Linfield bringing the D

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Jason Farlow, Linfield defense
Jason Farlow has more than twice as many solo tackles as anyone else on the Linfield roster, and leads the team in tackles for loss as well.
Linfield Sports Communications file photo

By Josh Smith

While the offense has been seeking solutions and developing players to fill numerous roles vacated by graduation, Linfield has taken on a defensive identity this season.

With the lion’s share of experience coming on defense, and at linebacker in particular, the Wildcats have leaned on veterans like Jason Farlow, Jake Reimer and Mitchell Kekel to lead the team.

The defense has answered that call, fending off close challenges from conference opponents in recent weeks to position Linfield atop the Northwest Conference standings and extend the program’s streak of consecutive winning seasons to 62.

“I really feel like our defense has really clicked, and we’re firing on all cylinders,” said Farlow, adding the offense is continuing to progress.

As a two-time first team all-conference linebacker, Farlow is not a new to high level play on defense. He has continued this year as the team’s leading tackler with 63 total stops to go along with an interception, two forced fumbles and one recovery. The senior linebacker credits that success to intense preparation.

“I’ve spent more time watching film by myself and staying after with coaches trying to get prepared,” said Farlow, who makes the defensive calls on the field. “I see plays before they happen this year, and it’s all due to putting in more work. It’s great when you can see your preparation apply in a game.”

“Physically, he’s so strong. He’s been a tremendous linebacker for us,” Linfield coach Joe Smith added.

“I think he’s a complete linebacker. He’s the captain of our defense, making calls and being that consummate middle linebacker you’re looking for,” he continued. “He’s become a tremendous ball hawk and has made a lot of fine plays in the passing game.”

Those plays have been important this year as new players in the defensive secondary and at offensive skill positions become acclimated to their larger roles.

Farlow said he and the other upperclassmen in the linebacking group knew they would need to step up this year to help the team find success.

“Our defense is the backbone of our team,” Farlow said. “We feel that if we lead by example, everyone else will follow.”

He added that the team embraced the challenge of having many new faces in the starting lineup, and set out to learn on the job quickly.

Smith said his senior linebackers – Farlow, Reimer and Keckel – matured quickly and formed a tight bond following the tragic death of teammate Parker Moore. “They were all freshmen when Parker Moore was killed. Parker being their recruiting host and Parker being a big brother to them all when they were freshmen, really rocked that group,” Smith said. “That linebacking core really went through a difficult growing up period when they were freshmen and sophomores.

“I’m really proud of them.”

The defense’s performances have been in the spotlight the last two weeks. Linfield held George Fox scoreless until the last play of the game, helping the Wildcats win 12-6. Then against Pacific Lutheran, the Wildcat defense kept the game knotted, allowing the offense to win 16-10 in overtime behind a 5-yard touchdown run by Chidubem Nnoli.

Smith believes these recent games are providing his young team positive learning experiences that will come in handy as the regular season winds down and Linfield pushes for the playoffs.

“Sometimes teams experience that for the first time in the playoffs, and you don’t want that,” Smith said. “You want to experience that as much as you can, and still win. Ideally, you want to go through that and have your team get used to having to play in those crisis moments.”

Linfield has overcome the recent challenges posed by Northwest Conference opponents, and finds itself one win away from clinching the league championship and reaching the postseason for the ninth consecutive season.

Their stretch of playoff appearances pales in comparison to the program’s most notable streak – consecutive winning seasons, a mark that was recently extended to 62 years.

“It’s crazy to think we’ve done it for 62 years,” Farlow said, noting it’s not easy to keep the nation’s top streak at all levels of collegiate football active. “I love being a part of it, and I hope it continues for as long as I’m alive.”

Again, Smith credits this year’s success this season to his veteran players on defense for stabilizing the team.

“The ability to have consistent play on defense, just like having solid pitching in baseball, is paramount,” Smith said, adding it’s especially so with conference opponents that have a lot of familiarity with one another.

Overall, Smith said his team is continuing to evolve. He said his staff is working to find the best combinations of personnel and schemes to make the best use of his players’ abilities.

“What I like is our special teams are playing at a very high level, and our defense is getting stronger and stronger, and use to the fact they have to keep the points down. Eventually our offense will come around,” Smith said.

Farlow agreed, noting he’s seen growth in every position group on the team.

“We feel like, if we can keep it close, then (the offense) can play with more confidence,” Farlow said. “They’re coming around.”

Playoff qualifiers

Two teams from the West Region have played their way into the postseason field, securing conference titles and automatic bids.

Chapman clinched the SCIAC’s automatic bid with a 46-38 win over Cal Lutheran.

Ricky Bautista completed 22-of-28 passes for 309 yards and six touchdowns. Jacob Isabel caught eight of those passes for 131 yard and two scores. Running back Joe Mudie chipped in 153 rushing yards, 94 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Elsewhere, Wartburg secured the IIAC’s auto bid with a 23-0 shutout of Dubuque.

Tony Anstoetter recorded a game-high 15 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss, and the Wartburg defense forced eight punts in the victory. On offense, Dylan Binion ran for 187 yards and a touchdown while Matt Sacia added 157 passing yards and a score.

Number of the week

53 – as in the number of rushing attempts by LeAnthony Reasnover in Eureka’s 40-34 win over St. Scholastica. Reasnover’s rushing total made up 76.7 percent of Eureka’s 463 yards of total offense. The tailback scored five touchdowns on the day, including a 61-yard romp early in the second quarter. The victory puts Eureka in the driver’s seat to win the UMAC and claim the conference’s automatic playoff bid. The Red Devils need to close out the regular season with a win at Martin Luther on Saturday to clinch.

The rest of the West

Nick Holcomb hauled in seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns, leading UW-La Crosse to a 27-20 win at UW-Platteville. … Tiras Bolton rushed 24 times for 174 yards and three touchdowns to lead Augsburg to a 35-28 win over Hamline. Hamline’s Justice Spriggs passed for 343 yards in the loss, surpassing the school’s career record with 5,506 yards. … Behind 811 total yards of offense and a 28-point fourth quarter rally, Greenville defeated Iowa Wesleyan, 48-41. Gregoire Franchomme caught 11 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns while Jonny Pruiett rushed for 158 yards and three scores. … Sam Markham caught five passes for 201 yards and four touchdowns while Blaine Hawkins finished the game with five TD passes and two rushing scores as Central rolled to a 65-24 win over Loras. … Paul Thomas scored on a 5-yard touchdown run with 11:31 to play and Kyle Continente added the extra point to lift Puget Sound to a 14-13 win over Willamette. … Marcus Hudson caught four passes for 124 yards and touchdown to help UW-Whitewater defeat UW-Stevens Point, 35-7. … Northwestern (Minn.) scored twice in the final five minutes, rallying to beat Minnesota-Morris, 21-14. Dom McDew recovered a fumble in the end zone to record the go-ahead score with 3:34 to play. … Jacques Perra led St. Thomas to a 58-13 win over Bethel, throwing for 286 yards and three first half touchdowns. … Luther rallied from a 14-point fourth quarter deficit and beat Coe in triple overtime, 36-28. Brady Letney scored three rushing touchdowns and threw two more, including a 23-yard strike to Trevor Joiner in the third extra period. … The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps defense registered three tackles for a loss, recovered a fumble, intercepted a pass and recorded a safety during a 17-7 win at La Verne. … Mason Elms rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns while Garrett McKay added an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown in Whitworth’s 30-20 win at Pacific. … Mitch Gerhartz’s second touchdown of the day, a 1-yard touchdown run with 3:09 to play, vaulted UW-Oshkosh to a 31-28 win over UW-River Falls. … Chad Johnson’s 203 rushing yards and two touchdowns helped Concordia-Moorhead top Carleton, 35-12. … Latif Adams rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns to help Westminster (Mo.) defeat MacMurray, 21-13. … Sam Sasso fired five touchdown passes to power Simpson past Buena Vista, 49-21. Sasso finished the day 20-of-28 for 319 yards. Jackson Redmond caught 10 of those passes for 147 yards and two scores. … Karim Ortiz picked up 200 yards and a touchdown on 27 attempts, and Hunter Johnson chipped in two rushing touchdowns as Gustavus Adolphus beat St. Olaf, 41-13. … Jay Aslton ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more to propel UW-Stout to a 55-7 win at UW-Eau Claire. Alston finished with 203 passing yards and 77 rushing yards. … Grant Schroeder racked up 325 yards passing and threw three touchdowns as George Fox beat Lewis and Clark, 42-15. … Levi Plante accounted for six touchdowns in Redlands’ 42-20 win over Pomona-Pitzer. The quarterback threw for 206 yards and two scores while rushing for a game-high 154 yards and four touchdowns. … Elliott Butler scored two of Martin Luther’s five rushing touchdowns, helping his team take down Crown, 44-28.

Rank ‘em

Eight teams from the West Region were ranked in this week’s Top 25 poll.

UW-Oshkosh and St. Thomas remained ranked Nos. 3 and 4, respectively. St. John’s rose one spot to No. 6, while Linfield fell two places to No. 8.

Wartburg moved up one place to No. 17, whereas Concordia-Moorhead climbed two spots to No. 19.

UW-Platteville tumbled to No. 20 from its ninth-ranked position a week ago. George Fox checked in one spot lower this week at No. 21.

UW-La Crosse (27), UW-Whitewater (27) and Whitworth (5) received votes in the Week 9 poll.

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