Nov. 28, 2009

Courtesy of Linfield

McMINNVILLE, Ore. – Fifth-ranked Linfield forced seven turnovers on its way to a decisive 53-21 NCAA Division III playoff victory over No. 7 Mary Hardin-Baylor Saturday afternoon at Maxwell Field.

Wildcats defensive end Eric Hedin (Jr., Silverdale, Wash.) forced three fumbles and returned one for a touchdown, and quarterback Aaron Boehme (Jr., Stanwood, Wash.) passed for three scores and ran for another as Linfield (11-0) advanced to play St. Thomas (10-1) in the NCAA Division III quarterfinals.

After falling behind 14-3, the Wildcats rolled off 37-straight points on their way to the convincing home field win. The game ball went to the Wildcat defense, whose third-quarter performance is likely to go down as one of the legendary moments in Linfield’s storied history.

On the Crusaders’ first possession of the second half, Taylor Skore (Soph., Enumclaw, Wash.) intercepted Kyle Noack’s pass at the UMHB 33-yard line and down to the 10 before being pushed out of bounds.

Facing a third-and-eight play at the UMHB 8, Boehme bought time in pocket before tucking the ball and knifing in for a touchdown. The score gave Linfield a 20-13 lead, its first of the game.

Leading the ‘Cats with 12 tackles, Hedin came through with the biggest play of the day at the 9:58 mark of the third quarter, knocking the ball loose on Noack’s option run and then running it 37 yards for a touchdown.

Shortly after Boehme’s six-yard touchdown toss to Trevor Patterson (Sr., Pendleton, Ore.) with 4:25 left in the quarter made it 33-14, the Wildcats put the nail in the coffin. With Mary Hardin-Baylor driving into Linfield territory, Hedin forced his third fumble of the day, allowing reserve defensive back Christian Hanna (Soph., Coeur d'Alene, Idaho) to recover the football and run it back 84-yards for a touchdown.

As the third quarter end, the Wildcats had built themselves a 40-14 advantage.

With a passing game that amassed only 119 yards on the day, Mary Hardin-Baylor could not muster enough firepower to mount a comeback. The Crusaders tacked on a TD with 13:10 remaining in the game on a 14-yard touchdown pass from LiDarral Bailey to Ervin Johnson.

Bohme threw the exclamation point onto the final score with a 70-yard touchdown strike to Patterson with just under five minutes left. Patterson had a career day, catching 11 passes for 207 yards and one touchdown.

Bryce Hayunga (Fr., Walla Walla, Wash.) capped off a great day with 37-yard interception return of a touchdown with 1:11. Moments later, Nate Dixon (Soph., Kapolei, Hawaii) added another interception.

While the third quarter was a thing of beauty for the ‘Cats, the first half found the Wildcats struggling to stay with the Crusaders.

Early on, it was the Linfield special teams that provided great field position for the visiting Crusaders.

On the opening kickoff, Bryson Tucker busted out to the 50-yard line, giving Mary Hardin-Baylor a short field to work with. Noack used pass plays of 15 and eight yards to Pi’Dadro Davis to move the ball down to the Linfield 24.

Quincy Daniels did the rest, gashing the middle of the Linfield defense for a 24-yard touchdown run to give Mary Hardin-Baylor an early 7-0 lead less than a minute and half into the game.

After the Crusaders forced the Wildcats to settle for a field goal after driving down to the UMHB 5, a kick return gave the Crusaders the ball at their own 46-yard line to start the drive.

The Crusaders went to the ground on their next drive, working the ball down to the Linfield 24-yard line. Linfield had an opportunity to hold Mary Hardin-Baylor to a field goal on a third and two, but Daniels slammed his way through for a three-yard gain.

Davis continued to wriggle free in the secondary, hauling in a 15-yard reception at the 6 for a first down. Noack took a bootleg into the end zone from five yards out to give the Crusaders a 14-3 advantage at the end of the first quarter.

Trailing 14-3, Linfield caught a big break midway through the second quarter when Hedin stripped the ball free from Crusader quarterback LiDarral Bailey. Tyler Steele (Fr., Salem, Ore.) picked the ball up and ran it 20 yards down to the Crusaders’ 17. The ‘Cats finished the drive with a 33-yard field goal by Maika Kunioka (Fr., Mililani, Hawaii).

After Mary Hardin-Baylor forced Linfield to its second-straight three and out, the Wildcats defense turned away running back Desmond Mays on a fourth-and-one at the Linfield 35.

The Wildcats scored once more before half. Boehme slipped in a 15-yard completion to Patterson at the 1, but Patterson fumbled into the end zone. Buddy Saxon (Soph., Grants Pass, Ore.) was there to recover, falling on the ball five yards into the end zone with 25 seconds left in the half.

Despite being held to just 129 yards of total offense, the ‘Cats only trailed 14-13 going into the locker room. The Crusaders won the battle on both sides of the line of scrimmage, holding the Wildcats to just 11 rushing yards through the first two quarters. Mary Hardin-Baylor tallied 112 rushing yards in the first half.

The second half was a whole different story.

Linfield tallied only 62 yards on the ground, but was able to overcome it with the play of its defense. Bohme finished the day with 260 yards passing on 20-of-32 attempts.

The Crusaders finished with 325 yards of total offense, while the Wildcats tallied 318 yards.

Daniels was the star for Mary Hardin-Baylor, rushing for 112 yards on 22 carries and adding a touchdown.

Wildcats safety Drew Fisher (Soph., Gresham, Ore.) helped out with eight tackles and Kole Krieger (Soph., Sherwood, Ore.) added seven.

Bryson Tucker paced the Crusaders with 12 tackles.

Mary Hardin-Baylor of Belton, Texas, the co-champion of the American Southwest Conference, ended its season at 10-2.

NEXT: Linfield hosts St. Thomas (10-1), the runner-up of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Confernece. The Tommies, whose only loss is to MIAC champion St. John’s, advance to the quarterfinals following a 34-7 rout of Coe (Iowa).