The No. 7 Linfield Wildcats travel to Texas to take on No. 11 Hardin-Simmons on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs. Linfield finished 8-1, winning the Northwest Conference (NWC) after going 7-0 in the conference. The Hardin-Simmons Cowboys finished second in the American Southwest Conference, going 9-1 with their only loss against No. 3 ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor.
How They Got Here:
The Hardin-Simmons Cowboys had an impressive campaign, starting out the season 6-0. That included five straight games where they scored at least 42-points. They then travelled to take on the Crusaders where they lost a very close contest by five. The Cowboys then rolled through their final three opponents, scoring at least 47-points in each of the games. The team scored 60-points in two games this season and had nearly as prolific of an offense as Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Linfield won their first game of the season, before making a trip to Texas to take on the Crusaders, where they were crushed, 66-27. The Wildcats then won the last seven games of the season. The defense allowed more than 10-points just twice during the streak, and had a shutout. This led them to their eighth straight trip to the playoffs.
Hardin-Simmons: 46.7 PPG, 191.8 Rushing/Game, 322.1 Passing/Game, 513.9 Yards/Game
Linfield: 41.9 PPG, 209.3 Rushing/Game, 320.6 Passing/Game, 529.9 Yards/Game
Hardin-Simmons: 21.8 PPG, 143.6 Rushing/Game, 233.3 Passing/Game, 376.8 Yards/Game
Linfield: 17.7 PPG, 111.2 Rushing/Game, 183.2 Passing/Game, 294.4 Yards/Game
Players to Watch
Senior Ryan Breton leads this offense, passing for 2,470-yards and 22-touchdowns. He threw just 4-interceptions and completed 66.8 percent of his passes. Four different receivers caught at least 30-passes for this team, with Reese Childress leading the way with 63-catches for 1,190-yards and 11-TDs. Alex Bell had 9-TD receptions and Garrett Martin had 53-catches. Jaquan Hemphill led the team with 837-yards rushing and 11-TDs.
On defense, Cory Ward had been an absolute beast. The linebacker made 105-tackles and led the team with 5-sacks. He also forced three fumbles and had an interception. He simply makes plays and has incredible instincts. Phillip Fuentes is a ball-hawk, picking off 5-passes this season, and Josh White and Matthew Hawkins join Ward to make one of the best linebacker groups in the nation.
The Linfield Wildcats are led by a combo that has helped to lead this team to the semi-finals in each of the last two seasons. Running back Spencer Payne rushed for 546-yards, but Bryan Cassill had 539 and the two combined to make a formidable ground attack. Sam Riddle is one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the country and had another impressive season. The QB passed for 2,714-yards and 31-touchdowns. He threw 11-interceptions, but completed an impressive 66.1 percent of passes. Johnny Carroll made 37-catches for 437-yards and 11-TDs. Reed Peterson was not far behind, making 36-catches for a team leading 660-yards and 12-touchdowns.
This is a very good defense, led by Kennedy Johnson and his 4-interceptions. Jake Reimer made 48-tackles and Jason Farlow was second with 43. Marcus McGovern led the team with 4-sacks.
The Linfield Wildcats have made it a long way in the playoffs the last two seasons, but that is not going to be the case this year. Hardin-Simmons may be ranked 11th in the nation, but that is a complete underrepresentation of how good this team is. Riddle keeps this game close, but the Cowboys offense is just too good. Take Hardin-Simmons, 44-24.
By Robert Pannier