The St. Thomas football team earned its way to the quarterfinals of the Division III national championship playoffs with Saturday’s win. Now the Tommies travel to Oregon, where St. Thomas will take on the No. 5-ranked Linfield College Wildcats.
Who is Linfield?
Linfield’s campus is located in McMinnville, Ore., a town of about 30,000. McMinnville is in the northwest part of the state, a little more than an hour southwest of Portland.
A private liberal-arts college of about 1,600 undergraduates, Linfield plays out of the Northwest Conference. The conference features nine schools, which range from enrollments of about 1,400 students to 3,400 students, according to the conference’s Web site.
The Wildcats play in Maxwell Stadium, the site of both of Linfield’s playoff wins against Cal Lutheran and Mary Hardin-Baylor.
The Wildcats are no stranger to playoff football – the team posted a 9-4 playoff record from 2002 to 2005 and won the national championship in 2004. Linfield has not been in the playoffs since 2005.
Linfield enters Saturday’s game a perfect 11-0 after running the table during the regular season to earn a conference championship. After receiving an automatic bid into the playoff field, Linfield topped Cal Lutheran 38-17 and beat Mary Hardin-Baylor 53-21 to get to the quarterfinals. The Wildcats have averaged 43 points per game, using a potent spread offense to advance to the round of eight.
Why is St. Thomas traveling nearly 2,000 miles for the third round?
Matchups in the Division III playoffs are based primarily on geography. The 32-team field is divided into four regions, where first round games generally match teams as close as possible to each other. In St. Thomas’ case, its first round was an exception to this rule, as St. John’s was the closest opponent but is also from the MIAC. The NCAA generally tends not to match teams in the same conference to start the tournament, so St. Thomas traveled to Monmouth College for its first game. In every playoff game, the top seed hosts the lower seed.
Within the eight-team regions, schools are seeded one through eight based on each team’s regular season performance. Linfield is the No. 2 seed in the West region, while St. Thomas is No. 5. After being seeded, the bracket is set up with the top seed playing the bottom seed, the two seed playing the seven seed, and so on down the bracket. The eight teams are narrowed down to one region champion, which will be the winner of next Saturday’s game between the Tommies and Wildcats.
St. Thomas’ West region – arguably the toughest region in the tournament
This year’s West region was arguably the strongest region in the tournament. At the beginning of the playoffs, the region held six of the top 10-ranked teams in the country. No. 4-ranked St. John’s, No. 6-ranked Central, No. 7-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor and No. 8-ranked Monmouth have all been eliminated, leaving Linfield and St. Thomas.
The only top 10-ranked teams remaining in the tournament are No. 1 Mount Union in the East region, No. 2 Wisconsin-Whitewater in the North region and No. 3 Wesley in the South region.
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