'We need some anxiety': Now tested, Linfield digs in for playoff run
A day in Oregon's wine country offered an intriguing look into the future FBS playoff picture.
MCMINNVILLE — Skyler Noble found himself airborne.
A play had broken down, the Pomona-Pitzer quarterback scrambled to his left and, sensing the minutes ticking off his collegiate career, the 6-foot-3 Texan decided to go for it as a linebacker closed in.
Noble leapt. And for a moment with his shoulder-length blonde hair flowing behind him through the air, the open field in front of him must have been the most beautiful sight in the world.
But the moment was fleeting, because soon Noble’s lower half was met with a shoulder, his trajectory turned downward and a play that nearly ended up on his highlight reel instead became a crushing lesson in physics.
Noble’s Sagehens lost to Linfield in the team’s first NCAA Division III playoff appearance in program history, yet the quarterback wore a big smile when he walked into a press conference inside of a break room — complete with kitchenette.
“We didn’t want to stop playing,” Noble said. “We came psyched up. We had nothing to lose and they had everything to lose.”
Noble threw for 284 yards and three touchdowns. His coach couldn’t have been prouder of him “and everyone associated with the program.”
“We had a great week of practice,” coach John Walsh said. “Our players played hard.”
And they lost by 27.
To be fair, 51-24 is considered close around here.
Most teams would dream to have the Wildcats problem. Every year, Joseph Smith’s Linfield program beats the snot out of everything in its way during the Northwest Conference regular season, winning games by margins of 30, 40, 50 and, well, most recently a 70-7 pasting of Lewis & Clark right before the playoffs. The Wildcats have had a winning record for 66 consecutive seasons and have won 84 percent of their games since Smith took over in 2006.
And all of those credentials don’t mean a lick in the postseason, when games can be decided and seasons ended by the slimmest of margins.
But for 90 percent of the season, the Wildcats are nowhere near the margin. The team hadn’t even entered a fourth quarter within a touchdown since Week 1 in September.