Beef cause "Train wreck

05/07/03 NIFL Fan Article by Andrew Hoyle

It was dubbed as the biggest game in LaCrosse's two-year history. With a near capacity crowd at home, and a head coach that had his team and fans believing they could win, expectations were high when the Night Train hosted the Omaha Beef last Friday night. There was a sense of urgency, a need to come out and perform well, to show the rest of the NIFL that the Night Train were for real and belonged amongst the Pacific North division's elite. The winner would be tied with Sioux City for first place and have control of its own destiny. Offensive miscues by the Beef had them in another first half hole, and for a while, it looked like LaCrosse would be the Little Engine that Could, taking a 30-17 lead into the locker room at halftime.

That's when the 'Train wrecked, and the doors to the cattle car burst open.

The Omaha Beef defense had once again lulled an opposing offense into a false sense of security, using soft zone coverage's and a minimal amount of blitzing in the first half to build up the Night Trains' hopes. The Beef let LaCrosse QB Johnny Johnson get comfortable, allowing him to complete 12 of 18 pass attempts for 159 yards and 4 touchdowns in the first half to his taller wide receivers. Then the Beef changed the game plan.

The Beefense came out in the third quarter looking a little too different for Johnson and the LaCrosse offense. Dwayne Harris, who started the game at NT, moved to a DE position to help minimize LaCrosse's (already) largely ineffective running game. The soft zone coverage turned into a zone blitz package, using LB Matt Hughes to apply the pressure, and an outside containment plan that kept Johnson's favorite play, the quick slant, to minimal gains for the rest of the night. Omaha also started using a "robber" DB to keep Johnson honest down the middle of the field, and led to Beef DB Dontae Jones' 6th interception of the season. Not to mention the many souvenirs Johnson put in the stands for the LaCrosse fans. Johnson was only able to pass for 86 yards and 1 touchdown in the second half, and the Beef held the Night Train to just 7 points in the third quarter.

The Beef offense was able to overcome its usual first half ineptitude to give a good showing in the second half. After two fumbles in the first half led to two LaCrosse touchdowns, the Beef managed to hang onto the ball and avoid any turnovers in the second half. QB Troy Travis (17 of 21 for 175 yards and 3 touchdowns on the night) overcame his own first half jitters that included a strange double fumble and sack play, to make a brilliant individual effort play late in the third quarter. After catching his own forward pass that was batted back to him, Travis took off running, and eluded a would-be tackler by faking another forward pass. With the defender frozen with indecision, Travis scooted around him for a seven-yard gain. That play led to a Beef touchdown and cut the Night Train lead to 37-31. Overall, the good and the bad broke even for the Beef offense on the night. Juan Parra, replacing Ricardo Allen at center this week, got a holding penalty and an illegal man downfield penalty early on, but made up for it by getting the Beef a first down late in the second quarter with a quick snap to Travis on a 'Train offsides penalty. "Time Bomb" Tyler (8 receptions for 76 yards and 3 touchdowns, 2-point conversion on the night) made a faux pas of his own and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty when he threw the ball into the stands after catching a touchdown pass from Travis late in the game. After catching the subsequent two-point try in the end zone, Tyler handed the ball to the zebra. Clinton Childs had a rough first half (9 rushes for 14 yards, 2 receptions for 25 yards), but broke it open late in the second half (finished with 17 rushes for 72 yards and 3 receptions for 33 yards) with a tough 24 yard touchdown run up the middle to make it 53-43 and send the LaCrosse faithful heading out the doors to enjoy a good night's rest before the opening day of fishing. Beef coach Collins Sanders said LaCrosse "didn't make adjustments well," and that was the difference in the game, as Omaha downed the Train 53-50 and surpassed their road win total of last season (2).

The Beef have a short week to prepare for the Lincoln Capitols, who will come calling at the Slaughterhouse Thursday night in yet another (poor) experiment by the NIFL to see if fans will attend the non-traditional football night (or day) games; the hope is to get away from the 3 or 4 bye weeks in the season to make it a little bit shorter season overall. This one has all the makings of a full house still, with Lincoln only being an hour down I-80. It will be the Battle of the Running Backs, with Omaha using Clinton Childs (65 attempts, 327 yards, 5.0 average, 9 touchdowns, 81.8 yards/game) and Lincoln countering with the NIFL's leading rusher in John Hall (81 attempts, 393 yards, 4.9 average, 12 touchdowns, 78.6 yards/game). Look for three keys to this game, the first being who uses their running back to catch the ball out of the backfield best (Hall has only two receptions on the season), the second being whoever makes the best halftime adjustments on defense, and third being whoever can control the clock longest. Omaha is allowing only 6 points a game in the third quarter, and Lincoln is allowing only 5.5 points in the third. Since the 54-23 thrashing the Beef handed the Caps a month ago, the Capitol defense has made great strides, to include allowing only 12 points to the Tri-City Diesel and shutting out the Sioux City Bandits last week, an effort which included seven red zone and two goal line defensive stands. Next to Lake Charles, Ohio Valley, and Lexington, who are undefeated on the road, both Lincoln and Omaha have the next best road records in the league at 3-1. Caps DB Ty Goode says, "It seems like, lately, we've been playing better on the road than at home. We seem to be more prepared, more focused." Hopefully the Beef can be as jacked up for the game as coach Sanders says they will be, even with ownership's decision to remove all the fun things from the pregame ceremonies. Gone are the days when the Valhalla motorcycle club preceded the team onto the field, Sir Loin rappelled from the scoreboard, and the team made flashy entrances from the Auditorium tunnels or extravagant vehicles. I'd give anything to have these Beef traditions back. I'd settle for AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" making its return. Thanks for the memories, Valhalla………

Finally, congratulations go out to former Beef TE Chad Mustard, now playing for the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe. Mustard, property of the Cleveland Browns, kept a Fire drive alive late in the game Saturday with a key third-down pass reception for a first down. Rhein went on to win the game 14-7.

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