October 28, 2010

Breathe before reading

More news about: Lewis and Clark | Puget Sound
Puget Sound-Lewis and Clark
Lewis and Clark outbattled Puget Sound by leaving the Loggers just 27 seconds at the end of the game.
Puget Sound athletics photo

I don’t know how you spent your Saturday afternoon last weekend, but the single best hour of my day was the one I spent listening to the final quarter of the most incredible football game so far this season.

That’s not hyperbole.  There have been other wacky finishes this year – St. Thomas snapping its long losing streak at St. John’s on (of all things) a botched extra point is probably the first one that comes to mind.  But never before have I sat in front of my computer with my heart pounding and my jaw practically on the floor, breathlessly listening to the thrilling conclusion of a game between two teams with which I have almost zero emotional attachment.

I’m talking, of course, about Lewis & Clark’s incredible “blow-a-20-point-lead-then-come-from-behind-all-in-less-than-eight-minutes” 68-64 victory at Puget Sound, a game that featured 62 first downs, 1,218 yards of total offense, two touchdowns in the final minute of play, and two Division III records: touchdown passes in a single game (14) and extra points in a single game (16).

Call it bizarre, call it crazy, call it unbelievable – this game had it all.  L&C led 41-35 at halftime, and the Pioneers took a 55-42 lead into the fourth quarter.  When Joevonte Mayes – the best 5-6, 160 pound running back you’ve never heard of – capped an 11 play, 80 yard L&C drive that ate five minutes off the clock with a touchdown run, I certainly thought things were wrapped up.

Silly me. There was still 7:59 left on the clock.

UPS hadn’t run the ball much all day, but down by 19 points, they abandoned it completely.  From the time they took possession after Mayes’ score, the Loggers called 32 passes – including a wide receiver pass that went for 25 yard and a touchdown to close the score to 61-49 with five minutes left.  Kickoff specialist Tyler Schaner executed a perfect onside kick, and quarterback Duncan White directed another clinical drive, bringing the score to 61-56 on a nine-yard hookup with Ryan Rogers.

This time, the Pios recovered the onside, only to go three-and-out.  Helped by unbelievable passing from White (46-68, 625 yards, eight touchdowns, no interceptions) and a pass-interference call in the end zone, the Loggers scored again, then got the two-point conversion to up 64-61.  As UPS fans celebrated at Baker Stadium, I sat back in my chair, absolutely, positively convinced that this game was finally over.

Silly me.  There were still 27 seconds left on the clock.

Instead of squibbing the kick, the Loggers kicked deep to L&C return-man Logan Kotzian, who brought the ball all the way out to the Pioneers’ 48 yard line.  A daring first-down pass from Keith Welch (13-18, 254 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, and 154 yards rushing on 21 attempts) to Shawn Evans moved the Pios to the UPS 13.  Two plays later – with 1.7 seconds remaining – they hooked up again on a play you can see on D3football.com’s Plays of the Week.

Are you kidding me?

While you catch your breath, it bears mentioning that there’s a reason why both these teams were so desperate to win this game.  The Loggers, under first-year head coach Jeff Thomas, have suffered a series of heartbreaking defeats this year: a six-overtime loss to Whittier, a last second-field goal to No. 25 Pacific Lutheran, and now this.  As UPS play-by-play man Gary Hill noted in his postgame show, UPS (1-6, 0-4 NWC) is just a heartbeat away from being 4-3, 2-2.

On the other hand, the long-suffering Pioneers (4-2, 2-1 NWC) are seemingly perpetually in rebuilding mode.  Since their last winning season in 1995, they’ve been through four coaches, four winless seasons, and the near-death of the program in 2005.  But head coach Chris Sulages’ team has shown steady progress recently, going from 0-9 in 2007 to 1-8 in 2008, 2-7 in 2009, and now 4-2 in 2010.  That’s their most wins since 1996 – before L&C even joined Division III.

That should be encouraging news to struggling teams across the West.  Yes, it’s taken years to do, and the Pios have taken plenty of lumps along the way.  But if a rebuilding project can be successful on Palatine Hill, then it can be done almost anywhere.

Including in heartbroken Tacoma.

Meanwhile, across town …
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the aforementioned L&C/UPS game is that it completely stole the show from an extremely entertaining matchup of top 25 teams going on just ten miles away in Puyallup.  Longtime rivals Linfield and Pacific Lutheran treated spectators to a vintage spectacle, with the No. 12 Wildcats and No. 25 PLU trading touchdowns until midway through the third quarter, when the Lutes simply stopped moving the ball effectively.  Credit the Linfield defense for slowing down PLU’s potent aerial attack, but injuries to three Lutes starters: slotback Kyle Whitford, tight end Blake Gorle, and especially to All-NWC receiver Greg Ford may have been the real culprit.  Ford had just two catches for 33 yards on the day, but drew all sorts of coverage away from PLU’s other receivers, especially senior Isaac Moog, who had 11 catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns.

With the win, Linfield essentially wraps up the NWC title and at-large bid, though they’ll be fighting for position in the regional rankings.  Battered PLU, on the other hand, faces resurgent Lewis & Clark on the road this weekend before hosting Willamette in week 11.

Tommies closing in on MIAC title
It’s been 20 years since St. Thomas last won the MIAC, and the No. 4 Tommies moved one step closer last with a victory over No. 19 Bethel.

But it wasn’t easy.

In front of a Homecoming crowd of 6,050 at O’Shaughnessy Stadium – possibly my favorite stadium name in the West – the upstart Royals held the Tommies’ offense to just 10 points, just one week after UST put up 61 on Hamline.  Bethel outgained St. Thomas 321-253, held a 19-14 advantage in first downs, and even took a second-half 6-3 lead.  Still, the Tommies found ways to win: creating key turnovers (including two interceptions), and outperforming the Royals on special teams by blocking an extra point and averaging over 42 yards per punt.

St. Thomas is a very good football team, and there’s no question that they deserve the top five ranking they currently possess.  Still, games like this leave me wondering if the Tommies are really built for another deep playoff run.

Redlands gets revenge
It appears that after six years in a row of losing to archrival Occidental – often in painful fashion – the Redlands Bulldogs finally had enough.

Sixth-year senior quarterback Dan Selway and the rest of the Redlands squad took out all their frustrations and then some on the Tigers, pummeling Oxy 51-7 in a beatdown that brings the Bulldogs firmly back into the Pool C discussion.  Selway & Co. did most of their damage in the second quarter.  Mike Nicolini’s 52 yard punt return put Redlands up 20-0 before the Tigers put their lone touchdown of the day on the board.  But sixth-year senior Selway directed three lightning-quick drives that took just 5:55 total, pushing the halftime score to 41-7 and effectively ending the game – as well as the streak.

Luther wins one for Chris
Two weeks ago in the middle of a 45-26 loss to No. 18 Central, Luther freshman defensive back Chris Norton suffered a horrific neck injury during a kickoff return.  Norton, who is still hospitalized, was temporarily paralyzed from the neck down, but is finally getting feeling back in his upper body and arms.

With all that looming over the Norse program, one might have forgiven the Norse for overlooking last weekend’s game against Buena Vista.  Not so for head coach Mike Durnin and his team, who – wearing Norton’s “16” as a helmet decal – strung together 19 straight points on offense while picking off four Buena Vista passes for an emotional, come-from-behind 26-20 win.

To find out more about Chris, to get updates on his condition, or to donate money to help defray Chris’ medical expenses, please visit www.helpchrisnorton.com.

Correction
Thanks to reader Aaron Richards for pointing out an error in last week’s item about UW-Platteville.  The Pioneers did not snap a 29-year losing streak to UW-La Crosse two weeks ago, since Platteville notched a 37-34 win over the Eagles in 2007.  As it turns out, UWP hadn’t won in La Crosse since 1980.

Contact Me!
I’m heading up to Spokane, Wash., this weekend to watch my first ever game at Whitworth University’s famous Pine Bowl.  Please join me – and others – on the D3football.com Game Day Blog, and if you see anything I might have missed or have any comments, suggestions, or story ideas, send me an e-mail at tim.walsh@d3sports.com.

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Josh Smith photo

Josh Smith covers high school and Division III athletics for the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, Wis. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and contributes to multiple publications in addition to his duties at the Daily Union, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He graduated from UW-Whitewater with a degree in print journalism.

2011-12 columns: Jason Galleske
2010: Tim Walsh
2003-09: Adam Johnson
1999-2000: Don Stoner 

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