At the beginning of the 2012-13 season, many questions surrounded the Linfield football program’s defensive unit. After its performance in the Wildcats’ 45-10 win against Willamette University, it appears those questions can be fully put to rest. The defense throttled its chief Northwest Conference rivals in soaking conditions at Maxwell Field, holding the Bearcats to only 108 total yards, while picking up two interceptions and amassing seven sacks for 53 lost yards, three by junior defensive end Brynnan Hyland.
“Our initial plan was to stop the running game,” junior cornerback Ian Zarosinski said. “The [defensive] line and the linebackers really dominated in the trenches.”
The first half of play was a struggle, as both teams’ offenses repeatedly stalled in the pouring rain. Linfield struck first on junior quarterback Josh Yoder’s one-yard scamper into the end zone. Senior kicker Josh Kay pulled a field goal attempt from 46 yards wide right and senior punter Josh Repp had a kick blocked, giving the Bearcats a short field at the Linfield 15-yard line. Willamette capitalized on a 14-yard run by quarterback Josh Dean that knotted the score at 7-7. The Bearcats briefly took the lead on a 28-yard field goal, but Kay responded by converting a 35-yard attempt of his own to bring the score to 10-10. After one half of football, the ’Cats had limited Willamette to a mere 50 total yards of offense but had only mustered 132 of their own.
“The weather was definitely a factor,” freshman running back Jonathan Shaffer said. “I give credit to the Bearcats’ defense, they came to play and they did.”
A five-minute stretch in the third quarter broke the game open for Linfield.
Senior quarterback Mickey Inns found junior
receiver Deidre Wiersma for a five-yard scoring strike just before junior safety Colin Forman blocked a Bearcat punt and chased the ball 38 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.
Junior middle linebacker Kyle Wright then snatched a Dean pass out of the air, setting up a 38-yard missile from Inns to sophomore receiver Charlie Poppen that ballooned the Wildcats’ lead to 31-10.
“Our defense and special teams is what sparked us in that third quarter,” Shaffer said. “Forman’s blocked punt really got us going.”
The game was put away in the fourth on another Inns-to-Poppen touchdown, this one from three yards.
With the game safely out of reach at 38-10, the reserve ’Cats saw game action and was able to capitalize. Shortly after another Dean pass was intercepted by junior linebacker Dominique Forrest, Yoder led a drive downfield that was capped by junior running back Mikkel Smythe’s one-yard plunge.
The Linfield defense continued to be unbreakable, preserving the final margin at 45-10, while limiting Willamette to just four of 29 third-down conversions throughout the game.
“Being a freshman, I didn’t realize how important this game was until Thursday or Friday,” Shaffer said. “To take it to them was a good feeling.”
Linfield, sitting atop the NWC at 7-0 (4-0 NWC) with just two games remaining, is in prime position for a fourth consecutive conference title and playoff berth.
Only the University of Puget Sound and Pacific University remain, teams occupying the NWC cellar with a combined record of 3-11.
Linfield travels north to take on Puget Sound on the road Nov. 3 before returning home Nov. 10 to face Pacific in the Hall of Fame game.
For the Review
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Photo courtesy of Sports Information
Freshman running back John Shaffer attempts to rush the football past an opponent during the game against Willamette on Oct. 27, beating the Bearcats 45-10. Shaffer rushed 23 times throughout the game with 59 yards gained.