I’m an emotional guy when it comes to the sports programs I love, so last weekend, after watching my beloved Wildcat football team lose in double overtime in frigid Minnesota, I felt emotionally steamrolled. As many of you die-hard ’Cat fans can attest, this one hurt.
After the last fumble on the 4-yard line sealed the deal, I was stunned speechless. All I could do for the next 15 minutes was stare at my computer screen as the Tommies whooped and hollered, as the broadcasters discussed their chances against Bethel University and, finally, as the webcast ended, and the window went black. It wasn’t the fact that the Wildcats lost that deactivated my higher brain functions for a brief period of time but how they arrived at the loss and, on a larger scale, everything that it represented.
From what I, and everyone else who laid their eyes on this game saw, Linfield was the superior team. This is a game that we should have won running away. For the better part of three quarters our defense was playing so well that the Tommies didn’t even smell the end zone — let alone enter it.
We picked off their quarterback three times in a matter of minutes. Aaron Boehme was carving up their defense on big drives and Taylor Avritt, who was shoved into a major role on a moment’s notice after Simon Lamson was sidelined by an injury early on, was playing the best football of his life, finding holes, breaking tackles and opening up big runs when we needed them most.
But when we got into or close to the red zone, everything came to a crashing halt. Every play Linfield ran within the St. Thomas 25-yard line in the second half amounted to a whopping 15 total yards, eight incompletions and two missed field goals.
The only time the ’Cats scored in the entire second half was on a final, desperate drive that culminated in Boehme’s clutch TD pass to Buddy Saxon that sent the game into overtime. The extra periods weren’t any better, with another missed field goal and a fumble that sealed the loss. True, much of this can be chalked up to the Tommies’ defense, but not all of it.
That’s how the Wildcats ended the season: in a manner that was both utterly heartbreaking and uncharacteristic of their usually fiery offense.
I can’t think of another loss in recent memory that hurt my heart, and the hearts of ’Cats everywhere, as much as this one did.
Our boys played with their all against one of the nation’s toughest teams; they battled hard for four quarters and two overtimes; and in the end, the better team was still walking off the field with their helmets in hand and their hearts sinking. That hurts.
Among were some of the most talented senior players to ever suit up in purple and red, and my heart breaks for them above all else.
Boehme, the prolific dual-threat quarterback who will go down as one of Linfield’s best, is leaving enormous shoes to fill next season after two incredible years at the helm of this offense; Eric Hedin, the “Sack
Master,” leaves bearing many of Linfield’s most prestigious defensive records after turning himself into a one-man quarterback wrecking crew this season; Buddy Saxon and Chris Slezak, both of whom came back for a final year of eligibility to help Linfield win a national championship and had their hopes dashed in the Minnesota snow; Simon Lamson, who, after a career-defining season, could only watch when it mattered most; Sam Higgins, perhaps the most underrated player on the entire team, who had a better eye for picking off balls than most gave him credit for; Paul Nishizaki, among the college’s all-time best tackles, who wore a smile on the sidelines no matter what the scoreboard read.
There are many more seniors who deserve their names listed here, but only one that I want to mention. Taylor Avritt: You might have been tempted to hang your head the lowest of all. But if you gave into those feelings, I know that every pair of hands on that football team was there to lift you up and carry you all the way to Oregon because after stepping into a major responsibility at a moment’s notice in the biggest game of your life, you deserve nothing less. I applaud you, and you have absolutely nothing to regret.
I apologize for my verbosity this week, ’Cats, but the end of this football season marks the end of an era as well. For the past two years, I’ve been a spoiled journalist for covering a team such as this, and I cannot possibly express the full depths of my gratitude for that.
Now, to this remarkable class of seniors, I raise my glass and drink to the honor of your farewell. And for those who remain, it’s time to anticipate the future. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what it holds.
Is it September yet?
Chris Forrer/For the Review
Chris Forrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.