In double overtime, senior tailback Taylor Avritt fumbled the ball away on the Tommie 3-yard line, and Linfield left Minnesota with a 17-24 loss and its playoff hopes dashed in a nail-biting finish against the St. Thomas University on Nov. 27.
Before the kickoff of Linfield football’s second-round playoff game on the road against the St. Thomas Tommies, www.d3football.com analysts billed the showdown as what could have been one of the postseason’s best.
Those expectations were met in dramatic fashion. After four quarters of play failed to deliver a winner of the game, two more overtimes were needed to determine the outcome.
Avritt, who stepped into a major role in the game after senior starting tailback Simon Lamson left the game due to an injury, played a solid game up to that point with 68 yards rushing, including a key 28-yard burst in the second half.
“The outcome of the game was a pretty terrible event for me personally,” Avritt said. “A lot of people offered words of encouragement, ranging from teammates to fans to parents.”
Early on, long before two overtimes were needed, the game was every bit the battle it was predicted to be. St. Thomas had its way with Linfield early, as junior quarterback Dakota Tracy marched his team down the field on the Tommies’ game-opening drive before handing the ball off to junior running back Colin Tobin for a 1-yard score.
The Wildcat offense faltered early, with senior quarterback Aaron Boehme getting dropped for two back-to-back sacks on the next possession.
The defense of the two teams would set the tone for the entire contest, and neither team scored for the remainder of the first period. Both teams combined for six sacks for a total of 51 lost yards.
“They were definitely the best team we faced defensively, so that is always an adjustment you have to make,” Boehme said. “They are a loaded team defensively with their talent.”
St. Thomas struck again at the top of the second quarter on a 32-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Tim Albright to extend the home team’s lead to 10-0. With their backs against the ropes, the defense needed a stand and got it in the form of junior middle linebacker Christian Hanna. Hanna intercepted a Tracy pass and returned it 50 yards all the way to the Tommie 22-yard line.
Deep in St. Thomas territory, Boehme and the offense finally found the end zone on a 2-yard toss to senior
receiver Chris Slezak.
Boehme finished the day with an odd bunch of statistics: 24-46 for 226 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The number of attempted passes was uncharacteristically high for Boehme, which he attributes to St. Thomas’ stingy defense.
“We really didn’t play well in the first half on offense,” Boehme said. “We were forced to throw the ball a little more in the second half-more than we would have liked.”
On the next Tommies series, junior safety Drew Fisher read Tracy like a book and snatched another pass out of the air for the Wildcat defense. After a 14-yard return and a 15-yard facemask penalty against St. Thomas, Linfield found itself deep in Tommies territory once again, but this time couldn’t convert in the red zone.
The ’Cats settled for a 27-yard field goal by freshman kicker Jordan Walker to tie the score at 10 points.
Fisher made another spectacular interception on the following St. Thomas drive to end the half.
“I think this game displayed the defensive backs as a whole getting more opportunities to make plays on the ball,” Fisher said. “They knew they weren’t going to be able to hold onto the ball against us without taking sacks, which created more errant throws, and then I was able to beat my receiver.”
In the second half, with momentum in their favor, Linfield seemed poised to run away with the game and move into the national quarterfinals. However, the Wildcats struggled in the red zone, and they wouldn’t end up scoring again until their need was absolutely desperate.
The ’Cats, on 19 plays within the St. Thomas 25-yard line in the second half, only gained a net 15 yards, and Boehme threw eight incompletions. Walker also missed a pair of feasible field goals from 33 and 30 yards.
“There were two factors that caused the struggle in the red zone: poor offensive execution on our part and strong defensive execution on St. Thomas’ part,” Avritt said. “Either our offensive game plan didn’t seem to manipulate their red zone defense as well, or our offensive execution wasn’t able to outplay their defense.”
Junior rover Kole Kreiger breathed some life into his team by picking off Tracy for the team’s fourth interception.
In the middle of the fourth quarter on a 12-yard run by Tobin, and with only two minutes to go in the game, Boehme mounted one final, desperate drive to save the Wildcats’ season. He delivered accounting for every yard of a 64-yard march and tied the game on a 7-yard strike to senior receiver Buddy Saxon.
“It was a gutsy comeback at the end for our team,” Fisher said.
In the first overtime, Walker missed another field goal, this one from a difficult distance of 47 yards. The ’Cats’ defense immediately forced a fumble to snuff out the Tommies’ first attempt and sent the game into a sixth period. That’s when tragedy struck, with Tracy finally finding the end zone on a 10-yard pass into the corner of the end zone.
After Avritt’s fumble sealed the game, Linfield’s season came to a crashing end.
However, the players took it in stride and recognized the success they achieved that day and throughout the
“I have no regrets or hard feelings toward this game,” junior middle linebacker Kala’e Parish said. “Every player gave it their best effort and nothing less. The game of football is fun, and being in situations such as double overtime makes the game an incredible sport to play. We had a rough start in the beginning of this season, but all of our hard work seemed to pay off in the end in a game like this.”
Chris Forrer/For the Review
Chris Forrer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.