|#17 Levi Altringer came up with a beautiful toe tapping TD for the 'Cats against Cortland State|
|Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Linfield Football Photos Here.|
After a rough 1st half of play, the ‘Cats used a suffocating defense and effective offense to pull away from a hard-nosed and talented Cortland State Red Dragon football team this past Saturday in the ‘Catdome.
That 1st half was concerning because I thought Linfield was playing the game at Cortland State’s pace and the Red Dragon’s had extensive experience in gutting out close victories and Linfield had not been in that position all year long. Going into halftime, I had a few people mention to me that some Linfield fans were wondering how badly the ‘Cats were getting chewed out by Coach Smith. That just made me chuckle. There was zero panic or coaches freaking out in that Linfield locker room. It’s just not Linfield or Coach Smith’s way of going about their business. In fact, here is what Coach Smith told his team before headed back out the field in the 2nd half:
That’s why Coach Smith is a leader of men.
That second half was what you’ve seen this Linfield team do all year to teams. Special teams pins them deep, the defense forces short drives or create turnovers, and the offense delivers. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Ballgame.
A big tip of the cap to Cortland State. That was a well-coached, physical, talented, and clean playing group. They represented the Empire 8 well and this past weekend is what I love about division III playoffs…the chance to play someone when you have no idea what’s in store. The staffs only get a small glimpse of film to build a game plan and you roll out your guys and let it rip. It’s exciting, fresh, and you mix that in with a cold but beautiful late November Saturday and that’s about a perfect small college football experience.
Obviously, the injury to Sam Riddle was a big hold your breath moment for Linfield’s fan base. Sam is one of the best QB’s in division III and a leader. He came back out after the lower body injury for one last drive before half but the staff shut Sam down for the rest of the day and handed the keys over to Tommy Knecht. Other programs might have rolled Sam out there in that second half but there’s a reason why they didn’t. The staff knew and trusted that Tom would be able to lead the offense and get points on the board with Sam sidelined. Knecht and the Wildcat offense delivered on that trust to the tune of 24 second half points on the way to victory. I don’t know what Sam’s status is going forward, I’ll leave that to the staff to disclose at the appropriate time.
With the victory, Linfield now advances to the NCAA Quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive year. Once again, Linfield will face University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in a rematch of last year’s 2nd round game. This year’s game is like a mirror image to the 2014 game with now UMHB being the team to stub their toe in the regular season and goes on the road to play a top 5 team in Linfield. In reading the local Belton news, the Crusaders are relishing the opportunity to get some payback on Linfield from last season and previous playoff games. We’ll get more in-depth about UMHB but this will be by far the best team Linfield has seen in 2015 and it’s going to take a monster effort by Linfield to knock off what is an ultra-talented football program.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
2nd half response: Cortland State challenged Linfield, as I expected, and I was impressed with how Linfield responded. The Red Dragons were the team that won tight game after tight game but Linfield showed no sign of being shaken by a tight score and very uneven half of play. Linfield when on that 24-0 run to blow the game wide open and did with a large helping of adversity as Sam Riddle left the game with a lower body injury. Instead of retreating, the ‘Cats charged forward with a fantastic stretch of football. It showed me what this team is made of.
Defensive effort: The Linfield defense was top notch this past weekend. The ‘Cats first defensive unit was freaking great once again on Saturday. Beside one long TD pass by Cortland Sate in the 1st quarter, Linfield’s defense ate up the Red Dragon offense with speed and athleticism. You could tell that the Red Dragons had no answer for Linfield’s defense as their running game was nonexistent and they couldn’t get Linfield off balanced with the receiver screen game. That left the vertical passing game as the Red Dragon’s only real option and Cortland State QB Steven Ferreira is probably still in an ice bath from the beating the ‘Cats put on the Red Dragon QB.
Passing attack: Linfield’s passing game was on-point against Cortland. Sam Riddle cut up the Red Dragons for 172 yards and 2 TD’s on 17 of 19 passing before leaving the game and Tommy Knecht followed that up for another 106 yards on 10 of 16 passing and two more touchdowns. I thought the Wildcat receivers were excellent on the ball and ran some great routes to shake Cortland defenders. The ‘Cats will need that passing game again next week against the Cru.
Red Zone offense: The ‘Cats went 4 of 5 in the red zone against Cortland State and I loved the varity of ways Linfield put the ball into the end zone. Johnny Carroll has turned into a reliable fade target in the red zone, Levi Altringer just continues to be huge out of the tight end position, and I loved the play action game in the red zone setting up wide open TD tosses. The ‘Cats can just beat you in so many ways in the red zone.
Pressure: 8 QB sacks on the day. That’s not a typo. What I loved about this pressure day is that 7 out of the 8 sacks were racked up on the Linfield defensive line (2 – Hoff, 2 – Schwartz, 2 – McGovern, 1 – Farber). As an offense, you’re hosed if Linfield can generate heat like that with their front four and leave extra defenders in coverage. Watching tape, it was a pass rush clinic and what about that hurdle/sack by Hoff? My goodness…
Tommy Knecht: There are others guys that have had to step in for injured Linfield starters this post season but quarterback position is just different. You might be able to cover up a hurt DB or receiver but you can’t hide it when your starting QB goes out. For the great majority of teams in Division III when your 1st string QB goes out, it means disaster. Thankfully, Linfield is in the position of having a player of Knecht’s quality to come in and lead the offense. Tommy was effective in that 2nd half of football with both his arms and legs and it’s a tribute to Tom’s mental toughness and preparation to be able to go into a pressure situation and lead.
|#2 Dylan Lewis and the 'Cats DBs were feasting on the Cortland State passing game.|
|Photo Courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Linfield Football Photos Here.|
Linfield defensive backs: There were some Empire 8 fans that were curious to see if Linfield’s pass defensive effectiveness was due to talent or lack of quality competition. After Saturday, Empire 8 fans were pretty quick to tip the cap and say….yeah, Linfield’s defensive backs are pretty darn good. Cortland State QB Steven Ferreira was only picked off twice all year long and the Wildcat secondary got him three times on the day. I’ve been tooting our secondary’s horn all season long and they keep making me look good.
1st half mistakes: Linfield played an ugly 1st half of football. Cortland State was a good football team but the mistakes I’m talking about are of the unforced kind. Penalties that stunted Linfield drives or extended Cortland drives, blown assignments, bad snaps, etc. The ‘Cats CANNOT have that kind of half of football this weekend against UMHB and expect to survive.
Last 3 minutes and change: The game was well out of reach when Linfield put a final dagger in Cortland Sate to push the Linfield lead to 38-10 with a little under 3:30 left in the game so it was a bummer to see the Red Dragons be able to get a quick TD, recover an on-sides kick, and get another quick score to close the gap to 38-22. It didn’t mean very much but I would have liked seeing our young defenders offer better resistances on those last two Cortland drives.
Playoff Injuries: Being able to absorb injuries during the playoffs is part of the deal. The ‘Cats have already lost 1st team All-NWC Linebacker Jason Farlow and 1st team All-NWC guard Steven Nnabue before the Whitworth playoff game, DB/LB Wade Ransom was injured late against Whitworth, and now the NWC Offensive Player of the year Sam Riddle is questionable after a lower body injury sustained during the 2nd quarter against Cortland State. You hate seeing these guys put in all that work and performance to only get sidelined. However, football is a team sport and when someone goes down the next man has to be ready to step up and we have seen Ryne Furmark put in two solid games at guard, Linebacker Jake Reimer take on more snaps and lead Linfield in tackling against Cortland State and Tommy Knecht come in and lead Linfield to 24 2nd half points to seal a 2nd round playoff win. That’s what great teams do when injuries hit. Next ‘Cat steps in and steps up.