Linfield's 30-14 win sets up a quarterfinal clash of unbeaten teams as Wildcats play Wisconsin-Oshkosh next Saturday

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: DAVID BALL - Linfield linebacker Brynnan Hyland chases North Central QB Spencer Stanek during the first quarter of the Wildcats 30-14 playoff win Saturday.

McMINNVILLE — Linfield coach Joseph Smith unlocked his quarterback Saturday, and it paid off in a big way during the Wildcats’ 30-14 win over North Central (Ill.) in the second round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs.

After admitting to a conservative game plan that “handcuffed” senior QB Mickey Inns in last week’s 27-24 first-round win over Pacific Lutheran, Smith turned the offense loose against the Cardinals.

“You take what the defense is giving you, but I’m really pleased with what Mickey did today,” Smith said. “Standing in there and delivering the ball while you’re getting hit is a hard thing to do.”

Inns completed 24 of 39 passes for 305 yards and two TDs despite getting knocked around by the North Central defense most of the day.

“Every QB prides himself on being able to make the throw while taking a big hit,” Inns said. “You just have to stay in the zone. You’re going to get hit anyway, so you might as well complete the pass.”

After a scoreless first quarter, Linfield took the lead early in the second on a drive that saw Inns complete 6 of 7 throws — the toughest coming on third-and-1, when he lasered the ball between a pair of white jerseys and hit Charlie Poppen for a 27-yard gain.

Inns appeared to finish the drive when he hit Deidre Wiersma over the middle for a short touchdown only to have the points taken away due to a pass interference penalty.

Inns was not fazed.

He dropped back on the next play and hit Poppen on the left side for a 17-yard scoring strike.

North Central took the ball into Linfield territory looking for an answer, but Linfield linebacker Mike Nardoni pulled down Cardinals running back Jordan Tassio for a short loss on third-and-1.

After having missed a field goal in the first quarter, the Cardinals kept the offense on the field for fourth down. North Central QB Spencer Stanek took a quick drop and fired into a crowd over the middle. The pass hit Linfield linebacker Dominique Forrest in the numbers, and he had a clear path 73 yards to the end zone with the interception return.

Stanek bobbled a snap on North Central’s next possession, and Linfield’s Michael MacClanathan recovered. Kicker Josh Kay converted the turnover into points with a 44-yard field goal, and within minutes a scoreless game had turned into a 17-0 Linfield lead.

“They rely on the ground game and weren’t a team that was going to be able to get down a lot and come back,” Smith said. “It’s certainly easier to call plays when you’re working with a big lead.”

North Central had some life early in the second half after recovering a Linfield fumble at midfield. The Cardinals went for the end zone immediately, sending Beaverton High grad Jeff Stolzenburg down the middle of the field. But Linfield’s Michael Link was with him stride for stride and broke in front to swat the pass away a couple steps from the goal line.

The next play ended with Brandon Funk intercepting a ball near the sideline.

The North Central threat was over, but Linfield wasn’t letting off the gas.

Inns dropped back to pass and had the pocket collapse around him only to slip out the front of a pack of linemen and launch a deep ball in front of the grandstands. Seeing his QB in trouble, receiver Lucas Jepson had broken down the sideline in a dead sprint, and Inns’ pass hit him in the hands 50 yards downfield. Jepson shook a tackle at the 5-yard line to complete the 64-yard scoring strike.

“They dropped some guys into coverage and nothing was open, so I scrambled a bit and they came up on me,” Inns said. “Lucas just broke down the sideline and finished the play.”

Jepson led the Wildcats with eight catches for 132 yards.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: DAVID BALL - Linfields Charlie Poppen, 6, greets teammate Lucas Jepson in the end zone after Jepsons 64-yard touchdown grab to put the Wildcats ahead 24-0 early in the second half. Jepson led all receivers with eight catches for 132 yards.

Another North Central interception would lead to a Chad Coburn 4-yard touchdown run, and Linfield found itself with a commanding 30-0 lead midway through the third quarter.

“The biggest thing was the turnovers today,” Smith said. “You can’t have five interceptions and expect to win the game. I’m proud of the way our defense played today — it was a combination of pressure up front and solid coverage.”

North Central got a pair of touchdown runs by Nick Kukuc to close the gap, but the Cardinals' comeback bid ended with a Link’s second pick of the day.

Linfield took possession with 7:36 to play and wouldn’t give the ball back until less than two minutes remained.

“Every time we thought we were getting back into it, they would come up with a big play,” North Central coach John Thorne said. “You just can’t keep giving the ball away.”

Linfield (11-0) is expected to host Wisconsin-Oshkosh (12-0) in next Saturday’s quarterfinals, although the NCAA officially announces home sites for the next round Sunday. The Titans knocked off Bethel 37-14 on Saturday.

North Central had its chances in the first quarter, converting three straight third-down plays on its opening drive.

The Cardinals started their next two possessions near midfield, but couldn’t produce any points. The team’s best chance came when kicker Nick Dace came onto the field for a 37-yard field goal. He booted the ball between the uprights, but whistles killed the play. North Central had called timeout with the play clock ticking to zero.

Dace’s second attempt went wide left.

“You need to get points when you have those chances, and missing that field goal was a huge shot in the heart,” Thorne said.

Kukuc, the Cardinals' all-time leading rusher, gained 194 yards on 25 carries.

Forrest led Linfield's defense with 12 tackles, and punter Josh Repp averaged 43.9 yards per kick and pinned North Central inside the 10-yard line twice.

NORTH CENTRAL 0 0 7 7 — 14

LINFIELD 0 17 13 0 — 30

Second quarter

LNF — Charlie Poppen 17 pass from Mickey Inns (Josh Kay kick), 14:22

LNF — Dominique Forrest 73 interception return (Kay kick), 10:48

LNF — Josh Kay 44 FG, 6:42

Third quarter

LNF — Lucas Jepson 64 pass from Inns (Kay kick), 8:18

LNF — Chad Coburn 4 run (kick blocked), 5:12

NC — Nick Kukuc 32 run (Nick Dace kick), 2:32

Fourth quarter

NC — Kukuc 15 yard (Dace kick), 14:54

View a photo gallery of today’s game at …

Contract Publishing

Go to top
Template by JoomlaShine