By Robert Husseman • Sports Editor • 

Wildcats tame Red Dragons, lose Riddle to injury

Marcus Larson/News-Register
Quarterback Tom Knecht runs past one final defender to score a touchdown late in the game.
Marcus Larson/News-Register Quarterback Tom Knecht runs past one final defender to score a touchdown late in the game.
Marcus Larson/News-Register
Linfield Tight End Levi Altringer reaches up in the back of the endzone to make the catch for a touchdown.
Marcus Larson/News-Register Linfield Tight End Levi Altringer reaches up in the back of the endzone to make the catch for a touchdown.
Marcus Larson/News-Register
Linfield starting quarterback Sam Riddle chats with teammate Eric Pitassi on the sidelines after his injury.
Marcus Larson/News-Register Linfield starting quarterback Sam Riddle chats with teammate Eric Pitassi on the sidelines after his injury.
Marcus Larson/News-Register
The Linfield Wildcats celebrate another playoff win after the game.
Marcus Larson/News-Register The Linfield Wildcats celebrate another playoff win after the game.

It was enough to elicit a few scattered gasps from fans at Maxwell Field Saturday.

Linfield, ranked No. 2 by d3football.com, had already had its fill of No. 25 SUNY-Cortland in the first half of Saturday's NCAA Division III second-round playoff game. The Wildcats' 14-10 lead managed to conceal some of the high snaps (one resulted in a 19-yard loss), penalties (two, for 30 yards) and offensive misfires (1-for-5 on third-down conversions) that had plagued them against the Red Dragons.

Sam Riddle, Linfield's junior quarterback and the Northwest Conference Offensive Player of the Year, had missed two plays in a second-quarter series but returned for the Wildcats' final drive of the first half. (Michael Metter missed a 47-yard field goal attempt, one more self-inflicted wound for Linfield). Reserve quarterback Tom Knecht started the third quarter for the Wildcats and Riddle emerged from the locker room later, in crutches with a wrap on his right foot. Trainers later replaced the wrap and crutches with a walking boot. 

"I threw a ball out to the left and I was standing there and, all of a sudden, (I) just got rolled up on," Riddle said. "Right now, I'm just in a boot and taking care of my ankle.

"I don't know if I'm going to play next week. I don't know. I really don't. Right now, my mindset is to just get in the treatment center and get as healthy as I can."

Knecht, a senior from Lake Oswego, has plenty of experience. He had played in each of Linfield's previous nine games (starting against Puget Sound on Nov. 7, the Wildcats' Senior Day) and completed 24 of 31 passes for 525 yards, with four touchdowns and an interception. 

Against Cortland, Knecht was more playmaker than steward. He completed 10 of 16 passes for 106 yards, with two touchdowns against one interception, as Linfield shut SUNY-Cortland out in the second half in a 38-16 victory.

Spencer Payne led the Wildcats in rushing yards (89) and receiving yards (53), while John Carroll, Eric Igbinoba, Zach Kuzens and Levi Altringer each caught touchdown passes.

For much of the game, the best offense for the Wildcats (11-0) was its defense. Linfield wreaked havoc on the Red Dragons (9-3) early, limiting SUNY-Cortland to 150 yards of offense in three quarters. The Red Dragons, champions of the New York-based Empire 8 Conference, gained just 42 yards of rushing through three quarters, on 34 carries. 

"Our defense did what they did, really set us up with short fields," Linfield head coach Joseph Smith said. "Whenever your defense plays like that, as long as you don't turn the ball over yourself, you're going to ... win as a team."

Sophomore linebacker Jake Reimer paced the Wildcats with 11 tackles, including three for loss. Linfield finished with eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss as a team. SUNY-Cortland quarterback Steven Ferreira had thrown two interceptions in his team's previous 11 games; Wildcats defensive backs Dylan Lewis, Mikey Arkans and Skylor Elgarico each picked off passes from Ferreira Saturday.

"Their D-line really played well," said Ferreira, who finished with 232 yards and three touchdowns passing and 15 yards rushing on 24 carries. "They have a lot of speed on defense and their pass rush was really tough."

Compounding matters, SUNY-Cortland running back Donny Davis left in the second quarter with an apparent knee injury and did not return. The 225-pound freshman challenged Linfield enough to finish with 25 yards on 7 carries, largely between the tackles, never losing yardage on a carry.

However much the Red Dragons struggled to move the football, SUNY-Cortland never truly capitulated. Ferreira hit Jake Smith on a 4-yard touchdown pass with 1:54 remaining in the game. The Red Dragons successfully attempted an onside kick against the Wildcats; four plays later, Ferreira found Chris Osterman from 22 yards out. 

No team had scored 22 points on Linfield all season. SUNY-Cortland did it under rare circumstances: the Red Dragons challenged the Wildcats for all 60 minutes.

Linfield will host Mary Hardin-Baylor Saturday, Dec. 5, at noon in the NCAA Division III quarterfinals. Ticket information, courtesy of the Linfield athletic department, is as follows:

 

Season ticket holders should confirm their seats by Tuesday at noon. Season tickets not confirmed will then made available for sale to the general public. Season ticket holders requesting to purchase additional reserved seats must wait until general public sales begin Wednesday at noon.
 
•All reserved seat ticket sales are conducted through Linfield's online ticket portal,linfieldsports.universitytickets.com
 
•Reserved tickets for faculty, staff, students and retirees become available for purchase in the athletics office beginning between 8 and 10 a.m. Wednesday.
 
•Reserved ticket sales for the general public begin Wednesday at noon. Online sales conclude Friday at noon.
 
•If you experience difficulty after attempting to purchase tickets through the online portal and need technical assistance, please call 503-883-2421. Be prepared to leave contact information and a member of the staff will return your call as soon as is reasonably possible.
 
•All covered reserved seats are $15, uncovered reserved tickets are $12 and adult general admission is $10. General admission tickets are sold day of the game only. All tickets sold on the day of the game are on a cash-only basis.
 
•General admission for students with a current college or high school ID card are priced at $5 and sold day of the game only. Children under 3 are admitted free.
 
•Once purchased, season ticket holders may pick up their tickets between 9 a.m. and noon or from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday in the athletics office. Tickets not picked up Thursday or Friday may then be picked up Saturday at the stadium ticket booth beginning at 10 a.m. Please bring a photo ID when picking up tickets.

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