NCAA Division III National Champions
That may be the best word to describe Linfield’s record-smashing 2004 season that culminated with the Wildcats capturing the NCAA Division III championship.
Linfield rolled to a 13-0 record, winning its first national championship in 18 years and fourth overall. The Wildcats captured NAIA Division II crowns in 1982, ’84 and ‘86
With an offense that led the nation in passing, total yards and scoring, and a defense that improved with every game, the 2004 Wildcats established themselves as one of the best teams in program history.
Jay Locey, in his ninth season, was named national coach of the year by the American Football Coaches Association and Football Gazette.
The season began with high expectations, but few could have predicted the levels to which the Wildcats would rise.
In the first game at the newly renovated Maxwell Field, quarterback Brett Elliott passed for five scores and ran for another as the Wildcats swamped Western Oregon 58-17.
In Week 2, Linfield rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to beat No. 7 Wisconsin-Stevens Point on the road. Elliott set three single-game records, completing 38 fo 59 of 480 yards – all school records.
The Wildcats opened Northwest Conference play with a 40-21 victory over rival Pacific Lutheran. Linfield held PLU to just nine completions and 113 passing yards as the young defense began to forge a new identity.
In a 48-37 home victory over Whitworth, Casey Allen caught a school-record four touchdown passes and Elliott broke his own school record with 486 passing yards and five scores as the undefeated Wildcats outlasted the Pirates. The two teams combined for 1,157 yards with the Wildcats gaining a season-high 608 yards while Whitworth totaled 549.
Thomas Ford scored three touchdowns, helping Linfield rally from its largest deficit of the season to beat Southern Oregon 56-34. With the win, Linfield extended the its national all-divisions record of consecutive winning seasons to 49.
On the road in Tacoma, Wash., Elliott passed for four scores and ran for another as the Wildcats pulled away from Puget Sound in the second half to post a 35-16 victory. Linfield scored on its first three possessions of the third quarter, opening up a 35-8 lead.
The following week, Linfield equaled a team record with seven touchdown passes during a 69-13 whitewash of Menlo at Maxwell Field. The Wildcats erupted for five TDs during an eight-minute span of the second quarter, turning an otherwise close game into a rout.
Kicker Garrett Wales booted seven extra points to become the all-time leading scorer in school history during a 62-7 blowout of Lewis & Clark in Portland. Elliott threw five touchdown passes, setting the Linfield single-season touchdowns record.
In the regular season finalé, Linfield nailed down its fifth consecutive Northwest Conference championship with a 48-14 win at home over Willamette. Three times in the first half, the Bearcats drove inside the Linfield 20-yard line, only to be come away empty handed. Willamette was held to a season-low 174 yards rushing and 334 yards of total offense.
The playoffs began with the Wildcats on a roll. As the top seed from the West Region, Linfield received a first-round playoff bye. Elliott passed for 456 yards and five touchdowns as Linfield defeated 13th-ranked Wisconsin-La Crosse 52-14. O.J. Gulley scored Linfield's final points with an interception return that covered 100 yards, setting a new Linfield record and tying the NCAA Division III playoff record.
Elliott put on a passing display to remember in the quarterfinals, scorching Occidental for a school-record seven touchdowns. The Wildcats rallied from a 10-point first quarter deficit to defeat the 24th-ranked Tigers 56-27. Allen hauled in 13 of Elliott's passes for 221 yards, who breaking Linfield single-season records for catches and receiving yards in the first quarter.
The steadily improving Linfield defense pitched its first shutout of the season in the semifinals, holding Rowan to 148 yards through three quarters, long enough for the offense to build an insurmountable lead. Linebacker Brandon Olson returned an interception for a touchdown, giving Linfield a 21-0 lead. Elliott established a new NCAA all-divisions record for most touchdown passes in one season, throwing for three scores to give him 59.
In the championship game at Salem, Va., Riley Jenkins caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Elliott with 5:51 left to lift Linfield past Mary-Hardin Baylor 28-21. In the final minute, the Crusaders drove 61 yards before Linfield’s Kelley Bertrand and Brandon Tom sacked quarterback Josh Welch on a fourth-and-four at Linfield’s 19-yard line. Linfield’s Zach Fleming, who had 11 tackles in the game, set up the winning score by jarring punter Hunter Hamrick and forcing him to fall on the loose ball at the Crusaders’ 10-yard line. Chosen as the game’s most outstanding player, Jenkins scored two touchdowns and rushed for a game-high 81 yards on 18 carries. Linfield limited UMHB’s vaunted option attack to a season-low 155 rushing yards. Eric Hillison added 10 solo stops, three behind the line of scrimmage, and made an interception.