The 1965 football team, coached by Linfield Hall of Fame inductee Paul Durham, has the distinction of being the second Linfield football team to appear in a national championship game.
Led by quarterback Terry Durham, the Wildcats compiled a 7-1 regular season win-loss record. The team opened the year with a convincing 17-0 victory over Pacific Lutheran, and won the next two games before falling to Humboldt State by six points.
The loss served as a wake-up call for the Wildcats, who responded positively. Linfield dominated its opponents the rest of the regular season, rolling over Whitman, Pacific, the College of Idaho and Willamette by an average of 34.5 points per game.
Crowned Northwest Conference champions, the ‘Cats earned a spot in the NAIA playoffs. They were one of only four teams in the nation to qualify for the postseason.
For the national semifinal game, the team traveled to Midland, Texas, to face Sul Ross State. The Lobos entered the matchup riding a 16-game winning streak, making the Wildcats decided underdogs.
Not easily intimidated, the ‘Cats defeated Sul Ross 30-27, in a game Coach Durham referred to as “the greatest comeback of the century.”
After a close start to the game, the Wildcats found themselves trailing by two touchdowns. But the team clawed back with touchdowns by Leroy Fails and Odis Avritt.
With the score knotted at 27 with 49 seconds left on the clock, freshman kicker Tim Kubli set up for the game-winning field goal. His 36-yard kick – the longest in the 10-year history of the NAIA playoffs – was good, but the Lobos still had one more chance to score.
Bob Ferguson made sure that didn’t happen, sealing the win when he recovered a fumble with only seconds left on the clock. The recovery was one of his many clutch plays of the day; he also blocked two field goal attempts in the first half.
The Wildcats forced the Lobos into six fumbles that game, and converted three of those into scores: two touchdowns and one field goal.
With the win, the Wildcats moved on the Champion Bowl in Augusta, Ga., with the task of trying to upset No. 1 St. Johns (Minn.). Linfield lost a tough game 33-0, but the 1965 season is still considered one of the most successful campaigns in program history.
The Wildcats may not have come home with the championship trophy, but at season’s end, individual players still walked away with a lot of hardware.
Ferguson and Dennis Schweitzer were named to the NAIA All-America team.
Nine Wildcats were named to the all-NWC team, including Schweitzer, Durham, Ferguson, Fails, Jack Ostlund, Mike Consbruck, Bob Webber, Brian Carter and Gene Forman. The Wildcats also selected Fails as the Most Inspirational Player.
The 1965 Champion Bowl football team was another significant building block in establishing the sustained winning tradition of Linfield College athletics.