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Linfield finally has its offense rolling

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Wyatt Smith has had a great season at quarterback for the Wildcats, even with a really young offensive line in front of him.
Linfield athletics photo
 

By Joe Sager
D3sports.com

Linfield knew its offense had the potential to be explosive.

But, like this?

The Wildcats rank second in the country in points (50.3) and passing yards (361.3) per game.

“We kind of struggled, offensively, the last couple years here, so it’s nice to see everything clicking now,” Linfield senior receiver Keegan Weiss said. “We have a very young offensive line and we had some growing pains at the beginning of the season, like everyone does. But, watching them grow up and really nail down some of the stuff we’re trying to do has been great.”

Linfield opened the year with a 35-14 win at Rowan. However, it fell at Redlands, 27-19, the next week and the team lost senior center Zach Jacobs to a long-term injury, which left the group lacking even more experience.

“We had a little meltdown offensively because of that,” Linfield coach Joe Smith said. “Ever since that point, though, the guys are getting better each week.”

Offensively, the team starts four sophomores (Taylor Adams, Julian Sears, Matt Metcalf and Tyler Crister) and freshman Ahi Hosaka on the line.

“This is probably one of the younger teams we’ve had at Linfield. That’s been really interesting to see how our team has had to handle that,” Smith said. “It’s gratifying to see the improvement in this group offensively and defensively. I always thought by end of season that we’d be a pretty strong team.”

That loss still resonates with the Wildcats.

“That was kind of a wakeup call for us,” Linfield junior quarterback Wyatt Smith said. “We figured out some stuff about ourselves and what our strengths are. It all started to come together after that.”

A much-needed off week following the defeat allowed the team extra time to regroup.

“Anytime you lose a game here it feels like the end of the season. It’s a big change of emotion,” Weiss said. “We took that loss to heart, but we had a bye week, which was huge. We took that time to recover, focus on technique and getting back to playing the way we’re capable.”

Since then, Linfield has breezed past Northwest Conference foes Pacific (52-14), Puget Sound (77-22), Willamette (77-0) and Pacific Lutheran (42-10). The Wildcats (5-1 overall), extended “The Streak” to 64 consecutive winning seasons in the process. That is the streak which stands as the national all-divisions record.

Putting up points

Aside from a Sept. 21 game at Redlands, Linfield has been rolling.

Opponent Record Points
Rowan 2-5 35
Redlands 6-1 19
Pacific 2-5 52
Puget Sound 5-2 77
Willamette 1-5 77
Pacific Lutheran 1-5 42
Lewis & Clark 3-3 TBD
Whitworth 4-2 TBD
George Fox 3-4 TBD

“That’s awesome. It’s something that is always in the back of your mind – you don’t want to be that class to break it,” Wyatt Smith said. “Extending it is not our end goal, though, but it’s very special to be part of that streak.”

With the young offensive line finding some cohesion, the Wildcats’ passing game has flourished and the points have piled up.

“It’s awesome. That’s what you want to see in an offense,” Wyatt Smith said. “We have a lot of weapons. Our receivers are amazing this year. Teams can’t double cover one guy because other guys are always open and dangerous.”

Weiss is the team’s top target, but seniors Tyler Torgerson and Keaton Wood have been active as well.

“Everybody loves doing well on their own, but watching a guy like Tyler Torgerson, who had two big knee injuries, finally get into a rhythm and Keaton, who had a lesser role last year, just exploding in the offensive game, is great,” Weiss said. “It’s so fun to watch these guys fly around. Hopefully, we can continue on that track and see where we can go with this thing.”

Another receiver has made a big impact for the Wildcats – freshman Colton Smith, Wyatt’s younger brother. He ranks second on the team with 496 receiving yards.

“He was the No. 1 recruit we went after. He was the best receiver in Oregon the past couple years,” Joe Smith said. “He had a chance to go to a couple bigger places, but it was a real blessing for us that he came here. He hasn’t disappointed. He is very explosive.”

Older brother Wyatt enjoys throwing passes to Colton like he did during their McMinnville High School days. They enjoy playing for their father, too.

“It’s something really special. Colton and I have grown up around Linfield and, now that we’re both here, it’s even better,” Wyatt Smith said. “He is a very talented receiver. He is very dangerous. It’s nice to see him have the opportunity to be around these ‘old’ guys and they can coach him up. He is going to be a weapon for us in the future, too.”

Wyatt Smith has developed into a big-time player for the Wildcats as well. After taking over as the starting quarterback halfway through his freshman year, he’s continued to progress.

“It’s pretty nice to have a few years of experience now, especially this year with some good receivers. Our running backs and our line is playing great, too. It’s nice to see that,” he said. “As a freshman, everything was super-fast. Now, it’s starting to all come together and that makes it more fun. You always want to be better, but I am happy with where I am right now. It’ll be fun to see what can happen with our team and see if I can get better, too.”

Joe Smith has seen his son add to his game through the years.

“We never had a freshman play quarterback and I was pleased with what he did coming in and finishing up. We beat the No. 5 team (Hardin-Simmons) in the playoffs that year.

“Last year was really interesting for us. We became a good team, but didn’t have the offensive firepower in our receiving corps. This year, we have some fine weapons out there and it’s nice to see him take flight as a quarterback and be able to control the game,” he said. “We have a good offensive coordinator in (former Linfield standout quarterback) Brett Elliott. He has worked hard with Wyatt and I’ve been real impressed.”

While the physical part of the game has been there, the mental side is growing for Wyatt Smith as well.

“What really has progressed is his ability to see the whole field and knowing what defenses are doing and knowing what weaknesses are there and getting us into good plays,” Joe Smith said. “We have given much more control to the quarterback this year. He is controlling so many facets of the offense now, getting us in the right looks and changing out of bad looks. I think that’s been a tremendous improvement in his game. We have some real speed on the team and he can deliver that long ball with great accuracy.”

Linfield has enjoyed putting up big wins, but the squad knows it faces three big tests to close out the regular season against Lewis & Clark, Whitworth and George Fox.

“This last stretch of our schedule will be key for us. We have to keep winning,” Wyatt Smith said. “Every game, we know it’s all on the line.

“That’s something we’ve been able to rally around. Since our loss, we’ve had a playoff mentality from there on out. We’re coming up on some big games and great opponents and we can’t take any of them lightly.”

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