Spartans prepare for offensive showdown versus Linfield

Team looks to rebound from two straight losses during homecoming game

Sheehan Hannan, Director of Print

Tomorrow, the Spartan football team will face off against Linfield College in perhaps their biggest game of the season to date. Even more importantly, this is an opportunity to snap out of a two-game losing slump versus a nationally recognized Division III opponent.

Last week, the Spartans played a hard-fought game against Frostburg, in which iffy penalty calls and inclement weather combined for an extremely close loss in the fourth quarter. After trading possessions for most of the first half and coming into halftime leading 26-20, Case fell behind in the third quarter as Frostburg put an unanswered 13 points on the board. Though they responded in the fourth, tying up the game, Frostburg’s final drive ended with a field goal, bumping Frostburg to 36 with three seconds on the clock.

“We certainly were in a good situation, but we weren’t able to get the ball back,” said head coach Greg Debeljak of the final drive.

The loss puts the Spartans at 1-2 going into Saturday’s Homecoming game and marks an unfortunate two game losing streak that they’re looking to break Saturday versus Linfield. The college, ranked number two in the coaches’ poll for the third week of the season, is located in Linfield, Oregon. At 2-0, Linfield presents a unique challenge for the Spartans.

“Linfield’s really good,” said Debeljak. “This is basically Mount Union West Coast. They are every bit the team that Mount Union is.”

Mount Union, a Division III powerhouse, went 15-0 last year.

Linfield is an extremely strong offensive team, currently tallying an average of 370.5 passing yards per game, along with an average of 287.5 rushing yards. In addition to those already impressive statistics, the Wildcats currently lead DIII football in third down conversion percentage, with 74.1 percent to Case’s 32.

“We’re going to see one of the best teams in the country,” said Debeljak. “It’ll be a great challenge and we’re trying to get our kids to embrace it and not fear it.”

According to Debeljak, Linfield’s success may provide an opening for the Spartans, which could lead to some surprises. “The nice thing about playing teams that are well-coached is that you know how they’re going to respond to certain things that you do. As a coach that’s good. You can try to use that to game plan,” he said.

Doubtless, Saturday’s game will be one determined by dueling offenses, with Case looking to improve their 187.7 passing yards per game average while maintaining a productive running game. In Saturday’s game versus Frostburg, rain prevented solid passing, a problem Debeljak says will be remedied at home with an emphasis on short, quick passes. “We definitely have to be able to throw the ball effectively. Short, controlled passing game. We have to get the ball off quickly, because they do leave some openings in the passing game, but it’s not going to be there for very long.”

The Spartans are also looking at six to eight starters sidelined by injury for Saturday’s game, a number which could present considerable difficulty.

Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, the Spartans’ schedule could prove beneficial, as all the league games are scheduled for the end of the season. That way, the team has time to heal and concentrate on conference play.

“Whatever happens, we have to get better every week,” said Debeljak. “The nice thing is the last three games are the UAA, so we always have that on the horizon, how are we going to get better for our league games and play for our league championship.”

The Spartans will take the field at home Saturday at noon for the homecoming game. After that, they play Puget Sound in Washington on Saturday Oct. 19.