Division-III Football Playoffs: Linfield College vs. Chapman University
Match-up: On Saturday at 3 PM Eastern Time the Chapman University Panthers (Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, 8-1, 7-0) will travel to McMinnville, OR to take on the host Linfield College Wildcats (Northwest Conference, 8-1, 6-1) in the first round of the NCAA Division-III Football playoffs. Both teams enter the playoffs ranked in the latest D3Football top 25 poll, with Linfield ranked No. 10 and Chapman ranked No. 17.
Coaches: Bob Owens is in his ninth season as the head coach of the Chapman University Panthers. Coach Owens has a career mark of 68-67, but is 22-5 over the last three seasons. This is his first time leading the Panthers to the playoffs.
Joseph Smith is in also in his ninth season as head coach of the Linfield College Wildcats. Coach Smith has an outstanding 79-16 record, and has taken his team to the playoffs in six straight years now. He has reached quarterfinals (2009).
The Linfield College Wildcats do not have one star player leading the team. In fact, they had eight different players that had at least 126 yards rushing. Sam Riddle is the guy who carries the ball in the red zone, gaining 285 yards on 79 carries with 10 touchdowns. Bryan Cassill led the team in rushing with 308 yards and 4 scores, and Spencer Payne was right behind with 307 yards rushing and 3 TDs.
The Wildcats quarterback is Sam Riddle, who is not flashy by any means, but he gets the job done. The sophomore threw for 1818 yards and 22 touchdowns. He showed a lot of poise and is very careful with his throws, having just 5 passes intercepted during the season in 190 attempts.
Charlie Poppen was Riddle’s favorite target, catching 44 passes, double the amount of the next highest person. He gained 711 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Wildcats defense makes things happen. Much like the way that Coach Smith uses his running backs, all of his defensive players get a chance to play on this team. With an average point differential of 30+ points, it is easier to keep your players fresh and get everyone involved.
Making things happen is what they do best. The Linfield defense has recorded 41 sacks, 12 interceptions and 5 fumble recoveries. Three of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns.
Junior defensive end Alex Hoff made 31 tackles on the season – 11 of them were sacks. The 6-3, 240 pound end is just a beast to try to contain, and what is scary about him is his numbers would probably be double what they are if he actually got to play more than a half. Hoff is not the only one who can get after the quarterback. Asa Schwartz recorded 9.5 sacks, Trey Farber 9, Jeremy Girod 8, and Mike Nardoni 7. Nardoni also led the team in tackles and had an interception.
The Chapman University Panthers also have a corral of running backs that can carry the rock. Jeremiah McKibbins led the team with 892 yards and he scored 16 touchdowns. The senior is another one who gets a lot of rest because his team is leading early and often. However, his 6.6 yards per carry average show he is a load to haul down. Cody Chapple is his primary backup. The junior gained 527 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Michael Laney is the starting quarterback. The senior passed for 1535 yards, not a particularly impressive number, but his 71.1 completion percentage and 16 touchdowns with just 4 picks shows he is accurate and precise with his passes.
No one receiver had huge numbers, but six players made at least 11 catches. Sean Myers led the team with 32 receptions for 416 yards and 2 touchdowns. Blayir Jimmerson was two behind with 30 catches for 389 yards and 2 TDs.
The Panthers defense is much like that of the Wildcats. This is a team that has a lot of leads so they play a large number of players, meaning no defender has huge stats. Overall as a team they finished with 15 sacks, 9 fumble recoveries and 10 interceptions. Safety Connor Larkin led the team in tackles with 42, and had two interceptions. Garrett Fredianl and Sam Layton are tied for the team lead in sacks with 3 each.
Chapman: 471.6 yards per game. 40.2points per game
Linfield: 468.1 yards per game, 49.0 points per game
Chapman: 408.8 yards per game, 31.3 points allowed per game
Linfield: 374.1 yards per game, 19.9 points allowed per game
Outlook: This is a battle of two very similar teams. The offenses are run similarly, the defenses are both well rested and they both have excellent coaches. Two things stand out. The Linfield Wildcats have a great deal of experience, and they have a defense that really puts pressure on the quarterback. Those two things will make a big difference. The Wildcats win, 31-21.
By Robert Pannier