Wildcats end season, fall to St. Thomas in semifinal game


Joe Stuart , For the Review

The Linfield Wildcats undefeated season came to an unfortunate end on Saturday, losing to the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, 17-38.

The St. Thomas Tommies dominated in their run game, rushing for 398 yards as a team and five touchdowns.

258 yards and three touchdowns came from running back Jordan Roberts, who was given the ball 33 times during the game.

Three of the Tommies touchdowns came in the first quarter, putting Linfield in a 20-0 whole that they could not dig themselves out of.

The early effectiveness of St. Thomas’s rushing set the tone for the rest the game, with St. Thomas choosing to pass the ball merely twelve times.

Linfield was finally able to get on the board in the second quarter thanks to a 25-yard Michael Metter, ’16, field goal, but that was the only scoring the Wildcats would accomplish in the first half.

Quarterback Tom Knecht, ’16, started the game for the Wildcats in lieu of an injured Sam Riddle, ’17, but could not get the Linfield offense going, throwing for 117 yards and two interceptions.

Riddle was subbed in at halftime to try and get the offense on track. Riddle threw for 174 yards, one interception and two touchdowns.

“Sam was at about 80 percent going into this game, he was really limited in his ability to run and move in the pocket,” said head coach Joseph Smith on the decision to start Knecht started over Riddle.

“Tom is a very good quarterback for us and I had no qualms in starting him whatsoever and had all the faith in the world in him.”

The Wildcats continued to struggle in the third quarter, again failing to find the end zone and letting St. Thomas score on the second drive of the half to widen the gap 30-3.

Linfield finally started to gain some momentum in the fourth quarter, getting their first touchdown of the game off a 27-yard pass from Riddle to wide receiver Erick Douglas, ’17.

The ‘Cats defense was able to get a big stop on the next drive, allowing Linfield to get into strong enough field position to score again. This time Riddle connected with running back Spencer Payne, ’17, for a 13-yard touchdown.

Payne’s touchdown cut the lead to 30-17, keeping the Wildcats hopes alive.

Those hopes were not alive for much longer though, after Linfield went for the onside kick, but it failed, with the Tommies recovering the kick and setting up field position on Linfield’s 46-yard line.

The Tommies then promptly marched down the field in seven plays, one of which was a 29-yard rush by Roberts, and scored with just under five minutes to play to put the game out of reach at 38-17.

A large hindrance to Linfield’s performance was St. Thomas’s ability to shut down Payne, who only rushed 12 times 59 yards, his least amount Linfield’s Oct. 10 game against Pacific.

Payne also contributed 31 receiving yards on eight receptions and a touchdown, but fumbled the ball twice.

Payne finished the season with over 1,000 rushing yards and 1,817, the second most in a single season in Linfield history.

Turnovers were another key factor in this game, with Linfield giving the ball away five times, while St. Thomas only turned the ball over once, thanks to an interception by defensive back Skylor Elgarico, ’17.

This was Linfield’s second straight loss in the semifinals. In the previous season they lost 20-14 to eventual National Champions Wisconsin-Whitewater.

“It sucks that we’re not going to Salem,” said Riddle, “But I’m just thankful for the guys on the team and for the opportunity to play for coach Smith. To be a part of this program … it’s a lot more than just football.”