The pickings were slim for this week’s Dynamic Duos column. Still, slim or not, my choice would go the obvious route and single out Linfield quarterback Tom Knecht. A 6-foot-5 senior from Lake Oswego, Oregon, Knecht spent this season playing backup for starting QB Sam Riddle. After Riddle went down in the first half against Cortland State last week, it was Knecht’s time to shine.
Luckily, he was up to the challenge. Knecht finished one half of play with 10-of-16 passes for 106 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His solid play helped turn a 14-10 halftime lead to a 24-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter. He then led the team on two more scoring drives to cement the 38-22 victory over the Red Dragons.
On Saturday, in the Quarterfinals match-up against Mary Hardin-Baylor, Knecht was even better and likely immortalized himself in Wildcats lore. Check out these stats: 38-of-54 passes completed for 492 yards and five touchdowns. He also threw three interceptions, but against a solid defense like UMHB’s you expect even the best to struggle at times.
More remarkably, Knecht led his team back from a 21-0 deficit, en route to a stunning 38-35 victory over the Cru. Here’s how it happened:
Trailing by three touchdowns at the 4:23 mark in the first quarter — after two stalled drives netted a total of 15 yards and one interception — Knecht took the ball on the Linfield 10, completed five passes to get his team to the Cru 36 and then hit Johnny Carroll for a 36-yard touchdown to put the Wildcats on the board for the first time at the 4:23 mark in the first quarter.
After a UMHB fumble, Linfield took over at the Cru 29. Knecht completed three passes, the final going to Zach Kuzens for a nine-yard score. —21-14 after one quarter.
UMHB’s ensuing drive ended with a botched field goal, giving the Wildcats the ball at their own 23-yard line. But Knecht threw his second interception of the day that led to another Cru touchdown.
Neither team scored again in the half and the Wildcats went to the locker room trailing 28-14.
After trading punts to start the third, Linfield got the ball way back on its own two-yard line. Knecht found Kuzens for a five yard gain, then hit Eric Igbinoba who took the rock 43 yards to midfield. Moments later, Knecht found Brian Balsiger for a 37-yard completion that tset up a first and goal on the Cru 1-yard line, Knecht found Carroll for the easy score — 28-21.
Linfield’s defense forced a fumble on UMHB’s next possession and set the offense up at midfield. Knecht took advantage of the great field position, rushed for eight yards and completed four passes, including a 13 yard touchdown to Balsiger. Tie game, 28-28.
In the fourth quarter, and with the momentum definitely in their favor, the Wildcats defense forced another Cru punt, setting Linfield up at their own 19-yard line. Knecht impressed once again with a stellar 81-yard drive during which he completed six passes and another teeder to Balsiger to give the Wildcats their first lead of the contest.
The Crusaders would score on their next possession to knot the game at 35, after which Knecht would throw his third interception of the contest — this one on Linfield’s 17-yard line.
Fortunately, the Wildcats defense forced another fumble that was recovered by Alex Hoff at midfield. Knecht now had the ball with 3:53 left in the game. He attempted a rush, but lost four yards on the play. Then he found Spencer Payne for a one-yard gain. After a timeout, he completed back-to-back passes to Carroll and Levi Altringer to move the ball 22 yards, setting up a 32 yard game-winning field goal as time expired. (Note: a false start penalty moved the Wildcats back five yards before Payne rushed for six yards on the final play before the FG.)
Yeah, this was a play-by-play commentary, but you can’t really appreciate what an athlete does unless you view it in the context of the game. In this case, Knecht — a backup who had accumulated 630 yards and six touchdowns all season — shook off three costly turnovers and led his team to a remarkable victory over a very tough opponent.
Of course, he had a lot of help from his defense, who made big plays and set up Knecht for success, but the senior QB did his job and made the big plays when it mattered most. He only completed two passes on that final drive, but those two plays helped run precious time off the clock and ensured UMHB wouldn’t get the ball back.
Also worth mentioning: Balsiger pulled down seven receptions for 150 yards and two scores, while Johnny Carroll nabbed 10 receptions for 140 yards and two scores. The run game was anemic, collecting only 25 yards total. So when I say the Wildcats accumulated 523 total yards of offense, you have to realize more than 90-percent of that came from Knecht and his trusty receivers.
I’m not sure if Riddle will be back in time for the Semifinal match-up with St. Thomas. And I’m not sure Knecht can throw three interceptions again and expect a win. In any event, the senior QB did his job and did it well. I’m curious to see what he does for an encore.
In case you didn’t see it, here’s the game-winning field goal: