The Red Zone – September 4 2011

By Craig Burroughs

Let the Games Begin: Finally, football is back at last. With my travel still somewhat limited by a temporary inability to drive, I’ve planned to cover games relatively close to home, at least for the first few weeks of the season, so Sandy can take me to games that will allow us to be home the same night. In the case of our opening game, “home” meant the house of my boyhood years in Northern Iowa after covering the 6PM kick at William Penn University’s brand new Lacey Complex Stadium in Oskaloosa, Iowa, on August 27th. The Statesmen didn’t do anything to belie their #8 preseason NAIA ranking, destroying the Iowa Wesleyan Tigers by a 42-7 count. QB Taylor Parsons was the ramrod for the defending MSFA-Midwest League title-holders, leading WPU scoring with three TD’s on 13 rushes for 99 net yards. RB Shawn Davis also carried 13 times, racking up 100 yards and a score, while 7 other ballcarriers added 197 more yards to give the Statesmen 396 for the night. The only highlight reel clip for the Tigers was Kevin McConnell’s 69-yard TD toss to Ridge Hobbs in the 2nd Quarter.

Our next excursion was a Thursday trip to Rock Island, IL, to catch Augustana’s opener against Dubuque, our first game at Ericson Stadium since 1989. While I expected a competitive evening from the visiting Spartans, who have been improving steadily under Head Coach Stan Zweifel, I hardly imagined an 18-0 halftime lead over the always-strong Vikings under new head man Rob Cushman. Augustana rallied to cut the lead to 18-13 early in the final period, but the Spartans defense rose to the occasion with a 3-and-out, two late fumble recoveries and a loss-of-downs to snuff the Vikings final drive and start their season with a hard-earned upset. WR and coach’s son Mike Zweifel, granted an extra year of eligibility due to serious injury early last season, got his final go-round off to a rousing start with 9 catches for 99 yards. His QB, Wyatt Hanus, had a good night as well, hitting on 20-of-26 tosses for 168 yards and two TD’s, as well as rushing 5 times for a net of 28 more yards. Dubuque’s senior RB Justin Spaulding led all rushers with 24 carries for 147 yards as the Spartans outgained the Vikings 373 to 284. WR Zac McCullough was the leading receiver for Augustana, with 6 catches for 40 yards, but he also had to be the most disappointed player after getting wide open over the deep middle only to drop a perfectly-thrown ball that would have been a sure touchdown and first Vikings’ lead with just over 10 minutes left to play. Ah, but what would the game be without a few character-building disappointments?

Saturday, September 3rd, was one of those weird weather days that have us scratching our heads and wondering what on earth is going on? Sandy and I visited Riverbank Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to see the first-ever varsity game in the history of Concordia-Ann Arbor, an NAIA school which is starting play in the MSFA-East. Unfortunately, the Cardinals were badly overmatched against the Saints of Saint Francis of Joliet, IL, in their 1:00 PM kickoff under sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-nineties. Aside from the 55-3 final score, the lowlight for the Cardinals’ afternoon had to be the 55-minute delay to the game caused by serious injuries to WR JaJuan Collins after catching the first and longest completion of the day for CU-AA less than five minutes into the game. He apparently suffered a dislocated hip and compound fracture of his right femur, and the trainers and EMT’s had a difficult time figuring out how to get him properly stabilized and into an air cast to load him into the ambulance. By the time the game restarted at 2:10 PM, the teams had warmed up three different times and left the field once for the coolness of the locker rooms. The Saints total offense advantage at game’s end was 559 to 132, with RB Garen Demery logging 132 yards and 4 TD’s on just 15 carries and WR Lexus Jackson hauling in 4 for 129 yards and a score. Even mop-up QB Ryne Van Gennep gained more yards in the final 16 minutes of play than the Cardinals totaled all day; he hit on 4-of-5 passes for 71 yards and a TD and rushed 5 times for 89 yards, including a 66-yard scoring sprint.

As we headed out of the sunny east side of Ann Arbor, we knew we would not arrive in Valparaiso, IN, in time to see the kickoff between the VU Crusaders and the visiting Franklin College Grizzlies, so we turned on the radio to see what was going on in college football that lovely afternoon. The Big House on the other side of Ann Arbor was at halftime of the Michigan-Western Michigan game, so we decided to drive around the south side of town knowing that there would be no traffic, with more than 110,000 people cooped up in the largest college football stadium in the land. But as we headed north around the west side of town, we hit a violent thunder storm that seemed to appear from nowhere just as the 2nd Half started a couple of miles to the east. Sure enough, the first of two lengthy “lightning” delays ensued at Michigan Stadium, and we felt blessed that our game was over and we weren’t sitting in the mostly-exposed vastness of the Big House. We tried to listen to the Notre Dame-South Florida game during the Michigan delay, but found that it was just as bad in South Bend as in Ann Arbor. That did not bode well for our night game, as South Bend’s weather often hits Valpo first. Fortunately, the worst was over by the time we got to Brown Field at the end of the 1st Quarter, with the score tied at 14.

While it drizzled on and off for the remainder of the evening, the game was never delayed by lightning, or by anything else, for that matter. It was a fast-paced exciting game from start to finish, with the score tied at 28 at intermission, thanks to a 12-yard Jonny West-to-Keith Cunningham pass with just 0:10 on the clock, and again at 35 with just seconds to play in the 3rd. West gave the Grizzlies their first lead of the night on a 20-yard pass to Ryan Hartman to end a 79-yard, 9-play drive with just 7 ticks left in the period, and Franklin’s defense stymied the Crusaders throughout the final stanza as West put the icing on the cake with a 28-yard bullet to Luke Hamm with 8:35 left to play. West clearly won the battle of the two talented QB’s, with 32-of-51 passing for 448 yards and five TD’s, with 2 INT’s and no sacks, while Valpo’s Eric Hoffman hit on 27-of-42 for 394, with one score, no INT’s and 2 sacks. Both QB’s rushed for a marker as well, with West gaining 38 on 6 carries with a long of 21, while Hoffman netted 2 yards with a long carry of 10. Franklin’s Ethan Cook was the only century rusher for the game, with 19 rushes for 115 yards and a score, while team-mate Kyle Linville was the leading receiver with 151 yards and a TD on 8 grabs. The D-III Grizzlies outgained 1-AA Valpo 669 to 463, snapping the ball 97 times in the process. Despite the drippy weather and some damp clothes, this 49-35 game was well worth a little personal discomfort.

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