UMHB spoils quarterfinal hopes, ’Cats plan to rebuild


Malia Riggs

Keegan Weiss, 27, catches a pass from Wyatt Smith, 12, to score a touchdown in the first playoff game against Hardin Simmons. Kyle Kimball, 17, and Dawson Ruhl, 33, run to celebrate the touchdown from Weiss.

Kaho Akau, Staff Writer

The Linfield football season concluded on Nov. 25 after a 24-0 loss to defending national champion and No. 1 Mary Hardin-Baylor in the second round of the playoffs.

Linfield ended the season with an overall record of 9-2. UMHB handed the Wildcats both of those losses. The first meeting between the two was back on Sept. 16. The Crusaders won that match 24-3.

UMHB stands as the only team to defeat the Wildcats in two years. Coincidentally, the last time the Cru lost was to Linfield in the 2015 quarterfinals.

The Wildcats finished their 2017 campaign with a flawless 7-0 Northwest Conference record and claimed the conference title for the ninth consecutive year.

For a program historically known for putting up stellar offensive numbers, it was the defense that carried the team for a majority of the season.

With all front-seven players being seniors, experience prevailed. The Wildcat defense held its opponents to an average of just 3.9 yards per play.

“We dominated conference this year the same way we always do, with preparation,” said Jason Farlow, ’18. “We had a great game plan each week and executed.”

On the offensive side of the ball, running back, Chidubem Nnoli, ’20, emerged as the workhorse. The transfer from Southern Oregon University picked up 1,051 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the season.

But the story of the year for the Wildcats was the battle at the quarterback position. After losing Troy Fowler, ’19, to injury, Aidan Wilder, ’20, took over under center.

Then a new young star emerged from the depths of the roster.

With two games remaining in the regular season, the Wildcats looked to Wyatt Smith, ’21, to lead them into the playoffs. The McMinnville native is the son of Linfield head coach, Joseph Smith. After entering the season as a third-string player, Smith took over as the starter and led the Wildcats to a first-round win over No. 5 Hardin-Simmons.

“We were a fairly young offense this year, but now we have some real game experience, which will be huge for us in the coming year,” Smith said.

Fifteen Wildcats were selected to all-NWC teams in 2017, nine of which were seniors. Farlow was named NWC Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Joseph Smith was also named NWC Coach of the Year for the ninth year in a row.

Already looking forward to the team’s future, Wyatt Smith is excited about rebuilding around a young and talented core.

“It’ll be a team with a bunch of new faces on both sides of the ball,” Smith said. “As a whole, our team just needs to get bigger, stronger and faster this offseason.”