Pair of pass-catchers leading for Linfield

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Linfield receiver Reed Peterson is a threat to take the ball and run, run, run.
Linfield athletics photo 

With an average of 523.2 yards per game, it’s no secret the Linfield offense is explosive. And a key reason for the team’s success in the passing game has been the deep, multifaceted group of receivers headlined by Reed Peterson and Johnny Carroll.

Peterson and Carroll – along with fellow wideouts Zach Kuzens, Eric Igbinoba and Erick Douglas – have provided quarterback Sam Riddle a slew of reliable targets, helping lead Linfield to its eighth straight Northwest Conference championship.

Statistically speaking, Carroll and Peterson are equals. Carroll has 33 catches for 379 yards and 11 touchdowns while Peterson has hauled in 31 passes for 591 yards and 10 scores.

But what they do on the field actually varies quite a bit.

“It adds to the efficiency of our offense – having different players that have different skill sets,” Linfield coach Joe Smith said.

Carroll has good height and sure hands, which makes him a threat near the goal line. Meanwhile, Peterson is a playmaker that is the most dangerous while running after the catch.

“I think we complement each other well, same with all our other receivers,” Peterson said. “We have so much depth, and we have a lot of experience in the group.”

“I’m more of a bigger body and I play on the inside. He’s kind of a smaller speedster in the middle,” Carroll added. “Different bodies, different skill sets and I think that adds a little dynamic.”

With both receivers contributing at a high rate, some healthy, friendly competition has developed between them.

“There’s always those competitions in the locker room – always giving each other a hard time and seeing who’s going to have the better game,” Carroll said. “But when one guy scores a touchdown, it’s really all of us scoring because we all do the work for each other.”

Peterson earned bragging rights in Saturday’s 33-7 win over Puget Sound, securing four catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns.

“I think we’re both out there just trying to do the best that we can,” Peterson said modestly.

Both players are quick to point out that their individual success stems from the efforts of their teammates. Having a deep position group allows all the receivers to stay fresh throughout the game, and it makes it difficult for opposing defenses to prepare for Linfield.

 “I don’t think ever having too many good players at one position is a bad thing,” Carroll said. “You can’t really cover the five or six of us all in the same way. So they kind of have to game plan differently for each and every one of us.”

Smith added that the team’s wideouts have been crucial in all phases of the offense’s success.

“Our receiving corps has taken so much pride in their ability to block on running plays. I think that makes them complete players,” Smith said. “They’re very critical in our running game.”

Linfield’s receiving duo learned to work together from watching Charlie Poppen and Evan Peterson, Reed’s older brother, work in tandem as the team’s leading wideouts during the 2014 season.

“They were both so good, I just wanted to get to that same level,” Peterson recalled.

“Those two always had competitions every single day – who’s going to catch more balls, who’s going to score more, who’s going to get all that yardage,” Carroll added. “They did it in good fun, where you’re having a competition against each other, but it’s all for the team. I have a little bit of that with Reed.”

Linfield receiver Johnny Carroll has height, and hands.
Linfield athletics photo 

Linfield is currently rolling, having won six consecutive games, clinching a share of the Northwest Conference title and qualifying for the playoffs. The Wildcats extended their record of consecutive winning seasons to 61 and helped Smith earn his 100th career win as a head coach.

But the year got off to a tough start when the Wildcats suffered a 66-27 loss at Mary Hardin-Baylor.

“That game showed us where we were at,” Carroll said. “Ever since then, we realized we really have to kick it into gear and take care of the fundamentals – take care of the little things – so that we don’t have another situation like that.”

Smith called the loss in Belton, Texas, quite possibly the worst defeat he had ever been a part of at Linfield. But he said his team didn’t run from its problems. Instead they’ve addressed the issues that surfaced and have taken steps to correct them.

“We realized this is going to take weeks to fix, maybe months. I feel like we’ve been working towards that and I think our guys really embraced that,” Smith said. “We’re a much better football team today, than we were in Week 2.”

The Wildcats feel better about how they’re playing now, and they want to prove that they are a different team when the postseason arrives.

“This team has a ton of potential,” Carroll said. “I think the growth we’ve had in these eight weeks (of the regular season) is only going to grow exponentially.

“I think the sky’s the limit for us, really.”

Playoff clinchers

One week after Coe clinched the IIAC’s automatic qualification for the postseason field, five other teams from the West Region secured a playoff bid this weekend.

Northwestern (Minn.) won its UMAC finale at Eureka to punch a ticket to the playoffs for the first time. Redlands will represent the SCIAC in the postseason for the first time since 2013. Linfield secured the Northwest Conference’s AQ, St. Thomas earned the MIAC’s playoff bid and UW-Whitewater captured the WIAC’s qualifying spot.

Number of the week

32 – as in the number of first downs collected by UW-Oshkosh in a 51-29 win over UW-La Crosse. The Titans racked up 528 total yards of offense as Mitch Gerhartz, Dylan Hecker and CJ Blackburn rushed for 100, 93 and 92 yards, respectively and combined for five touchdowns in the victory. Saturday marked the second straight week, and the fifth time this season, that the Titans eclipsed 500 yards of offense.

The rest of the West

St. Thomas remained undefeated by handling Gustavus Adolphus, 40-6. Alex Fenske threw for 289 yards and four touchdowns in the victory. … UW-Stevens Point’s Logan Taylor hauled in 10 catches for 169 yards and three touchdowns to help the Pointers defeat UW-Stout, 35-28. … Christian Moore’s second touchdown of the game, followed by Cooper Nelson’s 2-point conversion run, lifted Luther to a 28-27 overtime win at Wartburg. Moore finished the game with 178 yards rushing. … Duke DeGaetano carried the ball 20 times, recording 197 yards and three touchdowns to power Whitworth past Willamette, 34-14. … Pomona-Pitzer took the final lead of the game when Karter Odermann scored on a 2-yard run and Cameron Coe converted the PAT with 8:41 to play. The Sagehens defeated La Verne, 21-20. … Austin Stubbs’ 97-yard interception return for a touchdown capped a 37-15 victory for Northwestern (Minn.) at Eureka. Stubbs had two interceptions on the day to go with eight tackles. … Central scored 42 unanswered points in a 49-14 win over Simpson. Riley Gray threw four touchdown passes and ran for two others to pace the Dutch. … Kenneth Jinkins intercepted a pass, forced a fumble and recorded a sack in St. Scholastica’s 49-21 win over Greenville. … Chris Nelson’s 6-yard touchdown run in overtime was the difference as UW-Whitewater held off UW-River Falls, 27-20. … Concordia-Moorhead got two touchdowns each from Chad Johnson and Michael Herzog in a 42-13 win at St. Olaf. Johnson gained 116 yards on 19 carries while Herzog rushed for 112 yards to go with 111 passing yards. … Redlands clinched a share of the SCIAC title with a 70-16 blowout win at Whittier. Mitch Kidd passed for 326 yards and four touchdowns in the victory. … Evan Guffey caught five passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns, propelling Minnesota-Morris to a 41-28 win over Westminster (Mo.). … Tom Kelly completed 22-of-30 passes for 410 yards and five touchdowns as UW-Platteville blanked UW-Eau Claire, 56-0. … Jake Glasser recorded two of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps’ six quarterback sacks and finished the game with 3.5 tackles for a loss. The Stags beat Chapman, 17-6. … Dubuque took down Loras, 60-22, behind Conor Feckley’s 353-yard, five-touchdown performance. Jonathan Duarte and Najee Toomer each eclipsed 100 yards receiving. … Walker LaVoy and Jon Schaub combined to complete 19-of-23 passes for 261 yards and four touchdowns as Pacific Lutheran defeated Lewis and Clark, 48-14. … Iowa Wesleyan broke a 13-13 tie with 3:26 to play as Raul Alvarez completed a 10-yard pass to Rodolfo Amezcua. Amezcua finished the game with eight catches for 118 yards as the Tigers beat Crown, 19-13. … Jalen Henningsen caught seven passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns in Buena Vista’s 38-31 win over Nebraska Wesleyan. … Dusty Krueger collected 97 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries to lead St. John’s to a 42-6 win over Hamline. … George Fox scored the go-ahead touchdown when Grant Schroeder completed a 51-yard touchdown pass to Trevor Daniels and the Bruins beat Pacific, 15-12. … Cal Lutheran got 161 rushing yards and two touchdowns from Chris Beeson during a 53-36 win over Occidental. … MacMurray defeated Martin Luther, 42-25, behind Chazz Middlebrook’s 252-yard effort. Middlebrook carried the ball 22 times and scored three touchdowns. … Gunnar Bloom rushed 24 times for 188 yards and two scores as Bethel took down Augsburg, 62-27.

Rank ’em

Once again, seven teams from the West Region were ranked in this week’s Top 25 poll.

After needing overtime to defeat UW-River Falls, UW-Whitewater slipped one spot to No. 3 in this week poll. The Warhawks received one first place vote. St. Thomas also received a first place vote and remained ranked No. 4 while UW-Oshkosh held steady at No. 5.

Linfield and St. John’s will remain ranked Nos. 7 and 8, respectively for another week. Likewise, UW-Platteville remained at the No. 11 spot. Coe vaulted two places to No. 15 this week.

Concordia-Moorhead (22), Whitworth (14) and Redlands (5) received votes in this week’s poll.

Be heard

Do you have a story idea for the Around the West column? Contact me about approaching milestones, broken records, breakout players or any other storylines in the Region. Or just drop me a note to let me know what you think of the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Email me at josh.smith@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter @By_Josh_Smith.

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Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

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