Freedom shackles Train, playoff hopes gone

06/04/03 Jason Christopherson

If I were to continue to try and write a positive column about the Night Train’s game last week, I would have had to turn in a blank page.  That probably wouldn’t sit well with the webmaster.  So sit back, my friends, and let me tell you a little story about the game last Friday.  But be prepared—it doesn’t have a fairly tale ending.

Fort Wayne came into the La Crosse Center expecting a rejuvenated Night Train team.  La Crosse had just signed Marquette Smith, who they had been clamoring for since before the season (and who the fans have been screaming for since Chris Floyd bolted).  The Train still had faint playoff hopes, and with Smith there was talk that perhaps the team could run the table. 

The Freedom didn’t get what they expected.  And they were happy about that.  The 59-6 final score wasn’t really indicative of the game. 

It wasn’t that close.

A nice first drive, resulting in no points thanks to a missed field goal, was all the Night Train could hang their hats on until midway through the fourth quarter.  Smith bolted for a couple of nice gains, but his inexperience was evident as he failed to pick up Fort Wayne blitzers all night long.  Starting quarterback Sean Hoolihan was under pressure constantly, but even when he had time he was not accurate.  Cawley, who fared no better, replaced Hoolihan.  After one sack, Cawley fired the ball into the last few rows of the La Crosse Center.  True to form for the night, the throw was wild and to no one in particular.   Brett Gorden missed all of his field goal attempts, but apart from the first one they were all from unreasonable distances.

The first half mercifully ended after what seemed like six hours.  La Crosse had tallied ten yards in the first half.  Not points.  YARDS!!!  That included a pitiful –23 yards passing.  Meanwhile, Fort Wayne scored at will as the secondary for La Crosse appeared to be playing prevent defense.  And a soft prevent at that.  If the Freedom wanted to go deep, they were still able to.  But the ten and fifteen yard routes over the middle seemed to work just fine.

Normally, you expect at least a somewhat different team in the second half.  This is especially true with the “Jeckyl and Hyde” nature of the Night Train the last few weeks.   Gorden kicked off to start the third quarter.  The fans, still in shock from the first half, hoped this would be the turning point, as it couldn’t possibly get any worse.  But it did.  Another score from the Freedom.  The first play of the ensuing drive for La Crosse?  Interception.  Not even close.  Another Fort Wayne score.  A nice kickoff return gave the remaining fans something to cheer about.  That is, until the ball was fumbled and recovered by Fort Wayne.  Another score.  I would have to check the stats, and trust me, I don’t want to do that, but I believe the Freedom squad was finally stopped at around the ten minute mark of the fourth quarter.  They had scored on every other drive of the night to that point!

Much like the hometown baseball fan that finds himself rooting for the opposing pitcher if he has something as rare as a perfect game going, I found myself sadistically rooting for the shutout.  I wasn’t alone, as the dozen or so fans left (ok, that was an exaggeration.  But it was the first one of the article—believe me) could do nothing but laugh and shake their heads.  When the sarcastic cheer went up as the Night Train finally found paydirt (oh, the extra point was missed, by the way, as an oncoming rusher could have nearly picked the ball from Banda’s hold), I was a little saddened.  A little math had me enthused, though, because I would have another ten potential headlines to use if Fort Wayne scored again to make the score a satanic 66-6.  That, too, failed as the vaunted Night Train defense stepped up to avoid the embarrassment of a 60-point loss. 

This is no longer a team, I’m sad to say.  It is a bunch of individuals all trying to make a big play.  They are playing for themselves and not as a team, and this brand of football is not fair to the faithful fans of La Crosse.  The Beef, La Crosse’s host this week, must be drooling for the weekend to get here so they can tear apart this team.  Let’s hope there will be no more embarrassments like the 3000+ fans (at the start of the game) endured last week. 

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