacker Mitch Kekel when pick-six for 26 yards and then defensive end Asa Schwartz scooped and scored a 23-yard forced fumble recovery and the party was on after that. In about a span of 5 minutes, the ‘Cats turned a 7-0 lead to 35-0 but that’s what this program has been able to do to teams in the Coach Smith era…..bury you in a hurry.Linfield downs Willamette 49-7 to move to the 5-0. We're going streaking!!! #Linfield60 #Catdome pic.twitter.com/ENnjTSYWqE— Catdomealumni.com (@catdomealumni) October 17, 2015
For Willamette, I’m just not sure where that program is going. They still have some good players and talent on the roster but the players spent almost as much time complaining to officials as they did playing the game. There’s just not a lot of spit and polish to the product on the field and as silly as it sounds when the Bearcats dumped the fly, they lost their identity as a program. Now there’s nothing to make them unique or different from the Puget Sound’s and Pacific’s of Division 3 football. They're now just another program. On top of that, they might have the worst fan support in the NWC.
Now onto what is easily the 2015 Northwest Conference game of the Year. Newly minted number 25 Whitworth (6-0) is coming into the ‘Catdome this Saturday for what should be for the NWC title. Both Linfield and Whitworth have established themselves as clearly the best two teams in the NWC so this game has a TON riding on it.
If you’ve been reading the blog this year, you’ll know what I think about Whitworth. They’re legit. The Rat defense is only giving up 11.0 points per game, they’ve caused 19 turnovers (10 picks, 9 fumble recoveries) and have piled up 32 sacks. Along with a dominating defense, the Rats offense has been fantastic in putting up 36 points per game using a more balanced offensive attack that gains 443.5 yards per game. Hands down, this is Linfield toughest challenge to date as Whitworth is capable of taking Linfield to the limit. We’ll talk more on Wednesday but this a the definition of a big football game.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
Second Half Response: I’m sure that there were many people at the game that probably thought Coach Smith was going to tear into his team at the half after stumbling around. That couldn’t have been further from reality. Coach Smith rallied his ‘Cats and told them that the 2nd half was a great opportunity to respond positively to adversity and see if this team could answer the challenge. And that’s just what the Wildcats did, as Linfield would explode for that 28 point 3rd quarter to put the game to bed. That response was a big old positive sign if you are a Linfield fans as we got a little glimpse at the mental toughness of this group.
Stellar Defensive Effort: The ‘Cats defense was once again fantastic. Yeah, the Bearcat offense is dismal but Linfield did what a great defense should against a lesser unit and that’s flat own them. Willamette only had 10 first downs, and 200 total yards of offense. Take away the lone fourth quarter score (a 50 yard dash up the middle) and Linfield held Willamette to 50 rushing yards on 30 carries.
Rushing Attack: 288 yards on 49 attempts for an average of 5.9 yards per carry. Willamette was daring Linfield to run as the Bearcats loaded up the pass coverage and the Wildcats were happy to respond by slicing up the Bearcats defense with four rushing TD’s and nearly 300 yards of rushing on the day.
|Spencer Payne and the 'Cats rushing attack left Willamette in pursuit mode all game long.|
|Photo Courtsey of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos here.|
3rd down defense: As anticipated, Willamette was trying to eat up as much clock as they could as they would burn off as much clock in between plays as possible. That’s why 3rd down defense was vital. Linfield held Willamette to only 2 of 13 on 3rd down on the day and that was a huge key in Linfield wearing the Bearcats out.
Penalties/Decision Making: The ‘Cats have shown some great improvement on the penalty front the past two games as the ‘Cats were only flagged 5 times for 40 yards against Willamette. Out of the 5 infractions, Linfield was only hit with 2 penalties in the first half of action and 3 through three quarters of play. Along with that, Sam Riddle made good decisions with the football against a team that spent most of their time dropping 8 defenders into coverage.
1st half Offensive Execution: The Wildcat offense was pretty good in the first half of the game, until they cracked the Willamette 40 yard line and then had a hard time keeping the wheels on. The ‘Cats missed two field goals (Metter is too good and that won’t happen again), turned it over on a miscommunicated snap, and had a fake field goal go bad. The Bearcats did some nice things defensively in the first half but it was mainly Linfield not getting out of their own way. Obviously, the ‘Cats cannot afford to have a lackluster start this week against Whitworth.
Profane Willamette Mom in parking lot: I like to head out to the tailgate to film the Linfield fans doing their things (it doesn’t hurt they give me free food) but I was shocked by the profanity laced tirade by this Willamette football player mom (I’m assuming) towards a group of Linfield tailgaters. Parking at Bush Park stinks and it’s tight quarters but that’s part of the deal. Well, a couple of Linfield fans were slightly over the lines of a parking space leaving one spot pretty much useless. Not a huge deal as there were still spots left hours before the game kicked off. But for some reason it really set of this lady and her husband who were driving by. She rolled down the window and started dropping all sorts of language at these Wildcat fans. It was pretty much F-bomb this, a-holes that, calling them “retarded” (which I find incredibly offensive and disgusting). It was so unhinged and out of left field that it left the tailgaters near speechless. I was proud of the Linfield fans for not letting it escalate and just replaying with a bunch of “Go ‘Cats!” as the offending Wildcat parkers proceeded to repark to let someone behind these angry people in. I felt pity for this couple to let something so minor get them into such an ugly place. Sad stuff.