A little more from Monday's conversation with CLU head coach Ben McEnroe, beyond the story in Tuesday's paper wrapping up the 2009 season and looking ahead to 2010:
What did he think the key element was that allowed his team to make the step forward and reach the playoffs?
"I think the big thing is this team practiced better than any team I've ever coached, and they knew how to practice. They understood preparation. We made some format changes in practice to really make it more competitive, more game-like in practice, so I think the No. 1 thing was just the ability to practice well, practice hard, and understand how to practice as a team.
"And then you get some breaks, get some things that go your way. And I think athletically we were probably better than we have been, and fortunately, most of those guys are returning. So I think between the ability to practice, some better athletes and a few breaks here and there, that put us over the top."
On the challenge CLU and other SCIAC schools face in recruiting, compared to some other areas:
"I think there's some advantages in areas where the best players either go Division I or Division III. There's no junior college football in the state of Oregon. I think there's one I-AA program and one Division II program.
So schools like Linfield and Willamette have a great advantage in that the kids up there, and throughout the Midwest -- places like Ohio and Pennsylvania, where there's great Division III football -- Division III football is a big deal.
"So we're working to make the quality of the product better so it's more marketable to the Southern California student-athletes. You saw that this year with our skill kids. We had good skill people. And we had a very good offensive and defensive line for competing in the SCIAC. But once you get a taste of playing at the highest level in Division III, now we know where we need to go, and we're going to work tirelessly to make that happen."
Is he comfortable with the size of this year's roster -- roughly 110 players -- and how large does he anticipate this year's recruiting class will be?
"What we will do is we will reevaluate the guys in the program. Obviously, there's going to be some attrition at some level. I think we lose 13 or 14 seniors, and generally speaking, there's another 10 or 12 that decide for some reason -- academic or some other reason -- that they're not going to return. So that puts us at about 80, which means you've got to bring in 40 or 50 guys to have similar numbers to where we're at.
"So we're going through right now as a staff and just reevaluating the returning personnel. We did do a preliminary evaluate of where we're at and what our needs are. Now that the season's over, we'll revisit that. Obviously, the playoff game put the offensive and defensive lines at the top of the list, and they weren't too far from the top the first time we evaluated.
"It probably won't be as large as last year's class, but if we can match the skill level and ability and get a little bit bigger, we'll be right where we need to be."
On the significance of hosting a playoff game -- something CLU can't do at present because of Mount Clef Stadium's inadequate media facilities:
"It's a great advantage to be able to stay home -- not only from a weather standpoint, but from being able to sleep in your own bed, and practice at your normal times. We do everything in our power to keep things as normal as possible, but if you're able to take the travel piece out of your game week preparation -- I know from a head coaching standpoint, there were a lot of distractions, there were a lot of things to work on. That's no excuse -- it didn't affect how we played -- but it's a great advantage to be able to play at home. And I think you'll probably see as the playoffs unfold, with the geographic challenges of Division III football, that a lot of the home teams are going to hold serve throughout. ...
"If you look at the university as a whole, we are moving in very positive directions with all our facilities. And I think within the university and campus community, there were enough people who made the trip that understand the importance of developing first-class facilities. You would have to talk to the adminstration as far as where it is on the pecking order, but I have full confidence in our administration in making decisions that are best for the university and the department, and putting us in a position to not only recruit to CLU but also to have a playoff-caliber venue here in the near future."
November 2009 Archives
A little more from Monday's conversation with CLU head coach Ben McEnroe, beyond the story in Tuesday's paper wrapping up the 2009 season and looking ahead to 2010:
Here's the game story from CLU's 38-17 loss at Linfield on Saturday, and here's the notebook from Sunday's paper.
Some additional notes:
Snowballing: When things went wrong for the Cal Lutheran football team, they really went wrong.
During the decisive stretch in Saturday's 38-17 loss at Linfield College -- when Linfield scored 31 unanswered points in five possessions, CLU was unable to do anything to stem the Wildcats' momentum.
In the four CLU possessions breaking up the five Linfield possessions, the Kingsmen managed just one first down, CLU ran just 13 plays, gained just 24 yards and one first down, and turned the ball over twice, allowing Linfield to close out the five-possession sequence with drives starting at its own 49, the CLU 23 and the Kingsmen 21.
"They're too good to give them those opportunities," said CLU coach Ben McEnroe. "For us to win a game like that, we've got to play perfectly. And we obviously didn't do that with the turnovers and the field position."
By the time the outburst was done, Linfield had more points than any CLU opponent this season -- and there were still more than seven minutes remaining in the second quarter, raising the specter of a truly ugly defeat.
"It's a real credit to our kids and our assistant coaches and everybody that we just hung in there and battled," said McEnroe. "We weathered the storm; we came back and we got it to two scores.
"The first couple of possessions of the second half, we had that momentum and we just couldn't take advantage of the opportunities we had. And give them credit, they did a good job of taking some things away from us, and we didn't adjust quick enough."
The crucial possession, clearly was the first one in the second half, when the Kingsmen took the opening kickoff, made one first down to get to their own 35, then gave up 18 yards -- seven when Jericho Toilolo tried to throw the ball away to avert a sack, but threw it backwards, making the throw a lateral spotted where it went out of bounds, and 11 when Toilolo was sacked on the next play. CLU was forced to punt into the wind from the 17; Linfield took over at midfield, and went on to score the game's final touchdown.
"To start the second half, I think we started two or three drives inside our 20," said McEnroe." (The third-quarter possessions began at the CLU 21, 20 and 26.) "Going toward the scoreboard with the wind what it was, you're playing for first downs and trying to get field position, but every time you kick it, they started drives inside the 50.
"So every little thing matters at that point, every yard counts, and we weren't able to get out of the shadow of the end zone to put some stress on their starting field position."
Tough day: Toilolo limped off the field at the end of the day having been sacked eight times in his final start. He finished 18 of 34 for 155 yards with four interceptions, and made no excuses about a windy day that limited both teams' passing games.
"We just felt throwing into the wind, a deep ball wasn't the best bet because the ball would get caught up in the wind," Toilolo said. "But we didn't feel like the conditions were really a problem for us.
"Offensively, I just didn't play well -- had too many turnovers, and put our defense in bad spots."
Learning experience: McEnroe was asked what he learned from CLU's first playoff game since 1982.
"We've got to continue recruiting to stay here," he said. "There's some things we need to get better at from the recruiting standpoint. ... The big thing that jumps out at me is some personnel issues that we will go out and address in the off-season, and then we open with these guys down at our place next year, so we'll see if we can't close that gap a little bit."
Linfield's defense had four interceptions, sacked CLU quarterback Jericho Toilolo eight times and held CLU to 220 total yards, which was more than enough to protect the 31-3 lead Linfield built in the second quarter.
Linfield quarterback Aaron Boehme passed for 114 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 99 yards and another score to lead Linfield (10-0) into a second-round game with Mary Hardin-Baylor of Texas next week. The site will be announced today.
More to come later, and in Sunday's edition of The Star.
After trailing 31-3, CLU scored twice in the final six minutes -- on Brian Stuart runs of 3 and 15 yards, the last with 41 seconds left -- and trails 31-17 at halftime.
CLU scored first on a 22-yard Jackson Damron field goal, but Linfield took advantage of CLU turnovers in scoring 31 straight points.
Linfield's defensive has been extremely tough so far, allowing CLU just 79 total yards, including just 15 passing. Linfield has 242 total yards, and is led by quarterback Aaron Boehme (8 of 15 for 102 yards and two TDs, plus nine rushes for 82 yards and a score). For CLU, Stuart has 15 carries for 52 yards.
Game time is about 30 minutes away. Currently, it is 44 degress and windy, but dry, and it may stay that way. The current weather.com forecast has only a 10 percent chance of rain until 5 p.m., when it starts climbing.
In the other Division III score of most interest to CLU fans, Mary Hardin-Baylor leads Central, 28-14. The winner of CLU-Linfield plays the winner of that game.
A sartorial note: The teams' uniforms are exact opposites. Linfield is in white helmets, purple jerseys with white numbers, and white pants. CLU is in purple helmets, white jerseys with purple numbers, and purple pants.
A few odds and ends on the CLU-Linfield game that didn't fit into the preview in Saturday's paper:
-- Linfield's turnover margin of plus-17 (14 giveaways, 31 takeaways) is significant, but there doesn't seem to be a single explanation.
"Part of it is they get up on people," said Occidental coach Dale Widolff, who played both teams. "My experience is that the takeaways come when you're ahead, and the other team's trying to do stuff they don't normally do."
Williamette coach Mark Speckman, who beat CLU and lost to Linfield, said, "It's really interesting because the last couple years they really haven't been that good, and it's the same offense." (In the first three years under current head coach Joseph Smith, Linfield was minus-1, even, and plus-3.) "I think they're really opportunistic on defense. I think they had some games early where they were getting like five picks, or three fumbles and two interceptions. But to their credit, they have not turned the ball over a whole lot."
And CLU coach Ben McEnroe, noting that Linfield plays in a pass-oriented conference, adds, "They do see a lot of balls in the air, and when the ball's in the air, they make plays on it. More than anything else, they're very good in their system."
-- What's home-field advantage worth in this game? Not surprisingly, Linfield's coach believes it can be significant.
"I think it's very difficult in the playoffs traveling," Smith said. "It's difficult just from a time standpoint, you know, so playing at home is a little bit easier. Your team's not as tired, all those sorts of things. Then there's certainly the crowd advantage, as well."
That could be notable at Linfield, which averaged 2,232 for its four home games.
"Linfield is a place that supports football," said Smith. "The administration really values it, and we have a very strong following. So we have a good home-field advantage."
Speckman, who has been in the playoffs three times in the last 10 years, acknowledges the advantage but says, "I don't think it's quite what it is compared to the regular season.
"In the regular season, you run out, you have a travel squad, and the other team's got 100, 150 guys or whatever. In the playoffs, both teams are going to have 52 players suited up. And it's a lot easier to go a charter flight than go commercial."
-- McEnroe said that schematically, there's one thing Linfield does offensively that's somewhat unfamiliar: "They'll throw to their tight ends. That's something we haven't seen a lot this year, teams that utilize their tight ends in the passing game. So that's something we've got to be aware of."
-- While Linfield has been in the NAIA or NCAA playoffs 12 times since CLU's last appearance, that doesn't necessarily give Linfield the experience advantage you might think. The last time Linfield was in the postseason was 2005.
"Linfield's been in the playoffs a lot," noted Widolff, but this group of kinds has not been in the playoffs very much, if at all" -- in fact, not at all -- "so it's going to be new for their kids just like it's going to be new for the Cal Lutheran kids. So I don't think there's a big advantage in the history of Linfield, since it's been so long since they were in the playoffs."
-- As for weather, the forecast as of late Friday night, according to weather.com, is for a steady light rain (a 100 percent chance between 1-3 p.m.), 20 mph winds, and a high of 45.
If you think the Cal Lutheran football team has been called for a lot of penalties, you are most definitely correct.
In the final regular-season NCAA Division III rankings for "fewest penalties per game," CLU comes in 234th out of 235 schools at 9.78. Only Mary Hardin-Baylor (10.3 penalties per game) is flagged with greather frequency.
The Kingsmen had more penalties than their opponents in seven of nine games, including the last five, and are on average called for three more penalties, and 25 more yards than the opposition.
"The things that we can focus on are the things that we can get fixed, like the alignment issues," says CLU coach Ben McEnroe, who remained frustrated by a number of procedure calls against the Kingsmen in their regular-season finale with Redlands.
"There were a few things that happened with some of the illegal procedures where the opponent was barking out our cadence and drawing guys offside," he said. "And they had been penalized in our game last year. It was something that we tried to get to the attention of the officials. Apparently they didn't hear it or didn't act upon it.
"Not to make excuses, but there were some things going on out there that were a little bit out of the ordinary."
Beyond that, he said, CLU may be paying a bit of a price for its success.
"I think a lot of times, teams that have some success are going to be playing under a microscope, and if you develop a reputation of being a highly penalized team, a lot of times the officials are going to scrutinize you a little bit, and look a little bit closer," he said. "I find it hard to believe that over the last three or four weeks, we're the only team on the field that's ever held anybody, or done some of the things that we get called for and our opponents don't get called for."
It is probably worth noting that the two most penalized teams, CLU and Mary Hardin-Baylor, are both in the playoffs (and could meet in the second round). And while only three of the 50 least-penalized teams reached the postseason, 11 of the 50 most penalized are in the 32-team field. (LInfield, CLU's opponent, is 165th at 6.67 penalties per game.)
McEnroe plans no sweeping changes to address the issue.
"I'm not going to change the way our kids play," he said. "We want them to play hard; we want them to play fast. Obviously, we're going to address the procedures and the alignment issues, but we're not going to do anything to change our style of play."
Injury report: The Kingsmen have had a few high profile injuries over the course of the season -- the loss of preseason All-American Victor Edwards to a knee injury heads that list -- but overall, McEnroe says the team is in good health for its playoff opener.
CLU did lose tackle Jordan Austin to a season-ending arm injury against Redlands, expanding to five the number of opening-week starters that have been lost over the course of the season. The others are Edwards, receiver Christian Edwards, linebacker Jacob Norlock, lineman Chris Doukakis.
"Our recruiting has paid off," said McEnroe. "The hard work of our coaches, and the hard work of our kids in the offseason, we were able to absorb some injuries. We've had plenty of instances during the year when we've lost guys for a week or two, and plugged someone else in, and they've been able to perform admirably.
"So our depth is one of our strengths."
The bracket: If you haven't taken a close look at the Division III playoff bracket, it's available here.
And if nothing else, it confirms the degree to which travel concerns, rather than competitive balance, shapes the pairing process. All eight teams in CLU's quarter of the bracket are ranked in the top 25, including six of the top 10: St. John's (No. 4), Linfield (No. 5), Central (No. 6), Mary Hardin-Baylor (No. 7), Monmouth (No. 8) and St. Thomas (No. 10). CLU is ranked No. 22; Coe is No. 25.
You'd have to say CLU's half of the bracket is loaded, with seven undefeated teams, eight with just one loss, and five other top 25 teams, including No. 2 Wisconsin-Whitewater. The other side of the bracket includes No. 1 Mount Union, but just one other top-10 team (No. 3 Wesley) and eight unranked teams. That half includes four undefeated teams, six with one loss, and six with two losses.
Thursday's column on former CLU coach Bob Shoup and his renewed relationship with the Kingsmen football program made reference to the Blue Slippers, a good luck charm dating to the early days of the football program at what was then Cal Lutheran College . After he and his wife Helen presented the team with a replacement pair of slippers last year, Shoup wrote an article about the original blue slippers for CLU's quarterly magazine, and he talked about them a bit more earlier this week.
"That's quite a story," he said.
"You know, the 1964 trip to Colorado Springs" -- that's when the slippers were found, when the Kingsmen traveled to play Colorado College -- "was our first out-of-state trip in the school's history, and then coming back with the blue slippers and then losing three times in '64, '65 and '66 when we didn't have the blue slippers. Two of those games were against Redlands. And then once the captains understood how important it was (to bring the slippers on trips), in that stretch 65 through 75, we won 85 percent of our games, and 90 percent of our home games."
The CLU team that went to Colorado Springs in 1964 was 1-3, mired in a three-game losing streak, and facing a Colorado College team that had won 19-16 in Thousand Oaks the year before.
"And then for those same players to go back there the next year, and play them on their homecoming game, and win" -- by a decisive 29-6 score -- "that just set that group up for that 1965 team, where we were nationally rated on offense, No. 1 in the country."
Looking back: Shoup, of course, was the coach for the two previous CLU-Linfield playoff games, a 29-28 win for the Kingsmen at home in 1977, and a 20-16 victory for Linfield in Oregon in 1982.
"They were both really, really exciting," he recalled, "The one at home that we played in Thousand Oaks, they got off to a huge lead going into the fourth quarter, and we had this incredible comeback. It was one of those games you just can't believe. ... We blocked a punt, and we intercepted a pass. We had three turnovers, I think, in the last eight minutes of the game. It was kind of a cold, windy day at our place; it was in December, and a lot of people had left, saying, well, that's too bad; they lost. And they missed one of the great comebacks in the history of football."
In the 1982 game, it was Linfield that made the big comeback, he said.
"We played so well in the first half. We were in total control of the game, and then they came from behind with a couple of key plays on an incredibly difficult, muddy, cold, windy, rainy day. You know, it hailed at halftime.
"So both games were just tremendous. I think this game looks to me similar. Linfield now has an artificial, all-weather turf, so I think that will at least avoid the mud, which is probably the worst element in football."
The weather, though, may be about the same. As of Wednesday morning, the Saturday forecast for McMinnville calls for a 70 percent chance of rain, with a high of 45.
"Sounds like Oregon," Shoup said, laughing.
Travel plans: CLU will be traveling by charter flight in and out of Burbank Airport, departing Friday at 9 a.m., and heading immediately to McMinnville after arrival in Portland for an afternoon practice.
After Saturday's noon playoff game, the team is scheduled to leave Portland at 9 p.m.
Upcoming: A Friday online update will look at CLU's injury status and penalty issues. A game preview will appear in the newspaper and on line on Saturday. On game day, look for brief halftime and postgame updates on this blog, with full coverage in Sunday's paper.
There's more to the story of CLU quarterback Jericho Toilolo, featured in Wednesday's edition of the Star:
Toilolo was not exactly the hottest quarterback prospect coming out of high school his senior year, in part because his school -- Helix High of San Diego -- played a wing-T offense that's not exactly based on showcasing throwing skills.
"I handed the ball off 90 percent of the time," Toilolo says.
As a result, it appeared he'd be going to Division III Greenville College, located 45 miles from St. Louis in Greenville, Ill.
"My recruiting trip to Illinois, I could see my breath at about 1 in the afternoon," Toilolo says. "That kind of turned it off for me. ... Small town, like one stoplight in the town, one bank, one grocery story. I wasn't very excited. I was going through that town like, 'Man, this isn't what I was expecting at all.' "
Then CLU offensive coordinator Clay Richardson called "one day, out of nowhere," says Toilolo. "And I came one day on a recruiting trip, and I just loved the coaching staff, loved the kind of family atmosphere that was around the program. ... And it was closer to home than Illinois."
So what led Richardson to believe Toilolo was suited to run CLU's spread offense, a very different proposition than what he'd done in high school.
"One, you could see that he was an athlete," says Richardson. "The thing that got us most was talking to him. We brought him up for a recruiting trip -- that's when Scott (Squires, CLU's previous head coach) was here -- and we both, after the recruiting trip, said, 'That's our guy, because of the intangibles.' ... You could see the leadership trait in him."
Toilolo says he was "excited to hear that I was coming to a spread offense, and Coach gave me freedom to check out of any play I wasn't comfortable with. ... I was excited to feel like I was actually controlling the offense when I was out there, that I was actually the quarterback, because in high school, I didn't have that freedom."
Richardson saw Toilolo's leadership skills in action as soon as the quarterback came on campus as a freshman. Danny Jones was firmly in possession of the starting QB job, but the backup position was up for grabs, and Richardson intentionally didn't establish who he wanted to take charge of the second unit.
"Jericho just stepped right in, got the huddle going, and took control of it -- not from day one but literally from minute one. It's just his personality.
"That day, after practice, I talked to Scott and said, 'OK, we've got a special one here.' His strengths are the intangibles: managing the game, putting us in the right play, getting things organized.' "
Those strengths manifested themselves further the following season. When Squires left for a job in the Canadian Football League, Ben McEnroe took over as head coach. And he recalls the impression Toilolo made during spring practice as the backup to Jones.
"Probably the second or third practice I was here," McEnroe says, "I remember telling Clay that I liked Jericho's presence and his leadership ability. ... He was a stronger leader, and the kids responded to him a little bit better than the guy that had been here before."
Jones subsequently transferred to Wisconsin-Whitewater, thrusting Toilolo into the starting job as a sophomore.
"He wasn't necessarily ready for that," says McEnroe, "but he was as good a guy as you could ask to put in that position. He's extremely level-headed, he's calm, and he's a quick study. He's a smart kid."
Despite what his coaches saw, the quarterback makes no claim that he was a leader in the five games he played before his season-ending cracked rib/punctured lung injury.
"The guys who had been playing for a couple of years were the leaders on that field," Toilolo says. "The focal leader were Jesse Matlock, Jeff Brisco, Danny Hernandez and those guys. Even last year, the vocal leader was Jesse Matlock. He was the one that controlled our offense out there."
This year, though, Toilolo knew that burden fell to him. He talked to Matlock to get some advice, but still says "it was a little struggle at first, especially at the start of the season with all the new guys and all the young guys we've had in our offense.
"But coach has put it on my shoulders, and I'm just glad I could step up and help out."
If you're planning to make the trip to McMinnville, Ore., for Cal Lutheran's football playoff game Saturday at Linfield College, tickets go on sale Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. A total of 500 seats in Linfield's uncovered seating area have been set aside for CLU fans. Tickets are $12, and may be purchased using Visa or MasterCard by calling (503) 883-2229. They will be available at the will call window beginning at 10 a.m. on game day.
A limited number of reserved seats in the covered main grandstand at Linfield's Maxwell Field will also be on sale Wednesday from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. While phone orders are accepted, those requesting tickets in person will be given priority.
For those unable to attend, Linfield's broadcast of the noon contest will be available on the internet. Information and a link are here.
Weather report: By the way, those seats in the covered grandstand might not be a bad idea. Saturday's preliminary forecast from weather.com calls for showers and a high of 46 degrees. Chance of rain is set at 40 percent.
While the specifics may change, showers or rain are part of every day in the current forecast through Monday.
The approach of Cal Lutheran coach Ben McEnroe and his players is, understandably enough, that Saturday's first-round Division III playoff game at Linfield College of McMinnville, Ore., is just another game.
"My job is to make it as routine as possible for everybody else," McEnroe said after the pairings were announced on Sunday. "Our No. 1 objective is to keep the work week as normal as possible. (Fresno State coach) Pat Hill calls it the 24-hour rule: No matter what time kickoff is, the 24 hours before kickoff are the same. So we live by that, and we'll apply that to the rest of the week."
A good portion of Sunday, though, was devoted to dealing with some of the things that make it different than any other game.
After the 12:10 p.m. announcement of the Division III playoff bracket, McEnroe had to be on a 2 p.m. conference call to deal with the logistics and administration that comes with an NCAA postseason event -- things like film exchange and travel. The travel part remains up in the air -- given the difficulties of putting 62 people on a flight on six days' notice, it appeared as of late Sunday afternoon that the CLU traveling party would probably end up on a charter flight to and from Oregon.
That 62-person party is another difference. That's the travel roster allowed by Division III rules, and has to include coaches, athletic trainers and other support staff, as well as no more than 52 players. The only previous roster limits the Kingsmen have faced have been self-imposed, for the team's road games at Willamette (when 62 players traveled) and Chapman.
As a result, more than half of the 100-plus players currently in the program will not be traveling.
"Obviously, there's going to be some guys disappointed," said McEnroe. "But from what I know of this team, we'll come out and work hard whether they're traveling or not. We've all got the same goal and after the same thing. ...
"It's one of those things that it's pretty self explanatory. There's usually three to five decisions we'll have to make, and as the injuries settle in and we know who we have, that will mean two or three really tough decisions."
Linfield by the numbers: A first look at the statistics shows the Wildcats have offensive firepower -- they're averaging 42.1 points per game while giving up 24.1 -- and lean more toward the pass (2,638 yards) than the rush (1,558 yards).
Individual leaders are quarterback Aaron Boehme (170 for 277, 2,353 yards, 25 touchdowns, seven interceptions), receiver Trev Patterson (55 catches, 885 yards, 14 touchdowns) and running back Aaron Williams (in eight games, 130 carries, 617 yards, nine touchdowns). Defensively, the tackle leaders are Paul Partlow (26 solo tackles, 46 solo, two fumble recoveries), Drew Fisher (26 solo tackles, 43 total, three interceptions), Alex Tkachuk (21 solo tackles, 42 total, one interception, one fumble recovery) and Kole Krieger (21 solo tackles, 40 total, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries).
Like Cal Lutheran -- or most successful teams, for that matter -- Linfield is very good in terms of turnover margin at plus-17 (31 takeaways, 14 giveaways). In fact, going into Saturday's game with Pacific Lutheran, their margin of plus 2.13 per game led the nation. CLU, at .88, was 48th.
Other places where Linfield ranks highly in the most recent statistics, which do not include Saturday's games, are scoring offense (10th at 36.63 points per game), total offense (18th at 444 yards per game), passes intercepted (tied for ninth at 17), turnovers gained (13th at 28) and punt returns (11th at 14.81 yards per return).
Cal Lutheran football coach Ben McEnroe, on his team's opening-round Division III playoff game at 9-0 Linfield College of McMinnville, Ore.:
"Linfield's a program with a lot of tradition and we're excited to have an opportunity to compete with those guys. They've played some common opponents, so we've seen them on film when they played Occidental. ... I think we're going to like what we see. Obviously, any time you can go through a schedule where you're 9-0, they're going to be solid and be all that we can handle.
But I feel good. We're healthy and looking forward to the challenge."
The teams have three common opponents: Williamette, Occidental and Pacific Lutheran. CLU lost its opener at Willamette 20-13; Linfield won 30-27 at Willamette. Both won at Occidental (24-14 for CLU, 31-27 for Linfield) and at home against Pacific Lutheran (49-7 for CLU and 62-44 for Linfield).
It will be the third time the teams have met, all in the postseason. The previous meetings were first-round NAIA playoff games, with CLU winning 29-28 at home in 1977, and Linfield winning 20-16 at home in 1982.
They are scheduled to meet next year in CLU's regular-season opener.
As expected, Cal Lutheran will play at Linfield of McMinnville, Ore., in Saturday's first round. Game time is noon. The winner of that game plays the Mary Hardin-Baylor/Central (Iowa) winner. In the other half of the bracket, Coe is at St. John's (Minn.), St. Thomas (Minn) is at Monmouth.
The 32-team tournament concludes with the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl in Salem, Va., on Dec. 19.
Jericho Toilolo was sick -- "Just a little stomach flu," he said -- but it was going to take more than a bug to slow him down on this day.
Despite the illness, the senior quarterback -- sidelined by injury when CLU missed out on a shot at a playoff berth in 2007 -- made sure the Kingsmen finished the job this time, going 19 of 36 for 255 yards and three touchdowns as CLU beat Redlands 30-21.
That gave CLU an outright Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title, its first 6-0 SCIAC record since joining the conference in 1992, and its first trip to the NCAA Division III playoffs.
"Greatest feeing in the world, right now," said Toilolo. "We haven't been there since I've been here, we haven't been here since we joined D-3. This is just huge for us, for our team to step up like this
"For our seniors who let it slip away two years ago, and we lost it last year on a field goal (against Occidental). And we weren't good last year on offense. So for us to be a complete team really is huge. You've got to give credit to the coaching staff."
Toilolo admitted playing with the bug was "a little tough, but I talked to the coaches about it. You've got to just come out and play. You've got to perform, and I wasn't going to miss this game for anything, so my mindset was that I was 100 percent. I'm not going to let any injury or illness hold me back. I worked for four years; I'm not going to miss this game."
Head coach Ben McEnroe downplayed any concerns he may have had about Toilolo's illness.
"There's nothing you can do about it," he said. "You just go out and play. He's a warrior. We knew that he would show up and compete. He had a great first half and played well enough down the stretch in the second half to lead us to the victory. ...
"He's our leader on the offensive side and really did a tremendous job today."
Joked freshman receiver Eric Rogers, who had six catches for 108 yards and two scores, "If he was sick, he should be sick every week." More seriously, he added, "He wasn't as pumped at the beginning. He was still pumped, but you could tell in his face something was going on. But he played great."
At halftime, Toilolo was 13 of 22 for 185 yards and had thrown all three of his touchdown passes, helping CLU score 27 straight points to erase a 7-0 Redlands lead.
"It was great," Toilolo said. "It felt like we couldn't be stopped -- kind of like our two-minute (offense) for a while. Whatever we wanted to do, we were doing it out there."
The thrill of victory: Some CLU players had a hard time putting into words what it meant to earn the title and playoff berth -- "I can't describe it," said defensive lineman Jordan Barta -- but they all knew the significance of the achievement.
""All 120 guys have put in the right work to do it," said Barta, "in the off-season and now. We're doing the right thing."
Said junior linebacker Matt Allen, CLU's season leader in tackles with 59 (31 solo) who also led on Saturday with 12 (seven solo), "It just feels great.
"We battled all season, and we just kept it together, kept making plays. And we knew it would come down to who made more plays, and we just came out on top. ... We just come together and we trust our teammates are going to do the right thing, so we can just do our jobs."
Deep thinking: Injuries have chipped into Cal Lutheran's depth at some positions, but the Kingsmen still have no shortage of players who can catch a pass. Toilolo's 19 completions Saturday were spread among 10 players.
"That's huge for us, having that kind of depth," said Toilolo, "because if we lose a receiver or two, we're not hurting. We have a lot of experience, we have nine or 10 guys that can catch the ball, and every one of them can go start at other teams in our conference. But they're all here, and they all bought into what our program does. And that's huge for us."
Said Rogers, the freshman who led the receivers on Saturday, "All around, offense and defense, even though we have so many key players with injuries, other guys step up and do good. That's the depth of our team.
"It shows how CLU's been recruiting the past couple years, and that we're on the rise still."
The defense strikes again: Justin Haulcy-Bateman's 74-yard interception return was the fourth score this season for the CLU defense, and part of a day of defensive big plays. The Kingsmen won the turnover battle 3-0, making them plus-10 on the season while Redlands slipped to minus-7.
"When we got here three years ago, one of the goals was to build a great defensive football program," said McEnroe. "We've done that, and coach (Scott) Beattie and his staff do a great job getting those kids ready to go every week.
"That's who we are. That's our identity, and we'll ride those guys as far as we can."
Haulcy-Bateman's scoring return showed the kind of moves that are the reason he shares kickoff-return duties with Derek Wilson and backs up Wilson on punt returns.
"When I get the ball, I just like to do what's best for my team and get them in good position," Haulcy-Bateman said, "so we can score or make plays."
Said Beattie, "Between Derek and Justin, either one of them gets the ball, it can go all the way back for a touchdown."
Coming Sunday: The CLU team will gather on campus to watch the noon Division III selection show (carried on ESPNews). Watch the Star's Twitter feed (vcspreps) for the initial announcement, and check here Sunday afternoon and in Monday's paper for CLU reaction.
Seems that New Orleans Hornets dynasty left before it ever arrived.
Hard to believe, really, how bad the Hornets looked -- like a lackluster collection of ill-fitting parts -- in Sunday's 104-88 loss to the Lakers. When Chris Paul -- your all-everything guard -- has only a shade more impact than Shannon Brown (Paul: 15 points, nine assists; Brown, 15 points, two assists) you definitely have issues.
The ease of the victory over a team that just two seasons ago was among the league elite was clearly a surprise to the Lakers.
"This was a game that we believed was going to be a really, really tough game," said Kobe Bryant. "Because of that, I think everybody's antennae were up, everybody was extremely focused and ready to go, especially because they just had a tough one at home against Toronto. "
The current state of the Hornets (2-6) appears to have the team at least a little bit stumped.
"I don't know -- play better," Paul said, when asked what it would take to reverse the start. "We just got to do better. It's a long season. We've got to try to fix it. I don't know what to say. ...
"We're missing our defense and our ability to score. Like I keep saying, we're capable. So we're just going to have to figure it out."
Coach Byron Scott is tinkering with the lineup, looking for a solution.
"Guys just have to be aggressive and have a lot of confidence in themselves so they can get the job done, and I think we can," said Scott. "It's just a matter of guys taking the initiative at times and not relying on just CP and David (West)."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson is not about to bury the Hornets -- 56-26 in 2007-08, and 49-33 last year -- just yet.
"Obviously, with West and Chris Paul, the two major standbys on their team, guys that are scorers, now they have to fill in the blanks behind that," he said. Last year's team was derailed, he noted, by the "unorthodox situation" when Tyson Chandler was traded to Oklahoma City, only to end up back in New Orleans because he failed his physical with the Thunder. Chandler was traded to Charlotte during the offseason; that one stuck.
"Things just didn't work out right," said Jackson. "I think that kind of sunk their hopes for last season.
"Now they've got a new season. We have to wait and see. It's too early in the season to make any statement about them."
Big run: The Lakers led throughout but put the game away with a 15-2 run to start the second half, part of a third quarter that saw Shannon Brown score 13 of his 15 points.
"I was particularly proud of Shannon," said Jackson, "taking (Derek Fisher's) spot after a couple of tough calls to get in to foul trouble, and just doing the things that we've seen him do and anticipate he can do."
For New Orleans, the third quarter was a familiar scenario; in the Hornets' previous game, they were outscored 34-14 in the third by Toronto and lost 107-90.
"The third quarter is killing us," said Scott, whose team stays in L.A. to play the Clippers Monday. "It's two straight games where we come out and the team just kind of dominates us in that third quarter, and we've got to solve that problem quick."
Brown, leading a 46-point night for the bench, said the team is not going to just bide its time and wait for the return of injured big men Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
"We practice every day and everyone is very confident in their ability to come out and get the job done," said Brown. "We play as a team, but at the same time, we definitely can't wait for those guys to come back. They will make it easier on everybody."
The Mbig man: DJ Mbenga, filling in as center with Gasol and Bynum out, had 10 points and 12 rebounds, but Jackson said he's still not showing his full capabilities.
"We actually think his game has deteriorated some," said Jackson. "He plays better in practice that he's been able to do in games. So we're not thrilled at what he's doing out there. We know what his capabilities are; he's not hitting his shot. But his defense and his rebounding and his shot-blocking ability are part of what we see in his daily workout regimen."
Part of this, Jackson believes, is because of abdominal and groin issues that forced Mbenga to miss the first part of training camp: "I think he's been stretched to the limit of what he physically can do. Running hasn't been easy for him."
If you have the feeling this Cal Lutheran football team is accomplishing things CLU hasn't done in some time, well, you're right.
-- This year's 7-1 record, on the heels of last year's 7-2 campaign, marks the first time since 1981-82 that CLU has had consecutive seasons with seven or more wins. The 1981 Kingsmen were 8-2; the 1982 team -- the last to make the playoffs -- was 9-2.
-- CLU has now had seven straight winning seasons, a streak unmatched since posting nine straight winning years from 1973 to 1982. In the 20 years between the end of that nine-year streak and the start of the current one, the Kingmen never had more than two consecutive winning years.
-- Saturday's 45-3 win at La Verne marked the fifth time this season the Kingsmen have scored more than 40 points, the others being against Pacific Lutheran, Whittier, Pomona-Pitzer and Chapman. It's the first time CLU has ever had five games of 40 or more points in a season; the previous best was four such games, five times (1965, 1975, 2004, 2005, 2007).
-- Derek Wilson's 89-yard score Saturday was the first kickoff-return touchdown for the Kingsmen since Charlie Brown had a 90-yard return against Pomona-Pitzer on Oct. 2, 2004 -- a span of 51 games. Earlier this season, Wilson had a 69-yard punt-return TD against Pacific Lutheran, making this the first time CLU has had both a kickoff-return and punt-return TD in the same season since 2004. (Craig Herrera had a punt-return touchdown that year to go with Brown's kickoff return.)
Over the nine years for which CLU statistics are available online, no other CLU player has had both a kickoff-return and punt-return touchdown in the same season.
The game story in Sunday's paper noted the large number of CLU players who were involved in the offense, but it is also worth noting that just about everyone saw action on defense, too. Twenty-nine players were credited with at least one tackle, which means almost three full units' worth of defensive players were involved in a stop.
Notable among the reserves was sophomore linebacker Michael Ashocar, who had a interception, broke up a pass and had two tackles.
The official "game participation" statistic lists 65 CLU players as seeing action (although, since one of those listed is defensive back Victor Edwards, out for the season with an injury, that number may not be exact.) Regardless of the details, head coach Ben McEnroe said it was "awesome" to have the chance to play so many of his reserves.
"I think we got everyone in the game, or pretty close to it," said McEnroe. "It was great to get some of those young guys out there. They work as hard as anybody else, if not harder, and it was great to get that reward, and have a chance to get out there when it mattered."
Running its win streak to seven games, the Cal Lutheran football team clinched at least a share of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title with a 45-3 win at La Verne Saturday. CLU (7-1, 5-0) can claim the title outright, and earn its first NCAA Division III playoff berth, with a win next Saturday against Redlands.
On a day when the Kingsmen were able to clear their bench, Antoine Adams ran for three touchdowns, Bobby Rodrigues had one, and Jericho Toilolo -- the first of five CLU quarterbacks -- threw for a score. But the biggest play was Derek Wilson's 89-yard kickoff return, erasing a short-lived 3-0 La Verne lead.
The Leopards are now 0-8, 0-6.
*--Corrects to three touchdowns for Adams, per official stats (I had credited one to Derek Martinez.)
The CLU football team is halfway to clinching no worse than a share of the SCIAC title, leading winless La Verne 24-3 at halftime. La Verne drove for a field goal on its opening possession, but Derek Wilson returned the ensuing kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown. The Kingsmen have since added a 25-yard touchdown pass from Jericho Toilolo to Eric Rogers, a 35-yard Jackson Damron field goal, and a 2-yard run by Antoine Adams.
A few postgame commentsfrom the Kings' 5-2 win over Pittsburgh on Thursday:
Kings coach Terry Murray, asked if the outcome was more significant because it was against the Penguins: "I'm going to say no. They're a premier team -- they're the Stanley Cup champions -- and you need your top players to respond and play well against the premier teams in the game. But I'd like to think we respect every team and give our best effort."
Murray, on goalie Jonathan Quick, who stopped 21 of 23 shots: "He made some tremendous saves. One in the first, one in the second, they were as good as you could possibly ask, on lateral plays. The one on Guerin, I think it was, in the first period, it was just a skilled play, a reaction play on his part, and I think it just shows the talent that he has."
Quick, on the team's confidence level: "Pretty confident after a game like that, but we can't get ahead of ourselves here. We've got to realize we've got a long season ahead of us. ...
"Obviously, they're a great team, and the team battled really hard to get that win. You've got feel good about yourself, but tomorrow, you've got to refocus and get ready for Saturday."
Pittsburgh forward Sidney Crosby: "I think we would have liked to have been a little better. We didn't play great, and sometimes you get away with that. It's a good lesson for us. We have gotten away with bad periods in the past, but tonight we didn't."
Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury: "It's never a fun one to lose and it's just very frustrating to give up so many goals tonight. This team (L.A.) was ready and they have good players ... Tonight, the Kings played a full 60-minute game and were able to come back and win."
ANAHEIM -- The season's a month old, but finally, this week, I'm getting a chance to see Southern California's hockey teams. The Ducks were up first on Tuesday; the Kings' turn comes Thursday, both against reigning champion Pittsburgh.
Not having seen either team, my main interest in this first look is to see if either team can possibly be what they've shown to date. It's hard to imagine the Ducks are bad enough to enter Tuesday play tied for 14th (and last) in the Western Conference, and equally difficult to believe the Kings are the third-best team in the conference. So ... when in doubt, take a look. One game certainly can't tell the whole story, but it's a start.
In the case of the Ducks, that one game -- Tuesday's extremely entertaining 4-3 loss to the Penguins -- pretty much affirmed the gut feeling: there's no way this team is as bad as its record.
Certainly, it has flaws. The departure of Chris Pronger clearly means this is no longer the defensive juggernaut of the last few seasons. The secondary-scoring question looms large, particularly because Saku Koivu has not been productive. And the goaltending is a bit unsettled; with Jean-Sebastien Giguere currently sidelined, the job is wholly in the hands of Jonas Hiller, and the night-in, night-out observers basically say the same thing: He hasn't been bad, but he hasn't been stealing any games, either.
Tuesday's loss suggested, though, that the Ducks are on the verge of digging out from under some of those problems. Consistent effort, a big issue earlier, was certainly there. And trailing late, they mounted an impressive, if ultimately unsuccessful, push to tie, maintaining a good three-plus minutes of sustained attack.
"We had a pretty good shift, and a last push for the last four minutes," said Corey Perry, who scored twice, including his 100th career goal. "(Sidney) Crosby had to slide across to make a save, and one went off Scotty (Niedermayer) and just wide. There were some good chances. But we have to play well for a full 60 minutes and that's what we're trying to do."
Koivu scored one goal, was robbed by Marc-Andre Fluery on a potential game-tying chance late, and -- with a modest three-game point streak (one goal, two assists), looks like he might be on the verge of finding the score sheet, which would make him a pretty complete contributor. (The general opinion seems to be that he's playing well despite the lack of scoring.)
"At this point, we know we can be more consistent," said Koivu, who left Montreal after 13 seasons and signed with Anaheim as a free agent this summer. "There's a lot of things we have to improve, but at the same time the last couple of games, there've been a lot of positive things we can build on.
"it seems we're better on our defensive game. ... We have to start winning soon, but we can't feel sorry for ourselves and have to dig out."
On this particular night, you'd have to point to goaltending as the difference. Pittsburgh's first goal, by Mike Rupp, went off Hiller and into the net; when a goalie gets as much of the puck as Hiller did in that case, he really should stop the shot. The Penguins' third and fourth goals, midway through the third period, were from far enough out that most goalies would believe they should have been stopped, although Alex Goligoski's was an absolute blast and Pasqual Dupuis' may have been through a screen.
"I think I have to do a better job finding the puck," said Hiller. "I lost it on its way. ... Definitely I have to do a better job finding the puck on those goals."
If the Ducks can carry Tuesday's effort into games with less talented teams than Pittsburgh -- which is most of them -- they'll certainly win. But the other side of that is that they need to start fairly soon, particularly at home. They're now 2-6 on home ice, meaning they've already squandered about 20 percent of their home schedule.
"It's very frustrating for everybody," said coach Randy Carlyle, "and that's what brings everybody down. We've been hanging our heads here for the better part of two weeks, and it's not a lot of fun. And that's where we have to find a way to change our attitude, and go to the rink and have fun ... and build on the positives. As we always talk about, it's as important what you're doing and how you're doing it as the result."
That may be true, and the Ducks do indeed look better than their results so far.
But to prove it, they really need to start getting some results. Especially at home.
He has covered the last four Olympics, as well as the World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals, NCAA Final Four and a wide variety of other events.