A top-four finish, a 60th consecutive winning season and a seventh straight Northwest Conference title. In retrospect, there was little, if anything, to dislike about Linfield’s 2015 football season. About the only wish that remained unfulfilled was hoisting the national championship trophy, but that lofty feat was well within their ability.
Dominating opponents throughout the regular season and into the playoffs, the 12-1 season achieve by Coach Joseph Smith’s talented team could truly be described as a masterpiece.
A balanced and high-scoring offense, combined with one of the best defensive units in program history, plus stellar special teams propelled Linfield to the brink of the program’s fifth national crown.
“I am so proud of our program,” said Smith. “It takes many people all pulling in The same direction, all selflessly putting the team first, all working their absolute hardest, to accomplish what this team did.”
The 2015 club, led by quarterback Sam Riddle, was among the most efficient and productive units ever seen in McMinnville. The Wildcats produced more than 6,300 yards and 126 touchdowns, trailing only Linfield’s 2004 national championship team. The defense, captained by All-America defensive end Alex Hoff, held opponents to a paltry 12.8 points and 236 yards per game, among the lowest margins in Division III as well as school history.
After rolling through the regular season with a spotless 9-0 record, the Wildcats reeled off solid playoff victories over Whitworth (48-10) and Cortland State (38-22). In the quarterfinals against national powerhouse Mary Hardin-Baylor, the Wildcats found themselves trailing 21-0 midway through the first quarter and 28-14 at the intermission. With all three phases of the game pulling together and a boisterous Maxwell Field crowd spurring them on, Linfield went on to outscore UMHB 24-7 in the final two quarters, capping the rally with a 32-yard field goal by Michael Metter on the final play of the game and securing an exhilarating 38-35 win.
“This was a tremendous group of workers and a group of adversity tested, seasoned vets that were not easily fazed,” said Smtih. “It was a very close team. It was a privilege and honor to coach these young men and I know I speak for our entire staff when I say I loved being a part of this team.”
Advancing to the semifinals, the Wildcats faced another unbeaten team in St. Thomas. The Wildcats dropped a 38-17 decision to come just short of a berth in the national championship game.
“We have had a strong foundation laid by the teams that have come before,” said Smith. “This team built off that and strove with all we had be the last team standing. In the end, it was not enough. But we earned the right to stand before the elite in the country and receive their best and give them ours.