Night Train spoils homecoming of Brown and Shields

06/18/03 Jason Christopherson

The La Crosse Night Train shook off any Friday the 13th fears and won at home for the first time in two and a half months as they defeated the Tri City Diesel 36-7 Friday Night.  Former La Crosse Head Coach Mike Brown, now the Defensive Coordinator with the Diesel, returned to the La Crosse Center for the first time since he was dismissed.  

Brown was his enthusiastic self, jumping and stomping emphatically on the field.  Unfortunately for him, most of that was done in anger and frustration, as La Crosse running back Marquette Smith was a thorn in the side of the Diesel defense.  Smith finished the night with 102 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries as La Crosse all but scrapped the passing game.  Quarterback Sean Hoolihan had 10 completions on just 16 attempts for an efficient 123 yards and one touchdown.  He also ran the ball five times for 28 yards and a score.

Defensively, the Night Train played one of their most complete games of the season.  However, though I don’t want to burst the bubble, I would be negligent in my duties to say the Diesel’s offense was anything but pathetic.  Questionable play selection and poor execution were the themes of Tri City’s offense, which may have had a little to do with an aggressive and clearly improved Night Train defense.  Constant pressure all but snuffed out the passing game.  Adam Boehm had two sacks while Derric Coakley and Dave Diemel also contributed one each.   The secondary responded to the constant pressure by intercepting Tri City quarterbacks three times.  Coakley also had two picks, bringing the total to five for the team.

The Night Train defense set the tone early.  Tri City quarterback Marrial Shields, who was the number one quarterback for the Night Train a year ago before losing his job to Johnny Johnson (and subsequently Hoolihan) at the start of this season, was picked off by Shane Hall on the game’s first play.  A missed field goal by the struggling Brett Gorden gave the Diesel the ball at their five-yard-line.  A contingent of 20 or so Tri City fans was happy and out-cheering the nearly 4000 home fans as Shields led the Diesel to the end zone and a 7-0 lead.  But that Diesel cheering section would soon be out of gas as it became evident the team would not score again the rest of the night.  The Diesel showed no confidence in their kicker, Tankersley, since they went for it on fourth down despite very makable field goal distances.  The first time they did this was the first play of the second quarter, still ahead 7-0.  On fourth and three from the La Crosse four yard line, Sherman Jones was handed the ball off the left side and stopped after a short gain.  The Night Train finally responded with an impressive 47-yard drive capped by a one yard Smith plunge.  Gorden’s PAT failed so they could not tie the score.  David Johnson picked off a weak Shields throw and returned it to the Tri-City 15, setting up a touchdown pass from Hoolihan to Jose Banda on the next play.  Another missed PAT left the score at 12-7 with around four minutes to play in the half.  Shields drove the Diesel to the La Crosse 8 before making his final mistake of the night.  Scrambling for his life, Shields appeared to want to throw the ball into the crowd but Coakley intercepted his ill-advised, off balance lob with a nice athletic play.  Roger Linn replaced Shields, who appeared confused and afraid to throw the ball.  (Perhaps that was a good instinct, because Night Train fans should know his running ability greatly exceeds his throwing arm).  Linn got the Diesel into field goal range as the first half wound down, but Tankersley did nothing for the coaches’ confidence by pushing a 28-yard attempt to the right. 

A quick third quarter saw the only scoring coming from the leg of Gorden, who appeared relieved after his 20-yard attempt split the uprights.  Smith made an impressive 12-yard touchdown run in the opening minute of the fourth quarter to make the score 22-7.  In the fourth quarter, the Diesel sputtered even worse than they had been to that point, finishing the comeback attempt with 18 yards rushing and only 13 passing.  On 4th and 10 from their own 21, Tri City gave the ball to Jones, who was met by Coakley and a host of others to lose five yards and, effectively, the game as less than two minutes remained.  Hoolihan snuck in from one yard with under a minute left to make what was assumed to be the final score 29-7.  But a fumbled kickoff had the Diesel starting from deep in their own territory.  Coakley put a fitting end to the game by intercepting a pressured Linn in the end zone for another Night Train touchdown. 

The win guarantees that La Crosse will not occupy the cellar of the Pacific North division, a spot reserved for the struggling Tri City this year.  Baby steps, fans, baby steps.  Yes, the team said all the right things at the beginning of the year, like “We are a playoff contender”.  What were they supposed to say?  Four wins this season is a heck of a lot better than the one win last year.   At least four times better, if you want to get all mathematical on me!  And consider the fact that they CUT the price of season tickets (after many of us renewed at the original price, I might add, giving us a credit that could be cashed in or used for merchandise) and still put together a great show.  But I just realized something:  I don’t have to tell this to any of you.  You are already well aware and you supported the team throughout this season.  You, the fans, deserve a round of applause.  Let’s keep it going next year. 

The Night Train close out their second voyage with a non-conference game against the Roughriders of Bismarck on Saturday.  No fooling, this is going to be a tough one as Bismarck is in a battle for a playoff spot in the very tough Pacific West division.  Maybe the ‘Train can ride the momentum of last Friday and play a spoiler role?  Let’s hope so.  Next week’s article will have a quick re-cap of the game and the final report card from Chris and I.  I’ll also try to answer any questions you may have for me.  My e-mail is

 If you go to the game, I’d really like to hear from you.  Drop me an e-mail.  

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