November 26, 2011

Second-half explosion knocks Linfield out of playoffs

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DOVER, Del. – Quarterback Shane McSweeny was a one-man wrecking crew, powering No. 7 Wesley to 42 consecutive second-half points to knock off fifth-ranked Linfield 49-34 in a second-round NCAA Division III playoff game Saturday at Scott D. Miller Stadium.

Wesley (11-1), a Division III independent, advances to the quarterfinals to play Mary Hardin-Baylor Saturday at noon in Belton, Texas.

McSweeny passed for 259 yards and two scores and rushed for another 174. He accounted for 256 total yards in the final two quarters as Wesley overcame a 27-7 halftime deficit.

Linfield, champion of the Northwest Conference, suffered its first defeat and closed the season at 10-1.

The Wildcats twice took 13-point leads in the first two quarters and led by 20 after scoring on the final series of the opening half. Josh Kay booted a pair of field goals in the first quarter, connecting from 27 and 26 yards as Linfield built a 6-0 lead.

The Wildcats faced a third-and-24 situation from their own 16-yard line when Wildcats tailback Josh Hill took a shovel pass 42 yards for a first down, keeping a drive alive. Six plays later, Linfield went on top 13-0 with 10:37 left in the second period.

On the ensuing possession, McSweeny passed 38 yards to Jeremiah Howe to the Linfield 46, then weaved his way for a touchdown that kept Wesley within striking distance.

Linfield came right back to push its lead to 13 points, marching 76 yards in eight plays for a touchdown. On third-and-goal from the 1, Inns tossed the ball to the endzone, where it ricocheted off the hands of Deidre Wiersma and into the arms of Buddy Saxon. The extra point made it 20-7 with 5:48 to go before intermission.

The Wildcats made it a three-score game in the closing minute of the half as Inns tossed a 33-yard bomb down the left sideline to Lucas Jepson, who caught the ball in stride at the goal line with 29 seconds left before the break. Kay's extra point made it 27-7 in favor of the visitors.

Inns amassed 296 yards passing in the first two quarters, completing 17-of-24 attempts. The Wildcats owned 342-181 advantage in total yards as the teams retreated to their respective locker rooms.

McSweeny, the Wolverines' primary offensive weapon, had 112 rushing yards at the intermission to go with 65 passing yards.

The second half was a different story.

Wesley caught a break to begin the third quarter, pouncing on a fumbled kickoff at the Linfield 28 that gave the Wolverines their best field position of the game to that point. McSweeny's pass to Steven Koudossou from the 15 found paydirt, drawing Wesley to with 13 once again, 27-14.

Linfield marched to the Wesley 13 and appeared ready to put the game out of reach, but Inns' pass was intercepted by Leon Jones at the 1 and returned 99 yards for touchdown with 4:02 left in the quarter.

After a punt by Jordan Walker pinned the Wolverines at their own 1, McSweeny needed just four plays to fashion another scoring drive, hitting Steven Koudoussou on a 28-yard pass play that gave Wesley its first lead of the game at 28-27.

The wheels came off the Linfield wagon after that. McSweeny teamed with towering tight end Sean McAndrew for a pair of touchdown passes four minutes apart, bolstering the Wolverines' lead to 42-27 with eight minutes to play. McSweeny then delivered the final punch, scoring on an 8-yard scamper with 4:40 to play.

Inns passed 19 yards to Deidre Wiersma for a touchdown with 1:47 left to make the score respectable.

"It was certainly a tale of two halves," Wildcats coach Joseph Smith said. "I felt like probably the big momentum change obviously was the opening kickoff (of the second half) where they made a nice play and caused a fumble and I think that sparked a big motivational change and momentum change.

"They did a great job of making some plays on the ball. I thought they made some great catches and we didn't match that."

Inns finished the game with a career-high 407 yards passing, completing 32-of-49 attempts. Jepson totaled six catches for 111 yards and Wiersma had eight receptions for 81 yards to lead the Wildcats.

Hill, who gained 51 yards in the first half, finished with just 65 on 11 carries. He also had five catches for 45 yards.

Wildcats tackle Tyler Steele was credited with a game-high 11 tackles, including three sacks. Drew Fisher had 10 tackles and Dominique Forrest had nine stops for the 'Cats.

The teams combined for nearly 1,000 yards of offense. Once the final statistics were tallied, Wesley had outgained Linfield 497-495. Both teams registered four sacks. The Wildcats turned the ball over three times - twice on fumbles - while forcing two Wolverine turnovers.

McSweeny passed for four touchdowns and ran for two others.

"We knew they were very explosive with a lot of great players on every side of the ball everywhere," Smith said. "I really felt like they had a really good defensive line. When they got going, they caused us a lot of problems up front and I thought that was a huge difference."

'CAT SCRATCH: Linfield traveled 2,452 miles for its playoff game, the furthest distance covered by a Linfield team in program history. . . temperature at kickoff was 58 degrees. . . Saturday's attendance was 921. . . Linfield is 0-4 road playoff games since joining the NCAA in 1998. . . the Wildcats also dropped close contests at St. Johns (2003), UW-Whitewater (2009) and St. Thomas (2010). . . freshman Mike Nardoni was transported to the hospital in the first quarter after suffering a violent hit on kickoff. . . Nardoni was treated and released and is expected to return to Oregon with the team. . . the Wildcats are should arrive on campus Saturday evening by 10 o'clock.

SO LONG SENIORS: The game marked the end of the road for 21 seniors: Playing their final games Drew Fisher, Taylor Skore, Nate Dixon, Erik Koczian, Kole Krieger, Eric Biege, Deidre Wiersma, James Testa, Aaron Hire, Aaron Williams, Kalae Parish, Bryan Anderson, Eric Anderson, Christian Hanna, Hayden Mace, Jordan Barnes, Buddy Saxon, Joell Reyes, Brent Shimabukuro, Sparky Gonzalez and Tommy Patrick. . . Linfield's graduating class won 37 of 45 games.

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