|Make that 8 straight Northwest Conference titles.|
And the winner of the 2016 Northwest Conference automatic playoff berth is…..your Linfield Wildcat! Heck yes and what a way to do in a pig style football game against Puget Sound. The field conditions will come up a few times in the game review but dang that was a sloppy mess. I want you to think of Whitworth’s grass field and how nice that surface is and then just think of the complete worst and opposite and that would be the Logger’s Peyton Field.
While the field conditions and constant rain did narrow the Linfield offensive playbook, the ‘Cats did what they needed to do on offense in getting points where they could, flash the occasional big pass play, and then just grind the Loggers down in the rushing attack. It wasn’t the prettiest offensive performance of 2016 but it was effective in what Linfield needed to do in boat racing the Loggers.
On the defensive side of the ball, the ‘Cats just continue to impress. This has been a different defense than the previous two season, as Alex Hoff created so much pressure on teams in how they handled their pass protection, but this Linfield defense has carved their own identity in slamming the door on offenses on 3rd down and hardly yielding at all on 4th down. It’s been a stout defense and one that I think is built for success in the post-season with their ability to make plays on the ball and continue to be a fantastic tackling group.
Now onto the season finale….The Lutes come to town and I’m excited about this match up. While the Lutes don’t have the best win/loss record, this is a team that has the ability to give the ‘Cats a game and challenge the top ‘Cats of the NWC. Linfield is playing to own the Northwest Conference title outright as Linfield has clinched at least a share of their 8th consecutive conference title (which is extending the record Linfield broke last season with their 7th consecutive NWC title). It’s been such an awesome ride starting back in 2009. Heck, I still remember that opening game in 2009 when Linfield just blew away a 4th ranked Hardin-Simmons team in the ‘Catdome in the season opener. After three tough season, where Coach Smith was getting the program reorganized with his own stamp, the fruits of that labor finally paid off in the 2009 season and haven’t stopped since then. It’s been a glorious ride and I know that hunger hasn’t left this coaching staff, players, or program.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
One Goal down: After the ‘Cats loss to UMHB, the goal of reaching the post season came down to if Linfield was going to be able to clinch the Northwest Conference’s automatic bid. In rolling over Puget Sound, the ‘Cats just did that by owning at least a share of the NWC title but owning the tie breaker over Whitworth (if Linfield loses this weekend to PLU). It’s one of the yearly program goals to reach the post-season and it feels great to see this team accomplish it. I NEVER take the playoffs for granted so it’s a great feeling to see Linfield represent the NWC once again.
3rd and 4th down defense: Linfield was already one of the best defenses in the country on 3rd and 4th down and this past Saturday did nothing but help solidify that standing. Linfield’s defense throttled the Logger offense to 1 of 15 on 3rd down conversions and 1 of 5 on 4th down. The Loggers loan 3rd down conversion came on their 1st attempt of the day and Puget Sound’s only 4th down conversion was on a penalty. Linfield’s defense suffocated the Loggers all day long.
Both @Spencerpayne7 and @Sutter_Choice22 got their mud boots on this weekend at UPS. #Catdome pic.twitter.com/EHm6lSOor0— Catdomealumni.com (@catdomealumni) November 8, 2016
Rushing Attack: The field conditions really limited a number of Linfield’s options in the passing game so the ‘Cats had to lean extra hard on the ground attack and Linfield’s ground and pound was up for the challenge in rushing for 230 yards on 47 carries (4.9 yards per rush) and 2 rushing touchdowns, including a tough as nails run by Sutter Choiser and an electric run by Spencer Payne that set up a short TD blast by Spencer two plays later.
I'll have whatever the UPS head coach is having.... pic.twitter.com/2F7iw7a2a4— Catdomealumni.com (@catdomealumni) November 6, 2016
17 pass break-ups: Linfield doesn’t keep this stat on the record books but the ‘Cats might have very well set a team record with pass break-ups. Linfield’s defense secondary was incredibly active all game long in wrapping up the Puget Sound passing attack and 17 break-ups is just crazy. Kennedy “KJ Island” Johnson had five alone as he’s been the premiere shutdown corner in the conference, while Mikey Arkans, Dylan Lewis, and Linebacker Jake Reimer all had multiple break-ups on the day.
Taking Care of the Football: Linfield’s starting offensive unit did a masterful job in taking of the ball in hard rain for much of the day and what could be describe as a quagmire of a playing surface. In fact, the running back trio of Payne/Cassill/Choisser have only lost one fumble on the 2016 season and Sam Riddle has gone over his last 100 passing attempts without throwing a pick.
Eliminating their rushing attack: The Loggers have tried to have more of a rushing attack this season but the Loggers wanted nothing to do with challenge Linfield on the ground. The Loggers running backs and slot receivers could only muster 27 net rushing yards as a group on 12 rushing attempts. The Loggers abandoned the rushing game in the 2nd half as UPS only called 2 running plays in the second half.
Kicking Game: Good day kicking on what is a terrible surface. Snapping was very good and Kevin McClean did a great job flipping field position and pinning the Loggers (37.5 per punt on 4 punts) and kicker Willy Warne drilled 2 of 3 on field goals (36 and 22 yard) and has done a great job in placement on his kickoffs.
Breaking out the old school: Props to the Linfield coaching staff for saving the wear and tear on the newer gear by breaking out the old school grass road uniform sets in what was a 3 hour mud fight. It was fun to see the huge LINFIELD name above the numbers at least one more time.
Blowing a punt return for TD: My oh my, Kennedy Johnson had a gem on his hands when he picked up a bouncing punt of Linfield’s own 27 yard line and bowed back across the field to a wall of waiting Linfield blockers. It was a for sure return for touchdown but a block in the back killed the spectacular return and set the ‘Cats up in crappy field position on their own 12 yard line.
Payton Field: I don’t think I’m being too cruel when I say that Puget Sound’s Payton Field at Baker Stadium is hot garbage. Puget Sound’s football facility is already the worst in the Northwest Conference and lacks any charm or character but man the field was something else and by something else I mean their surface isn’t good enough to be a cow pasture. But hey, at least their brand new field turf practice field is looking pretty good.