Diesel, Beef kick off in-state rivalry
03/28/02 Kearney Cyberhub
KEARNEY — For the first time in their two-year history the Tri-City Diesel need only jump on Interstate 80 to reach their next opponent.
The Diesel (1-0) are set to leave Kearney on Friday morning for a 7:30 p.m. matchup with the Omaha Beef at the Civic Auditorium. The game represents the first time the Diesel have played a fellow Nebraska team and a crowd of more than 7,000 is expected.
"The enthusiasm is running pretty high," Tri-City coach Leland Skeen said. "There is somewhat of a rivalry there between the UNK guys and UNO guys. The intensity has picked up tremendously in the last two days. You can tell it's a big game week."
In fact, Skeen said he plans to turn the burner down to low for the Diesel's final practice leading up to the game in an effort to build up energy and avoid injuries. He added that team is "more relaxed" this season and will not be intimidated by the Beef.
But avoiding intimidation may be easier said than done.
The Beef, who formerly played in the defunct Indoor Professional Football League, return 20 players from last season's squad that racked up a league-best 15-2 record.
The Beef's talent starts with quarterback Troy Travis, but it doesn't end there.
Omaha also features former Nebraska running back Clinton Childs and defensive end Dwayne Harris, as well as Notre Dame cornerback Ty Goode.
But the best of the bunch is Travis, who was named the IPFL's Most Valuable Player last year after throwing for 2,415 yards and 48 touchdowns.
At 6-foot-3 and 245-pounds, Travis also proved to be a capable runner by racking up 354 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground.
"His strength is sitting in the pocket," Skeen said of Travis. "If we can get some pressure on him and force him to run, it will be in our favor.
"He is not nearly as effective throwing on the run. But if we let him sit back there, it will be no different than a big quarterback in the NFL. … He will pick us to death."
Getting to Travis may be a difficult task considering that Omaha will have a slight size advantage along the offensive and defensive line.
"We could have gotten bigger players," Skeen said. "But I went with the philosophy that Florida and Nebraska have adopted. Let's get some smaller people who can run.
"If we play up to our capability, there is no doubt in my mind that we will win."
The Beef have not played a game yet this season, while Tri-City sits atop the Pacific North division with a 1-0 record.
However, the Diesel will be starting a new quarterback, Tavares Thompson, after losing Jay Cross this week. Cross, who completed 8 of 13 passes for 53 yards in the season-opening 49-18 win versus La Crosse, quit the team due to family issues, Skeen said.
Thompson logged some mop up duty in the lopsided win and finished with 44 yards passing.
"We are real happy with Tavares," Skeen said. "He'll definitely get the nod against Omaha. Even if Jay were here he still would have gotten the nod."
Cornerback David Hales also left the team for personal reasons and will be replaced by Sherman Jones.
But even with a new quarterback taking the snaps, Skeen said he isn't worried about the expected large crowd at Civic Auditorium.
"If this was last year I would say yes," he said. "It did affect us when we went down to Billings last year. They had about 10,000 people packed in there and that turned into a disaster. We didn't know what it was like being on the road and everything that goes with it. We do now."