October 30, 2013

Lockdown defense keys 'Cats

More news about: Linfield
Dominique Forrest's season ended a few drives early last season and he can help make sure Linfield's season goes further than the quarterfinals in 2013.
Photo by Rusty Rae for D3sports.com

The Linfield offense is producing points like it has the previous two seasons – in fact, the Wildcats are scoring above their average from the 2012 and 2011 seasons.

But Dominique Forrest is back from a broken leg sustained in the NCAA quarterfinals last season and is leading the Linfield defense that has buckled down on opposing offenses. The Wildcats have held opponents under 10 points per game, helping the team race out to a 6-0 start and increasing the program’s impressive streak of consecutive winning seasons.

Linfield – ranked second in the country behind only Mount Union – will face No. 25 ranked Willamette on Saturday, looking to stay in the Northwest Conference lead.

“We’re excited. It feels good. It feels great to be in the position we’re in,” Forrest said. “But we’ve been in this position the past two years as well.”

Forrest and the defense have helped Linfield roll through the first six games on its schedule, winning by an average margin of 45.5 points.

“The good thing is we have so many senior guys on our team. So everybody has played a playoff game and has been in this atmosphere,” Forrest said. “It’s exciting that we’ve been able to do this year in and year out.

“The experience helps.”

Forrest – a two-year captain – leads the veteran defense with 52 total tackles, which include seven for a loss and one quarterback sack.

“Our defense is especially good this year as we have so much experience to go along with good talent,” head coach Joe Smith said, calling Forrest the complete package at linebacker. “Losing Dom to a broken leg ... was a huge loss to us last year as Dom is certainly the emotional and schematic leader on our defense. Not only is he a great individual player, but he raises the level of play around him.”

The senior has broken up three passes and forced a fumble as well.

“I’m in the middle, so I can affect a lot of things,” Forrest said. “I just do what I can. … I couldn’t do what I can do without the guys around me.”

After posting back-to-back shutouts at Case Western Reserve and at home vs. rival – and then No. 11 ranked – Pacific Lutheran, Linfield clinched a winning season with a 51-17 win over Whitworth.

That marks the 58th consecutive winning season recorded by the Linfield football program. The mark that started in 1956 is the longest in the nation with Florida State coming in a distant second at 36.

“It’s something bigger than an individual player or an individual offense or defense. It’s so much more than that,” Forrest said. “So that makes it special. And our ability to keep that going means a lot to us as players and our program.”

“We do take pride in the streak, but also that we have won nearly 80 percent of our games throughout that 58-year span,” Smith added. “We believe it confirms and validates the core character values of this program.”

Linfield passed its first test of the season when the squad blanked Pacific Lutheran 29-0. Forrest said that effort bodes well for the team’s chances as the Northwest Conference season hits the final stretch.

“It’s a good sign,” Forrest said. “Both games we played them last year were both real close games that came down to the fourth quarter.

“This year it was exciting to beat them like that. But they’re still a real good team.”

The Wildcats will face another challenge this week at Willamette, which lost its first game of season last week against PLU.

“We’re feeling pretty good,” Forrest said. “This is definitely a great team in our conference. It’s definitely going to be a big game for us. We’re definitely not taking anything lightly.

“The energy on our team is real good right now. All the guys are excited for the game. It should be a good one.”

Smith believes Linfield is prepared having played top notch programs across the country.

“We have played so many ranked teams over the years, that we feel we are tested often,” said Smith, who was an assistant coach when Linfield won the 2004 national championship. “This year we will end up playing four teams that were ranked in the top 25 at some point before our game, so playing another strong team in Willamette is something hopefully we are used to, and I know we are all looking forward to.”

Forrest said the team’s goal is winning a league title to secure an automatic bid into the NCAA playoffs.

Then the Wildcats would like to make deeper run than last year’s push that ended in the quarterfinals.

“We know what the elite of Division III looks like face-to-face, and a different level of play is required to win versus that,” Smith said. “We need to keep improving each week so we can get to that level of consistent high execution.”

Linfield made the second round of the postseason in 2011 and 2010, and was a national semifinalist in 2009.

“Long term goal, we want to win a national championship. But we’ve seen what we’ve done before,” Forrest said. “It’s all about pushing more and trying to get to that national championship game.

“It’s all about finishing for us.”

Warhawks take down Oshkosh

In the first of a series of top-10 WIAC matchups, UW-Whitewater pulled out a 17-14 win at UW-Oshkosh on Saturday.

The Warhawks scored the only points of the second half when Jordan Ratliffe rushed for a 56-yard gain and Booker Ross finished off the drive with an 18-yard touchdown run.

“It was a big test, no doubt,” UW-W head coach Lance Leipold told the Daily Jefferson County Union. “It wasn’t always the cleanest or the prettiest today, but we found a way. If you want to be a good team, those are the things you got to do.”

UW-Oshkosh was stopped on a fake punt attempt late and quarterback Nick Olla – who had completed two first-half touchdown passes to Zach Kasuboski – threw in an interception on the Titans’ final drive.

“It was a great game. They just made more plays than we did,” UW-O head coach Pat Cerroni said.

“The big thing that we have to worry about is now we got to respond from this,” he added. “This is the meat of the schedule now. So it’s going to get tough.”

Both teams will face stiff tests again this week as UW-Whitewater hosts UW-Platteville and UW-Oshkosh welcomes UW-Stevens Point.

The Warhawks will travel to Stevens Point Nov. 9 and Oshkosh closes out the season Nov. 16 at home versus Platteville.

The rest of the West

The Pacific Lutheran defense picked off Willamette quarterback Josh Dean five times and recovered a fumble to win a battle of ranked Northwest Conference teams, 35-24. The two teams along with Pacific have one conference loss and trail Linfield in the standings. … Redlands rallied to defeat Chapman, 21-17, taking the lead in the SCIAC race. The Bulldogs scored the final 14 points to win their fourth straight game. … Wartburg broke a 15-15 tie with 35 seconds to play when Taylor Jacobsmeier threw a 17-yard touchdown to Boise State transfer Jake Holsteen, defeating Dubuque 22-15. The Knights’ fifth straight win makes them the lone unbeaten team in IIAC play. … Tyler Harper threw for 241 yards and two touchdowns and Jake Jensen rushed for 128 yards and a pair of scores to help St. Scholastica beat Eureka, 28-25, and keep pace with Greenville in the UMAC. Blake Robles passed for 345 yards and four touchdowns in a losing effort for the Red Devils. … Claremont-Mudd-Scripps needed five overtimes but eventually snapped a four-game skid – and a 10-game conference losing streak – by defeating Whittier, 49-46.

Rank ’em

The West Region has 10 teams ranked in the Top 25 this week, including five in the top 10.

Linfield remains No. 2, collecting six votes in the process, and Bethel stayed at No. 5.

UW-Whitewater moved up to No. 6 after topping UW-Oshkosh, which slipped one spot to No. 10. WIAC rival UW-Platteville stayed put at No. 8.

Pacific Lutheran is one spot higher this week at No. 16 after defeating rival Willamette. The Bearcats fell four places to No. 21.

In addition to Bethel, the MIAC is represented by St. Thomas (No. 18), Concordia-Moorhead (No. 21) and St. John’s (No. 22).

Wartburg is getting 31 votes this week, and will face IIAC rival Coe – a recipient of nine votes – Saturday.

Pacific (8) and Redlands (3) also received votes this week.

Number of the week

26 – as in the number of years since Pacific’s last winning season. The Boxers got a pair of rushing touchdowns from Deven McKinney en route to defeating Chicago 21-6 in a non-conference meeting. Pacific is now 6-1 overall, clinching its first winning record since the program went 4-3-2 in 1987. The Boxers reinstated football in 2010 after it was discontinued following the 1991 season.

Looking ahead

As the MIAC season winds down, the four teams ranked in the top 25 travel to teams in the bottom half of the league. Bethel (5-0), Concordia-Moorhead (4-1), St. John’s (4-1) and St. Thomas (3-2) face Hamline, Carleton, Gustavus Adolphus and Augsburg, respectively. Concordia-Moorhead and St. John’s are looking to avoid falling any further behind Bethel, and will look to strengthen its at-large playoff resume. The Tommies head to Augsburg, which received votes earlier this season in the Top 25 poll.

Be heard

Do you have a story idea for the Around the West column? Contact me about approaching milestones, broken records, break-out players or any other storylines in the West. Or just drop me a note and let me know what you like or don’t about the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Email me at josh.smith@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter at @DU_Josh_Smith.

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Josh Smith covers high school and Division III athletics for the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, Wis. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and contributes to multiple publications in addition to his duties at the Daily Union, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He graduated from UW-Whitewater with a degree in print journalism.

2011-12 columns: Jason Galleske
2010: Tim Walsh
2003-09: Adam Johnson
1999-2000: Don Stoner 

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