This Saturday evening in Belton Texas will be the non-conference game of the year in Division III football for 2016. It isn’t even close. I don’t think it’s even a question as two National Championship contenders agreed to get together this past off-season to set up a major college football showdown. So many threads we could pull on with this 5th meeting between two of the elite of Division III football. The potential playoff implications, Linfield holding a 4-0 edge over UMHB, The Cru holding a 10 year regular season winning streak at home, and on it goes. There is so much potentially on the line in Belton this weekend, and yet, it’s so early in the season. Both teams still have to handle their business in conference play in order to get to the second season but it would be foolish to not understand just how big this game can be with regards to a potential path to Salem, Va.
Why play this game during non-conference play? Well…why not? For Linfield, the ‘Cats are not going to get what they want (a potential home path to Salem) by playing Cal Lutheran or La Verne. Nope, if Linfield wants a chance to host a potential Semi-Final football game the ‘Cats need to be able to point to something more than an NWC title and a couple of whitewashing of SCIAC scrubs. For UMHB, Linfield has been a thorn in the Cru’s side since 2004 and if the Crusaders are going to capture that elusive national title they need to vanquish a ghost that has haunted them in Linfield.
To say there is a lot on the line is an understatement. That doesn’t mean the loser of this game still can’t accomplish the goal of the season (the bronze and gold) but the potential path to a trip to Salem, Va. becomes a bit clearer with a victory.
Linfield has a TALL task to get over on UMHB. Yes, Linfield is ranked higher than UMHB (#3 vs #5) but that doesn’t mean squat, IMO. The Cru has to be one, if not, the most talented programs in all of division three. Size, speed, skill, facilities, support, etc. UMHB has every reason to be a program to be in the title hunt season after season and all of that firepower is focused on Linfield this weekend. This is a program that has circled this game in big old permanent marker as soon as the schedule came out. The Cru’ not only wants to beat Linfield, but they want to make a statement that the previous two season was a result of UMHB error instead of Linfield toughness.
But this Linfield team has the makeup and personnel to walk into the lion’s den and answer the challenge. In many ways, this Linfield team wouldn’t want it any other way, than go into a hostile environment, against a highly skilled team, and see how they stack up. Saturday night has the potential to be an electric environment and aren’t these opportunities the reason why you play the game?
Get To Know A Wildcat
#55 Will Heck, Junior, Center
Hometown: Corvallis, OR. High School: Crescent Valley High School
Favorite place to eat in Mac: Gem
Favorite Movie: Caddyshack
Favorite Music: Classic Rock
Favorite TV show: Entourage
Favorite Book: Johnny Tremain
Class I Most Look Forward to: Intermediate Accounting
iPhone or Android: iPhone
CPU Homepage: ESPN
Personal Mantra: Get it done, so you can have fun!
Social Media of choice: Twitter
Car or Truck: Truck
Xbox, PS3, or Wii: Xbox
What first inspired you to play football: Growing up watching football every weekend with my dad and grandpa and talking about it with them whenever I got the chance.
Favorite Coach Smith Saying: "There are two things that you deserve, death and taxes"
Favorite part of playing at Linfield: Working hard and winning on the field and still being able to be successful academically and involved in other student organizations. Also, the relationships built with teammates and coaches are very meaningful!
Describe Coach Hire in three words: Improvise, adapt, overcome
Post Linfield aspirations: Get my MBA and work into a job that combines my love for football and my interest in business.
Wildcat11’s Keys to Victory
Stay within yourself and play a full 60 minutes of Linfield Football: Saturday is going to be crazy. It’s going to be a wild crowd, a great opponent, muggy, first road game of the year, etc, etc. Even with all of that said, it’s still just a football game. 11 vs 11. There are going to be ups and downs. Adversity will be thick for the ‘Cats against UMHB but our guys’ just need to keep grinding and stay within themselves and within the program's values. If every player focuses on doing their job to the best of their ability then Linfield will be in a positive position at the end of the game.
Protect the Quarterback: This new Linfield offensive line will be facing the most talented defensive line in division III football team this weekend. It’s baptism by fire for the ‘Cats offensive line as Linfield’s front 5/6 (and running backs) will play a major role in the outcome of the game. If Linfield's front line gives Sam Riddle time to step into this throws and deliver, the ‘Cats offense is going to be able be effective in moving the football and be in position to put points on the board. It’s much easier to type than do in practice as the Cru features the best defensive end in DIII in Teidrick Smith and a murder’s row of beef up front including Haston Adams.
Limit the UMHB Big Play: Speed. The Cru has it in bunches. Quarterback, running backs, and receivers are not lacking in the moving down the field very quickly category. Linfield’s defense can’t play hesitant but it can’t be careless when it comes to allowing the Crusaders to hit big plays on offense. If UMHB is going to get theirs then make it sustained drives when they need to execute at a high level the whole way down the field and not with big hitters over the top of the defense.
Be fundamentally great tacklers: Rolling right into the big play aspect, Linfield’s defense has to be fantastic fundamentally solid tacklers on defense. The number one guy they have to rally and wrap on is UMHB quarterback, Blake Jackson. The UMHB QB is electric with the football in his hand as he has averaged 128.0 yard rushing the football and is super elusive when he decides the pull the ball down and scramble. Linfield has to put a premium on being able to make solid tackles between the gaps and also in the open field.
Ball in the air? Go get it: Both teams are going to put the ball in the air and trust in their guys to make big plays on the football. I love what our guys can do in these situation and their going to have to use fantastic timing and desire in what should be multiple big play occasions on Saturday evening.
Play fantastic special teams: Linfield’s special teams need to have a ball game. The Cru has hurt Linfield in the past on special teams (especially in 2014) so Linfield needs to be especially aware of Baylor Mullins pulling it down in the punt formation and of Bryce Wilkerson in the punt return game. Linfield isn’t too shabby in the return game with Kennedy Johnson and Bryan Cassill. Special teams play could have a HUGE effect on the results on Saturday and Linfield needs to put in work.
Take care of the football: When two high caliber teams get together turnovers play a major role in the outcome of the game. That has been no different with the Linfield vs UMHB series as Linfield has capitalized on key Crusader turnovers to pull out some tight playoff victories. Linfield needs to put a premium on the football, make good decisions, and see if they can turn over the Cru when the opportunities arise.
Rush the football: This is going to be a tough but not impossible task. If Linfield wants to get bodies off of Sam Riddle in the passing game, and have those UMHB safeties honor those run fakes, the ‘Cats HAVE to be effective in rushing the football. Spencer Payne, Sutter Choisser, and the ‘Cats offensive line need to have a day and be a consistent thread in the rush game.
‘Cats by 1. Two big time programs with big time players on a Saturday night in Texas. That sound pretty good to me and any fan of college football. I love that both programs are willing to put in on the line when both could have probably find paths of lesser resistances. You have to love the storylines coming into the game with all of the downstream implications and historical relevancy. I can’t remember the last time Linfield played this type of non-conference game with this big of a playoff feel to it. The challenge is going to be huge for Linfield but this team is BUILT to answer big challenges. It’s not going to be easy but Linfield plays their brand of football there is no reason why Linfield can’t once again find a path to victory against one of the very best in the country.