Monday, November 14, 2016

‘Cats Win!!! Linfield rolls past the Lutes 27-10 and fly off to the NCAA's.

#88 Zach Kuzens had a monster day for the Linfield offense.
Photo courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos here.

Now that was a fun way to wrap up the regular season. PLU was game this past Saturday and jumped the ‘Cats early but it was a day that Linfield wasn’t going to be denied.  After giving up a first drive touchdown, the ‘Cats defense settled in and slowly started choking out the Lutes, while the ‘Cats offense was moving the ball at will but had three critical turnovers (a fumble, pick, and turnover on downs) and a missed field that bogged down the offense. However, looking down the barrel of a 10-0 halftime deficit, the Linfield offense turned the tides of the game with a huge 99-yard touchdown drive at the end of the 1st half that closed the game to 3-points and saw the ‘Cats firmly grab the momentum.
From there, it was just a matter of time before Linfield took command of the game in the second half, as the Linfield offense slowly wore down the Lutes and the Wildcat defense ate up PLU for the remainder of the game.  It was a game that had a playoff feel to it and was a great way to end the regular season.

That win makes it eight straight Northwest Conference titles (not league) in a row for the ‘Cats. Since 2009, the ‘Cats have ran roughshod through the NWC posting a 50-1 record in conference games. This has been such a great run of football that sometimes we can take for granted just how good this program has been for better part of a decade.

Along with the victory, the 2016 NWC All-Conference teams were announced with Sam Riddle being named back-to-back Northwest Conference offensive players of the year and Coach Smith being selected NWC Coach of the Year for the 8th consecutive time.  Along with Riddle, Spencer Payne (RB), Johnny Carroll (WR), Stephen Nnabue (OL), Zach Grate (DT), Jason Farlow (LB), Jake Reimer (LB), Mikey Arkans (S), Kennedy Johnson (CB), and Mitch Lewis (R) where named to the first team, while Bryan Cassill (RB), Reed Peterson (WR), Gabe Mojarro (OL), Dakota Smith (OL), Kela Grace (OL), Marcus McGovern (DE), Kyle Chandler (LB), and Skylor Elgarcio (S), where selected as 2nd team all-conference. Eric Igbinoba (WR), Kevin McClean (K), and Dylan Lewis (CB) were Honorable Mention selections as well. While individual awards are fantastic let’s remember these are a result of team success first and foremost. There are many guys that deserve mention as well such as Zach Kuzens, Erick Douglas III, Ryne Furmark, Ty Farber, Mitchell Kekel, Cory Stowell, Sutter Choisser, etc, etc, but the individual award process doesn’t allow to name everyone that is deserving for outstanding individual honors.   Congrats to all on all of your hard work over the years and your contributions to the program.

Now let’s move onto the playoff selections. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty stunning at first to see that our well-deserving program wasn’t rewarded with an opportunity to host a first round playoff game. This is the first time in Linfield’s 13 NCAA Division III playoff appearances that the ‘Cats were not rewarded with at least a single home playoff game. I think everyone was expecting to see Redlands to get shipped out to Linfield but in the end, the NCAA playoff committee thought it would be more unfair to have a one-seed UMHB have a rematch with Hardin-Simmons so the committee sent the sacrificial lamb (Redlands) to the Cru’ instead. OK, I can see and live with that, but what was very curious to see that Linfield was shipped off to play Hardin-Simmons instead. As tough as a pill that is to swallow, what the NCAA committee looked at was “results vs a common opponent” as the tie breaker and that takes us back to the UMHB meltdown.  We all know that Linfield has grown a ton since that second game of the year but Hardin-Simmons held a lead over the Cru’ in the 4th quarter of the game before dropping the 5 point decision. That is what sold it for the committee to ship Linfield out. It’s a shame to get punished for stepping up and playing top flight opposition but I would rather have Linfield shoot for the moon that just play a bunch of SCIAC scrubs year after year.

#8 Spencer Payne moved to 3rd on Linfield's all-time rushing list this past Saturday.
Photo courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos here
So this is the path that is before our ‘Cats and it’s a tough and hard road but this is a path that THIS Linfield is built for. The offense is explosive and the defense can shut down anyone in the nation but the first step in these playoffs is a lethal one.  Hardin-Simmons is NO JOKE and has all the talent, size, skill, speed to end Linfield’s second season this Saturday. So the ‘Cats have a big cake to eat and just need to focus on taking one bite at a time.

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Good

Rushing Attack: Man, that was a fantastic day rushing the football for Linfield. The ‘Cats just keep pounding and pounding away as Linfield would rush for 216 yards off of 41 carries (5.3 yard per rush) and be the catalyst for the Wildcat offense.  The Linfield offense line has done nothing by jell and improve over the season and has turned into a really damn good group and I love what the staff has done with the Payne/Cassill/Choisser running back by committee. Each guy has their own unique skill set and has found how to utilize it best behind this offensive line.

Defensive sticklers:  PLU had two prime opportunities in the first half to create some real distance between themselves and Linfield when two Wildcat turnovers put PLU in the redzone to start drives. The ‘Cats defense came up clutch with a spectacular sliding interception by Cory Stowell and then holding PLU to a field on the other PLU red zone opportunity. Both of those stops were massive to the early momentum of the game.

#4 Jake Reimer and the Linfield defense limited PLU to a season low 44 yards of rushing offense.
Photo courtesy of Brad Thompson: View Brad's Photos here
99 yards drive at end of the half: With 2:13 left to go in the half, PLU still had help Linfield scoreless and pinned the ‘Cats at their one yard line. Linfield responded with a momentum seizing drive what saw the ‘Cats drive the length of the field in XX seconds and punch in their first TD of the game with 46 seconds left in the half. It was at that point that Linfield took control of the ball game and went into the break with a head of steam.

Rush Defense: Linfield’s rush defense was outstanding vs PLU.  The ‘Cats held PLU to 44 rushing yards on 24 attempts (1.8 yards per rush) and it was a big reason why Linfield was able to hold PLU scoreless after the Lutes took the early 10-0 lead.

The Bad

Penalties: Any time you have over 100 yards in penalty yards, it’s going to win up in the bad category.  Linfield had some BAD penalties in that first half that killed a promising first drive for Linfield and wiped out an incredible Spencer Payne kick turn for touchdown. Linfield is going to have to play a cleaner game on the road.

Turnovers: The turnovers came *this* close of turning a manageable deficit into crater of a hole for Linfield.  Thankfully the damage was held to a minimum but that could have been really bad. Everyone knows at this point and the turnovers are what’s going to make or break this Linfield team in the second season.  No reason to keep hammering away at it as this point.

The Ugly

Not embracing Saturday as Linfield’s last home game of the season: This is a personal ugly as I didn’t fully embrace this past Saturday as the last time I would see this team an incredible senior class play on the ‘Catdome turf.  I was assuming that I would get one more shot to wake up in my own bed and roll over to one of the coolest venues in Division III football to watch some playoff football in the ‘Catdome.  I wish I would have smelled the roses a little better as this is a fantastic football team filled with tremendous young men. Thank you fellas for great memories at the ‘Catdome. Now lets get on this damn road and get after it!

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