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Making noise in the Northwest

More news about: Linfield
Alex Hoff has long been a standout on defense for the Wildcats. Now he's becoming a contributor on offense as well.
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Players and coaches at Linfield are accustomed to winning. And that’s understandable, considering the program has had a winning record for each of the last 60 seasons.

With a 72-3 win over Puget Sound on Saturday, the Wildcats extended another impressive steak. They clinched the program’s seventh consecutive Northwest Conference championship.

Senior defensive end Alex Hoff has been a key contributor to Linfield’s stifling defense, and he has chipped in on offense too. Now that they have secured the NWC’s automatic bid into the NCAA Division III playoffs, Hoff and the Wildcats have their sights set on larger goals.

“We expect to win,” said Hoff, who has 11 sacks this season after leading the nation with 15.5 during his All-American 2014 campaign. “Winning conference is just something that happens when all the right things go into place. We’re playing really good football right now, and we’re just focused on getting better each week.”

Linfield’s seven consecutive conference championships is a league record, surpassing their own run of six titles from 2000 to 2005. However, coach Joe Smith said the players don’t focus on the long-term success of the program. Rather they keep their attention on what their next task is.

“We want to learn from the past, and celebrate the past, but certainly stay in the present,” Smith explained. “Our guys are really truly focusing on trying to get as good as we can right now because our team really knows the caliber of teams that are waiting for us out there in the playoffs.”

This season Linfield has outscored its opponents, 443-51, and Hoff has played a role on both sides of the ball.

In addition to his duties as a defensive lineman, Hoff also plays up to 10 snaps each game on the offensive side of ball.

“It’s just so much fun. Coming into in the season, I really wanted that role of being the short-yardage tight end,” said Hoff, who has one touchdown reception this year. “I had to talk (Smith) into it. He said if I could stay healthy and do all that stuff, then he would give me a shot.”

Perhaps one of the trickiest parts of playing both ways, is quickly changing out of his No. 55 jersey to his No. 41 offensive uniform.

“You have to understand the field position and where the offense is and things like that. I’m starting to get it down to a science,” Hoff said. “A lot of guys on the team help me with that – put my jersey where I always know where it is.”

Hoff’s role on offense has not distracted him from his defensive obligations.

Since following his brother – former All-American Tyler Steele – to Linfield, Hoff has been dedicated to becoming a better player.

“Him being such a successful football player, it really made me work so much harder,” Hoff said in regard to his brother. “It was great playing with him, and so much fun. He taught me so much about being a better football player and the hard work that goes in and the toughness you need to have.”

After an impressive 2014 season, Hoff has seen more double teams – and often triple teams – at the line of scrimmage. But he credits his preparation and desire to overcome those obstacles.

“Understanding the concepts that the offense is trying to do is definitely where I’ve improved the most,” he said.

“We’ve had some phenomenal pass rushers that last 10 years,” Smith added. “Alex is quite possibly the finest we’ve had. His explosiveness is just a joy to watch as a coach. I’ve really never seen a young man take over a game like he can – in terms of beating blockers as quickly as he does.”

“He’s not only very quick, with great acceleration, he has a very strong power game to go with it,” the coach continued, noting Hoff has excellent finesse moves to complement his power. “He’s a very difficult one-on-one matchup.”

Linfield may have 60 consecutive winning seasons and seven straight conference titles under their belt, but the Wildcats have a larger prize in mind.

“National championship – that’s the only goal,” Hoff said. “We still have work to do and we know that.”

Smith noted this his team has played a number of other talented programs over the last six seasons. His group of players this year know what to expect from the playoff field and are ready for the challenge.

“We have the talent to play with anybody in the country this year. Our kids are hungry for that,” Smith said. “They’re waiting for that opportunity.”

Conference championships

Dubuque, St. Thomas and UW-Oshkosh all claimed postseason berths this weekend.

Dubuque clinched a share of the IIAC title and secured the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs with a 37-21 win over Coe. Conor Feckley threw three touchdown passes to help the Spartans improved to 6-0 in IIAC competition. He completed 17-of-31 passes for 232 yards.

St. Thomas racked up 628 yards of total offense in an 80-3 rout of Carleton. Jordan Roberts rushed for 104 yards and four touchdowns while Tucker Trettel chipped in 110 yards and two touchdowns. With the win, the Tommies improved to 7-0 in MIAC play, clinching a share of the league title and claiming the conference’s automatic qualifier.

UW-Oshkosh clinched at least a share of the WIAC title and earned the conference’s automatic qualifier with a 31-13 win at UW-La Crosse. The Titans improved to 6-0 in WIAC competition and has won eight straight. Zach Kasuboski hauled in nine receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown to pace the Titans’ offense in Saturday’s victory.

Number of the week

20: as in the number of years since La Verne’s last conference title. The Leopards last won the SCIAC title in 1995 and last made the postseason field in 1994. La Verne beat Pomona-Pitzer, 49-35, to earn at least a share of this year’s conference title and win the SCIAC’s automatic playoff bid. Travis Sparks-Jackson rushed for 120 yards and two touchdowns while Billy Livingston threw a pair of scoring passes to Alex Arellano to help the Leopards jump out to a 49-14 lead. Defensively, Matt Canlas and Anthony Penalber combined for 16 tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery.

The rest of the West

Mitch Hendricks threw two touchdowns passes in the final 29 seconds to rally Gustavus Adolphus past Concordia-Moorhead, 41-34. Hendricks, who finished the game with 363 yards and four touchdowns, found Gabe Boyce for a 6-yard touchdown and then 15 seconds later completed a scoring strike to George Buchner. … St. Scholastica completed its perfect UMAC record with a 40-19 win at Greenville. Kyle Stepka threw five touchdown passes to power the Saints. … Wartburg withstood Simpson’s 29-point fourth-quarter surge, winning 51-45. Logan Schrader threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns and added 153 yards and two scores on the ground. … Andre Cooper returned a blocked PAT 98 yards for a defensive two-point conversion to tie the game, 23-23, and then UW-Platteville broke the game open with 27 points in the fourth quarter. Cooper and the Pioneers beat UW-Eau Claire, 50-26. … After falling behind early, MacMurray scored seven straight touchdowns on their way to defeating Martin Luther, 46-12. Malik Vigille returned an interception for a touchdown and Ryan Metsker recovered a fumble and scored for the Highlanders. … Occidental scored the final 19 points in its 32-12 win over Cal Lutheran. Casey Dudley scored a defensive two-point conversion to spark the 19-point run. … St. John’s caused four turnovers in a 21-0 shutout over Bethel. The Johnnies intercepted three passes, recovered a fumble and made three fourth-down stops. … Brady Letney rushed 49 times for 234 yards and two touchdowns. His second touchdown broke a 21-21 tie and Luther went on to beat Loras, 31-21. … Whitworth recovered from a six-point halftime deficit to defeat Willamette, 20-16. The Pirates’ defense intercepted four passes in the victory. … Claremont-Mudd-Scripps cruised by Whittier, 49-3. Trey Reynolds completed four touchdown passes, including two to Chris Cziesla. … Tony Gumina had a touchdown reception and then later threw a 43-yard scoring pass during UW-Whitewater’s 42-6 win at UW-River Falls. … The game was tied after three quarters, but Bronson Barretto scored twice in the fourth quarter to power Pacific to a 34-20 win over George Fox. Barretto finished the day with 127 yards rushing, 45 yards receiving and three total touchdowns. … Latif Adams carried 31 times for 216 yards and four touchdowns as Westminster (Mo.) handled Minnesota-Morris, 37-20. … Central got two rushing touchdowns from Pat Gray and two touchdown receptions from Mitchell Boerm in a 38-23 win over Buena Vista. … Augsburg topped Hamline, 35-26, as Ayrton Scott threw for 251 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 142 yards and a pair of scores. … Pacific Lutheran forced four turnovers in a 26-7 win at Lewis and Clark. Marc Gallant added 66 yards rushing and two touchdowns for the Lutes. … Ben Greener registered 15 tackles, including a sack, and forced a fumble. His strong defensive effort led Northwestern (Minn.) to a 31-20 win over Eureka. … Jeremiah McKibbins rushed for 131 yards and three touchdowns to power Chapman past Redlands, 27-13. … Crown’s defense intercepted three passes and recorded three sacks in a 21-14 win at Iowa Wesleyan. … Reggie Kujak caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Hank Kujak with 25 seconds to play to give UW-Stout a 34-31 victory in a back-and-forth game with UW-Stevens Point.

Rank 'em

Nine teams in the West Region were ranked in the Top 25 this week, including three in the top-five.

Linfield remained ranked No. 2, earning six first place votes. UW-Oshkosh was ranked No. 3 once again while St. Thomas moved up one spot to No. 4.

UW-Whitewater held steady at No. 6 while St. John’s moved up three places to No. 10.

UW-Platteville came in at No. 14 once again, Wartburg climbed two spots to No. 19 and Dubuque went up four places to No. 20.

Whitworth rejoined the rankings at No. 25.

Concordia-Moorhead dropped out of the Top 25, but received votes. In addition to the Cobbers (16), La Verne (16) and Gustavus Adolphus (12) also received votes this week.

Be heard

Do you have a story idea for the Around the West column? Contact me about approaching milestones, broken records, breakout players or any other storylines in the Region. Or just drop me a note to let me know what you think of the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Email me at josh.smith@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter @By_Josh_Smith.

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Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated 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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