Courtesy of Rusty Rae##Linfield running back Spencer Payne had 59 rushing yards and 31 receiving yards and a touchdown as the Wildcats fell to St. Thomas, 38-17, in the NCAA Division III football semifinals.
Courtesy of Rusty Rae##Linfield running back Spencer Payne had 59 rushing yards and 31 receiving yards and a touchdown as the Wildcats fell to St. Thomas, 38-17, in the NCAA Division III football semifinals.
Courtesy of Rusty Rae##Linfield quarterback Tom Knecht completed 14 of 28 passes for 117 yards, with two interceptions, during the Wildcats  38-17 loss to St. Thomas in the NCAA Division III football semifinals Saturday.
Courtesy of Rusty Rae##Linfield quarterback Tom Knecht completed 14 of 28 passes for 117 yards, with two interceptions, during the Wildcats' 38-17 loss to St. Thomas in the NCAA Division III football semifinals Saturday.
Courtesy of Rusty Rae##Linfield wide receiver Zach Kuzens (88) and St. Thomas defensive back Isaac Sheering embrace following Saturday s NCAA Division III semifinal contest.
Courtesy of Rusty Rae##Linfield wide receiver Zach Kuzens (88) and St. Thomas defensive back Isaac Sheering embrace following Saturday's NCAA Division III semifinal contest.
Courtesy of Rusty Rae##Linfield linemen walk around Palmer Field in O Shaughnessy Stadium before their NCAA Division III semifinal game against St. Thomas.
Courtesy of Rusty Rae##Linfield linemen walk around Palmer Field in O'Shaughnessy Stadium before their NCAA Division III semifinal game against St. Thomas.
Courtesy of Rusty Rae##St. Thomas running back Jordan Roberts (23) carried the ball 33 times for 256 yards and three touchdowns Saturday against Linfield.
Courtesy of Rusty Rae##St. Thomas running back Jordan Roberts (23) carried the ball 33 times for 256 yards and three touchdowns Saturday against Linfield.
By News-Register staff • 

Linfield football falls in D-III semifinals

SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- The No. 2 Linfield football team answered its quarterback quandary by starting senior Tom Knecht in the NCAA Division III semifinals against No. 3 St. Thomas at Palmer Field at O'Shaugnessy Stadium. 

Knecht completed 14 of his 28 passes for 117 yards in the game's first half, but the Wildcats trailed the Tommies 23-3 at intermission. Linfield made a substitution at the position to open the second half, as Sam Riddle returned after suffering a right ankle injury in the first half of the Wildcats' second-round game against SUNY-Cortland on Nov. 28.

As Riddle worked his way through Linfield's defecit, St. Thomas' vaunted rushing attack kept the game out of reach.

Tommies running back Jordan Roberts amassed 256 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries and reserve running back Jack Kaiser had 40 rushing yards and two touchdowns as St. Thomas advanced to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl with a 38-17 victory over the Wildcats.

Riddle threw for 173 yards (15-of-24) and two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, but he lost a fumble and had a pass intercepted during a scoreless third quarter for Linfield. Zach Kuzens caught 11 passes for 132 yards, and Brian Balsiger added 94 yards on seven receptions.

Linfield suffered from a case of deja vu as St. Thomas (14-0) took a 20-0 lead in the first quarter, reminiscent of Mary Hardin-Baylor's 21-0 lead seven minutes into the Wildcats' D-III quarterfinal victory on Dec. 5. The Tommies unsuccessfully attempted a two-point conversion, however, and suddenly the Wildcats had momentum on its side.

They did not capitalize on it. Knecht threw an interception on the very next drive; Linfield's first drive of the second quarter went 12 plays and resulted in a made 25-yard field goal by Michael Metter.

The Wildcats turned the ball over five times (including two lost fumbles) and struggled to rush the football (59 yards on 20 carries). Minor mistakes -- from a dribbled snap to punter Kevin McClean to a touched ball on a kickoff that nearly resulted in a safety -- plagued them throughout. But Riddle connected with Erick Douglas III on a 27-yard touchdown pass and found Spencer Payne on a 12-yard touchdown pass on consecutive drives, pulling Linfield within 14 points.

St. Thomas responded with a kickoff return to the Wildcats' 46-yard line and a ground-churning four-play drive. The Tommies averaged 6.3 yards per carry on 62 touches, going north-south with Roberts and Kaiser and east-west with wide receiver Nick Waldvogel (six carries, 66 yards). UST quarterback John Gould attempted only 11 passes, completing five for 55 yards with an interception.

Linfield concludes its season with a 12-1 record.

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