By Rusty Rae • Of the News-Register • 

Linfield faces UMHB in second round playoff test


Toss out everything you might think about Saturday’s second round DIII playoff match-up between Linfield and University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Forget about last season’s wild 31-28 come-from-behind Wildcat win. Round-file the 66-27 bludgeoning Linfield suffered in the second game of this season in Belton, Texas. Each team has stepped into the river of a season of competition and today neither is the same team that played some eight weeks ago, nor is the river.

Linfield head man Joseph Smith sums up the focus of Saturday’s game, noting, “This is not about revenge for the early game – we are over that. This is not about showing the NCAA they made a mistake in seeding. This game, for us, is about getting the chance to have another week together as a team. If we want to go to Salem (Virginia) for the championship, we have to win this weekend.”

The simple fact: Linfield must win or the season is over – but the same is true for the Crusaders, the number one rated team in DIII football.

Notes Smith, “They are good at every position. I have been voting them number one all season – and they deserve the rating. They are probably bigger, stronger, faster at every position – but we are going to go down there and battle with everything we have.”

The ‘Cats enter the contest with a relatively healthy squad and a playing field a bit more level. They won’t have to endure the blistering heat they battled in the first contest and, thanks to Turkey Day, the crowd may not be as large as it was in September.

Last week Linfield won the initial battle of Texas 24-14, against first-round opponent Hardin-Simmons University of Abilene. The Cowboys entered with a high-powered offense, which Linfield’s defense was able to shut down, pitching a shutout in the second half while holding it to less than 100 yards of total offense. The ‘Cat offense bared its teeth on the ground and through the air. Spencer Payne was yet again the leading back of the day with 84 yards rushing on 18 carries. Sam Riddle was ever-dominant, displaying a high level of poise and football smarts, as he passed for 367 yards, going 21-36 with no interceptions.

HSU, the intrastate rival of UMHB, battled the Crusaders during the regular season, losing 20-15. The Cowboys lead the contest into the fourth quarter before the Crusaders scored the go-ahead touchdown.

Notes Smith, “Comparative scores mean little when you get to the playoffs. League and rivalry games are different because each time has some level of familiarity with the other.”

UMHB had to battle against an interpid Redlands University in its first-round game. The Bobcats, clearly heavy underdogs, pounced to a 14-0 lead, which became 21-14 at the half. The score was 30-28 late in the third quarter, but the number-one ranked Crusaders pulled away, scoring 20 points in the final 20 minutes for a 50-28 win.

Smith noted, “Teams like Mary Hardin-Baylor and University of St. Thomas are so physical – they simply wear you down. That is the way it is against all the really good teams and we have to be ready to battle to the last second of the game.”

Interestingly enough, should the ‘Cats survive the second round with a win, there every chance they could host the quarter final contest. In the event they won, they would participate in the semifinals. Of course, it will depend on who ascends the other side of the bracket. If Wheaton is able to overcome a very tough North Central and Linfield would also win, the ‘Cats would likely host. A win in the quarterfinals would probably see Linfield host in the semi-finals for a trip to the championship game.

But first, the ‘Cats must smite the Crusaders in Belton, Texas, at 10 a.m. Pacific time.