By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

Final: Linfield 30, North Central 14

Updates are in reverse chronological order, with the newest entry at the top. Scroll to the bottom for older entries and the preview story from the Saturday paper.

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The No. 3-ranked Linfield Wildcats beat No. 14-ranked North Central, Ill. 30-14 Saturday at Maxwell Field to move on to the NCAA Division III quarterfinals.

Linfield will play at noon Saturday vs. UW-Oshkosh at Maxwell Field.

The Wildcats (11-0) took advantage of seven turnovers by the Cardinals, recovering two fumbles and intercepting quarterback Spencer Stanek five times.

Linfield quarterback Mickey Inns threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns in the win, and senior wide receiver caugth eight passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.

North Central running back Nick Kuckuc rsuhed for 192 yards and two touchdowns. Stanek was 19-of-35 for 235 yards.

The first quarter was scoreless, but Linfield unloaded for 17 points in the second quarter, the first coming on a 17-yard pass from Inns to receiver Charlie Poppen with 14:22 left in the first half. North Central was driving on its next possession, but on linebacker Dom Forrest intercepted Stanek and took the ball 73 yards for the touchdown and the 14-0 Linfield lead with 10:48 to go.

Linfield kicker Josh Kay kicked a 44-yard field goal with 6:42 left in the first half to give the Wildcats the 17-0 lead.

The Wildcats continued to score in the third quarter. Inns was almost sacked but instead scrambled and found Jepson on the left sideline behind the safety, and Jepson was able to beat the rest of the chasing defense to the end zone for the 64-yard touchdown with 8:18 left in the third quarter.

The Wildcats added another touchdown, this one a 4-yard run by Chad Coburn with 5:12 left in the third. Kay's PAT was blocked, and Linfield led 30-0.

North Central started a small comeback, first scoring on a 32-yard run by Kukuc with 2:32 left in the third quarter. Kukuc scored again with 14:54 left in the fourth quarter from 15 yards out, but Linfield ended the Cardinal's final two drives with interceptions. Stanek threw four interceptions in the second half. 

Stanek also fumbled the ball once in ther first half.


What happened: Down to a two possession game after Kukuc scores on the 15 yard run. PAT good. Linfield 30, NC 14 with 14:54 to go.

Linfield to take over at the 30. Shaffer up the middle for 5 yards. Big third down upcoming. Third-and-1 at its own 31. Second effort on the wildcat gives Coburn the first down. Another third down coming up from the 50. Third and 4. Inns is sacked. Wildcats are going to have to punt again. Repp with the touchback. NCC takes over at the 20. with 10:56 to go.

Cardinals have a third and 10, Stanek hits O'Kane for the first. Stanek sacked by Kealii Poomaihealani. Second and 17 with 9:30 to go. On third down, Stanek's pass is high. Personal foul on the incomplete pass gives North Central the first down at their own 39. Bailed them out. Kukuc gives Cardinals another first down to the Linfield 45. Then Stanek hits Stolzeburg to the Linfield 29. Incomplete on second down. Third and 10 from the 29 with 7:59 to go. Stanek bobles the bad pass, Forman swats the pass away in the end zone. The decision is coming, and the Cardinals are going for it on fourth and 10.  Link intercepts the pass instead and takes it to the Linfield 27.

North Central gets one last chance after the Wildcats take the clock down under three minutes, but Stanek throws his fifth interception with under a minute to go, and Linfield kneels. Wildcats are going to move on to take on Wisconsin Oshkosh next week in the quarterfinals.


What happened:  Linfield takes over at their 29. John Shaffer rushes for 9 yards. That's tripled Linfield's rush yards on the day. Linfield forced to punt. Repp in, and NC will take over at their own 8.

Brynnan Hyland gets his first sack of the posteason (his 19th of the season) on Stanek with 10:20. Brings up third-and-13. First Linfield sack of the game. Bobbled snap again, Stanek sacked again, this time by Brian Dundas. Fourth-and-24. NC in to punt. Linfield t take over at the 43, but on first down, Inns is stripped when he goes to throw. Central recovers with 8:51 to go. First Linfield turnover.

Stanek is read perfectly on that out pass. Brandon Funk intercepts the ball at the Linfield 41 with 8:37. Inns escapes another sack, steps up and tosses it on the run to Jepson, who streaks down the sideline for the 64-yard touchdown. PAT is good. 8:18 left in the third, Linfield 24, North Central 0.

Stanek crsuhed on the rush, Link intercepts Stanek and returns it to the Linfield 47 with 7:40. Linfield tries to take a hit down field, Poppen dives but can't haul it in. Third down and 6 from the NC 30. Inns show some of his scramble abilities, picks up the first down on the 9-yard run. Inns gets smoked again but completes to Wiersma. Firest and goal from the 4. Chad Coburn in on the Wildcat. scores easily. PAT is blocked. Josh Kay holding his right leg. Holding it gingerly. and walking off on his own paower, though. Linfield 30, NC 0 with 5:12 left in the third.

North Central gets the ball at its own 25. The Cardinals put together  a great drive. Change up their passing game to short swing passes. Get down the field, and Kukic scores with 2:32 on a 32-yard run. PAT is good. Linfield 30,  North Central 7.

Linfield forced to punt, great return by the Cardinals, but holding on the play. Cardinals take over at their own 49 with :49 left in the quarter. Stanek throws down to Fuentes to the Linfield 17. He took it out of the hands of Link. Almost an interception, instead a huge play. End of the third quarter.


What happened: Inns to Wiersma down to the five. Second down. Wildcats get the Cardinals to jump offsides. Down to the 2. Inns hits Wiersma on the slant for the touchdown. Aaron Hire is called for pass interference on the pick. Tough call. 15 yard penalty. Second and 18 now from the Linfield 18. Eek. It doesn't matter though, Poppen on the receiving end of the 18-yard touchdown with 14:22 left in the quarter. PAT good by Josh Kay. Linfield 7, North Central 0

North Central takes over at their own 25. First play, Kukic finally gets some room up the middle to the North Central 46. 21 yards. Kukic up to 69 yards rushing. He gashes Linfield again for a six-yard gain. If North Central gets big yards on first down, Cardinals will have an easy time converting on third and short. Wildcats stop NC on third down tis time though at the Linfield 31 with 11:28. The field goal unit starts to come out but Cards decide to go for it. Stanek's pass is right to Dom Forrest, who takes it to the house for the touchdown. 73 yards with 10:48 to go in the second quarter. Dom Forrest crouches on the sidelines in a huff. PAT good. Linfield 14, North Central 0.

Kukic another first down on a 9-yard run. He's at 89 yards now. Bad snap, Michael MacClanathan recovers at the NC 37 with 8:53. Everything going Linfield's way right now. Wildcats not even pretending that they have a running game right now. On third-and-1 they throw, and Inns hits Wiersma for the first down to the NC 24. Inns getting hammered. He was hammered on that pass to Wiersma, then he gets sacked. Third-and 13 for Linfield. Inns a little long on his pass (he's thrown 18 times already. Kay to attempt the 44-yard field goal, and it's good. Linfield 17, North Central 0 6:42 in the second.

Cardinals immediately faced with a third down and 3 from their own 28, but Kukic gets the first down with 5:32 to go in the first half. Kukic gets another first down (NC's 10th of the game) to the NC 45. He's now at 105 yards rushing in the game. Almost intercepted, instead, Stanek hits Kukic for 43 yards to the Linfield 3 with 3:21. First and goal. Fumble on first down,  and it looks like Brynnan Hyland recovers it for Linfield. Wow. Third turnover for North Central. 

Inns hangs in there, gets pounded but hits Wiersma for the first down to the Linfield 45. Inns is gonna be one sore dude after this game. He gets hit again and fumbles, but Linfield recovers. Repp into punt with 23 seconds left in the first half. NC will take over at the 

 Big play: Forrest's interception return for the touchdown. Huge play with the Cardinals driving.

Box score highlight: Linfield has negative-3 yards rushing. North Central has 107, but it has three turnovers.


What happened: North Central to receive. Josh Kay's kick goes into the endzone. Cardinals to start this game at the 25. Spencer Stanek's first pass is 9 yards to Ryan Szudarski. It'll be interesting to see if the Wildcats can get enough pressure on the Cardinals. Brynnan Hyland almost gets Stanek on second down, but Nick Kukic gets three yards on third down. Linfield really bringing the heat on second down. Stanek almost sacked but a great block stops them. Then Stanek's pass is high and almost intercepted. Stanek converts on third down. Second first down with 12:35 left to go in the quarter. Kukic puts the Cardinals into Linfield territory at the Linfield 44. They're driving, and get another first down to the Linfield 39 with 10:54. North Central faces a big third down with 9:24 left. A penalty and a bad run pushed them back to third-and-19. Brandon Funk knocks away what would have been a first down. Linfield takes over with 9:18 at their own 6 after a great punt by Tyler Rasche.

Linfield quarterback Mickey Inns' first pass skips across the turf. Tayvon Willis is starting at running back for Linfield, and he's stuffed on the draw at the three. Third and 14. Inns hits Jepson for the first down at the 22. 19 yards on that play. Linfield trying to go fast. Snap the ball quickly. Third and 7 at the 25. Inns tries to force it on third down but North Central, it appears, has some great players in its secondary and the pass is deflected. Second one already for the Cardinals. Josh Repp's punt goes to the Cardinals' 32 with 7:41.

Right away, Cardinals in a third-and-3 situations from just before the 40. Jordan Tassio keeps it and gets the first down at the NC 45 with 6:04. Linfield's rush defense is doing a good job of limiting the Cardinals. Another third down at the NC 47. Cardinals have been good about converting on third down so far, but they don't here. Michael Link breaks up the pass, and they have to punt again. Coburn fair catches again at the Linfield 10 with 4:46 to go.

Linfield forced to punt again. Repp's punt from his own end zone is a good one to the Cardinal 46. Net 44-yard punt. But that was 56 yards in the air.

Kukic finally gets a good run for 26 yards to the Linfield 28. Cardinals not gettin any sort of holes in the middle of the line, but Kukic is having success when he bounces it outside. Nick Dace sets up for the 36-yard field goal with 2:10 to go. He makes the first attempt but his coach calls a timeout. His second attempt is wide left. Ouch.

Linfield now starts moving the ball. Consecutive passes to Lucas Jepson gets the 'Cats to the 44 with under a minute to go. Inns tries to go to the well for a third time, but Jepson can't hang on to what would have been a great diving catch. On third-and-1, Inns goes deep to Charlie Poppen to the North Central 27. That's 29 yards on that play with :33 to go. Then Inns to Jepson for eight yards. Why doesn't Linfield play this fast all the time? Schaffer then gives Linfield a first down to the 10 at the end of the quarter. 

Big play: NC's missed field goal. You see it all the time. A team misses a field goal, but the other coach calls the timeout then they make it. This was the opposite and by their own coach, and it was big in a defensive game like this.

Box score highlight: Linfield four rushes for eight yards.


Your are looking live at Maxwell Field in McMinnville, Ore. for an NCAA Division III second round playoff game between North Central of Illinois and Linfield College. The Wildcats come in with a record of 10-0, and the Cardinals are 9-2. Linfield beat Pacific Lutheran 27-24 last week, and North Central beat Cal Lutheran on the road last week 41-21. Look below for a more indepth preview or check out the related articles box to the right for a complete breakdown of the Cardinals.

The rain, which has been steady since last Sunday, has finally broken today. It might rain a bit, but the weather forecast steadily calls for less rain and by 3 p.m. it said only a 10 percent chance and maybe even some sun. That would be welcome.

The Cardinals are in white uniforms with red. Linfield in typical purple and white. It is 10 minutes before game time. Should be an interesting game. Absolutely no clue about what to expect, Linfield played poorly and won last week. They'll need to play much better against a veteran team that knows how to win after a long road trip.

North Central wins the toss. Elects to receive. Eager Cardinals want the ball. It's time for kickoff.


The most traveled team in the NCAA Division III playoffs will make an appearance Saturday at Maxwell Field. The North Central, Ill. Cardinals, who beat Cal Lutheran in the first round, play at noon Saturday vs. No. 3-ranked Linfield in the second round.

The NCAA playoffs create some interesting travel scenarios, and last year it was Linfield flying across the country to play in Delaware in the second round. This time around, it’s the Cardinals (9-2) that are again packing their bags, making a 1,700-mile-plus flight for the second straight week.

“I feel for those guys,” Linfield coach Joseph Smith said. “Really, they’re faced with doing it all the way through if they keep winning.

“It’s a hardship. They’re going to miss Thanksgiving most likely, though, coming out west is a bit easier because you gain some time.”

The question is whether or not the two weeks of travel will hurt the Cardinals. It sure didn’t hurt them last week in their 41-21 demolition of No. 8-ranked Cal Lutheran. The Cardinals jumped out to a large first quarter lead and were able to keep it going in the second half, racking up 527 yards of offense.

“That blueprint is pretty impressive,” Smith said. “They just didn’t beat Cal Lu, they crushed them. They certainly got our attention with that win. … That’s an impressive road win.”

North Central made the trip out to California in 2011 to play Redlands but coach John Thorne said his players ran out of energy in the second half because the staff didn’t think through halftime nutrition. According to, the Cardinals didn’t make that mistake last week and packed a bagful of fruit for players.

Still, when you throw in the Thanksgiving holiday, even a team’s most carefully planned schedule can go haywire.

“It’s a different week all the way around,” Smith said, adding it’s better to be home for this week. “When you play at home around Thanksgiving, it’s nice because kids can go home. Most of the kids will get a good break.”

Break is a relative term, though. The Wildcats (10-0) practiced early Wednesday to give players time to drive home, and they were back at it Thursday evening.

The preparation continues to become more crucial as the Wildcats get deeper into the playoffs. They are now in unfamiliar territory, having never played North Central or a team from Illinois for that matter. Smith said he does know that teams from the College Conference of Illinois Wisconsin play great football.

“I think they’re every bit as good as other teams,” he said, “they just tend to get matched up in the semifinals or earlier with a Whitewater or Mount Union and get bounced out. There are some exceptionally good football teams that come out of there.”

“We’re kind of playing Illinois, what it seems like,” Smith said. “It’s good football. They’re solid.”

Balancing O and D

Freshman Chad Coburn rushed for two touchdowns last week in Linfield’s 27-24 win vs. Pacific Lutheran in the first round. Coburn, who has taken four attempts this season, was used in a variation of the wildcat where two backs lined up next to each other and one takes the direct snap. Smith said it’s something the coaching staff has been tinkering with late in the year.

“It was a nice changeup to some of the other things we’ve done and it was effective for us in the game,” Smith said.

Both of Coburn’s touchdowns were crucial because not much else was doing for the Wildcats on offense Saturday. They rushed for 39 yards and were held to a season-low in total yards.

“It’s a concern,” Smith said of the lack of a run game. “Very disappointing. It’s something we felt confident we were going to be able to do and for a variety of circumstances we weren’t.”

Of course, Linfield’s defense forced five turnovers which made just enough difference.

“If our defense gets five turnovers a game, we’ll win a lot of games,” Smith said. “But we need more balance. We can’t expect to win like that again in the playoffs.

“That’s something we need to do. We need to run the football or we aren’t going to win any football games from here on out.”

Kay’s big day

It has been a rough season for senior kicker Josh Kay. Last year he was named a finalist for the Fred Mitchell Award, given to the country’s best kicker, after making 16-of-19 field goals. This season, Kay is 10-of-21 on field goal attempts, but whenever he’s been called on to make crucial kicks, he’s done so, including a game-winning field goal at Cal Lutheran early in the season.

Smith said a lot of those misses can be blamed more on the special teams as a whole.

“All the ones he’s missed have been protection related,” he said.

Kay has had quite a few kicks blocked this season, but Saturday, he made two kicks from more than 40 yards. While later in the day the University of Oregon Ducks were thwarted by spotty field goal kicking in their 17-14 loss vs. Stanford, Kay’s kicking made all the difference for Linfield.

“They were huge field goals,” Smith said. “We have the best kicker in the state of Oregon, I’m sure. He’s very good and a tremendous weapon. To know a 47-yarder is in the bag is a nice thing to have.”

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