Wildcats pass test against Boxers
Linfield quarterback Mickey Inns stood on the 14-yard line of Pacific, gazing across his offensive line at what the Boxers defense looked like. He turned to his left and the Linfield sideline to look at the big boards being held up that displayed the Wildcats’ play.
He turned around, made a few quick calls to his linemen and receivers and flicked his hand down, signaling the center to snap. One step, two steps, and Inns let loose a looping spiral to the corner of the end zone on his right. The ball fell perfectly into the waiting arms of receiver Charlie Poppen for the 10-yard touchdown with 1:21 left in the first half.
The No. 3-ranked Linfield Wildcats defeated Pacific 51-17 Saturday in the final game of the regular season and play Saturday at home in the first round of the Division III playoffs. A big part of Linfield’s success on offense this year has been because of Inns.
“Mickey has been dialed in,” Smith said. “He’s been really accurate and seeing everything. He has complete command of the offense and he’s been playing at a really high level.”
Saturday, Inns threw for 362 yards and four touchdowns, and he twice completed fade passes to Poppen in the corner of the end zone for touchdowns. It’s a play they’ve been working on since well before the start of the season.
“Mick just always knows where to put the ball,” Poppen said. “That helps. We’ve been throwing a lot together over the summer and this year. We have a good relationship that kind of came together.”
“They’ve thrown that hundreds of times,” Smith said. “It’s nice timing on that.”
Inns threw touchdowns to Poppen, Deidre Wiersma and David Sigler against Pacific, and he said he lived in a house this summer with all of them. A few times a week they would work out together and throw.
“We put a lot of work and time to what we do out here,” Inns said. “Charlie does a great job of getting open and he’s pretty quick off the line. It’s been working well for us.”
The dangerous part of Linfield’s offense is that opponents can’t focus on one receiver. Wiersma caught nine passes for 128 yards, but Poppen had 94 yards and Sigler had 90 yards. Inns completed passes to 10 different receivers Saturday.
“We are not a go-to-this person offense,” Smith said. “We go to the spot where the defense dictates, and he’ll find the open guy.”
“Anyone is capable of making big plays,” Poppen said. “They can’t focus on trying to shut down any one guy because we all have big play potential. It’s fun to get excited for your buddies across the line making big plays too.”
“It’s amazing,” Inns said. “The four years I’ve been here, we’ve had some really good teams. I can’t remember a better receiving corps as a group.
“Hopefully we can use all those weapons and carry us far into the playoffs.”
’Cats earn a top seed
The NCAA Division III playoff bracket was announced Sunday, and Linfield (9-0) was awarded a No. 1 seed in its part of the bracket. It will play at noon Saturday vs. Northwest Conference opponent Pacific Lutheran. Linfield defeated the Lutes 31-24 earlier this season on Sept 24 in Tacoma.
While it wasn’t confirmed Sunday, it appears as if the Wildcats are also one of the top two seeds in the tournament. According to D3Football.com, traditionally the semifinalist hosts are the first and last teams listed on the brackets. At the top of the 2012 bracket is Linfield and at the bottom is No. 1-ranked Mount Union.
If the Wildcats beat Pacific Lutheran (7-2), they would play the winner of the Cal Lutheran-North Central game. The Kingsmen (8-1) earned a home game in the playoffs for the first time in school history. For the past three seasons Cal Lu has been eliminated from the playoffs by Linfield.
The Wildcats defeated Cal Lu 33-30 on Sept. 15 on the road.
Linfield also has No. 4-ranked St. Thomas and No. 5-ranked Wisconsin-Oshkosh on its side of the bracket.
The Wildcats made it to the second round of the NCAA playoffs last season, where they lost to Wesley.
Linfield committed 10 penalties for 110 yards Saturday vs. Pacific, increasing its already conference-worst average of penalty yards per game, which was at 77 yards coming in. Penalties are something Smith has harped all season long on, and the Wildcats still haven’t found a way to kick the habit.
Smith went with some immediate punishment after the game Saturday. His players took a knee around him, and then he had them stand up in a crouch, their leagues bent and backs straight. Smith made them hold that pose for a few minutes while he lectured them, telling them once they get to the playoffs, penalties could be the difference between moving on or going home.
Poppen called the punishment “quarter eagles,” and said the message was received loud and clear.
“It’s something that can’t happen,” he said. “Now that we’re playing in the playoffs, our knack for penalties could really hurt us.”