Rough loss, 4th quarter rally falls short

06/25/03 Jason Christopherson

The La Crosse Night Train concluded their second excursion Saturday night with a stop in Bismarck to face a solid Roughriders squad.  The Train faced one of the League’s most powerful teams for the second time in three weeks.  And much like the game in Omaha, the improved Train fell just short of a major upset as the Roughriders narrowly emerged with a 63-51 victory.

La Crosse uncharacteristically jumped out to a 20-14 first quarter lead before Bismarck roughed up the Train defense with 28 unanswered points.  Derric Coakley lined up in the backfield and surged in from one yard to open the scoring two minutes into the game.  That TD was answered on the Roughriders first play from scrimmage, a 29-yard strike from Bismarck quarterback Chris Schwab, the first of his amazing night.   Brett Gorden drilled a 45-yard field goal on La Crosse’s next drive, and Coakley recovered a Schwab fumble deep in Bismarck territory to set up a 28-yard field goal for Gorden.  Schwab marched Bismarck 43 yards for another touchdown to give the Roughriders the lead, but Night Train quarterback Sean Hoolihan hit Larry Henderson for 27 yards and a score on their first play of the ensuing drive to put the Train back on track with the 20-14 lead. 

The second quarter was all Bismarck as La Crosse’s drives stalled and Gorden missed two field goals and had a third blocked.  Meantime, Schwab warmed up and fired three more touchdown passes, including one as the half expired to make the score 35-20. 

Rather than fold up the tent, the Night Train played inspired ball after giving up another touchdown pass just a minute and a half into the third quarter.  Hoolihan was Mr. Everything for the offense in the absence of Marquette Smith.  He rambled 27 yards for a touchdown for the Night Train’s first points since the Henderson catch in the first quarter.  Schwab immediately answered with a 43-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead back up to 22.  Disaster was avoided on the next Night Train drive.  A penalty on the kick return gave La Crosse the ball at their own six.  Gorden was forced to attempt a 54-yard field goal, which understandably fell short.  Street returned the ball 41 yards to the La Crosse 16.  The defense held on a questionable 4th and 11 play and Hoolihan spread the ball around to his receivers before galloping in from five yards to cut Bismarck’s lead to 49-34.  Another big play from Schwab netted another touchdown for the Roughriders near the end of the third quarter to push their lead to 56-34. 

Hoolihan calmly led the team down the field for a field goal in the opening drive of the fourth quarter.  Dempsey Miller then came up big for La Crosse as he scooped up a Schwab fumble and ran 23 yards for another touchdown.  The defense then came through again.  Azriel Woodson picked off a Schwab pass at his own nine and ran it out 14 yards.  Hoolihan, facing a 3rd and 19 play, found the always clutch Jose Banda for 25 yards to cap a 17-0 run by La Crosse which cut the Bismarck lead to 56-51 with only around two minutes in the game.  The Roughriders went to the ground game for essentially the first time all evening on their next possession, and the taxed Night Train defense could not stop them.  The result was a touchdown with just seven seconds left in the game to ice it for Bismarck. 

Chris Schwab was absolutely lights out.  He was 21-30 for 313 yards and eight touchdowns.  Hoolihan had another solid performance in the loss, hitting on 19 of 35 for 189 yards and also leading the team in rushing with 56 yards on six carries.

Report Card:

The loss gives the Night Train a 4-10 record for their second season in the NIFL.  A vast improvement, but not what was hoped for at the start of the season.  I was going to do a full-blown, season-ending report card to see where we stack up, but I guess I changed my mind because we all know how the Train stacked up against their opponents.  However, it might be kind of fun to just go back and see.  I didn’t go back and ask my good friend Chris Lokken his opinion, but I think he will agree with this assessment.

Offensive Line:  Then:  6.75.  Now:  Dropped slightly.  Garnet Asmundson was inactive the last few weeks, and despite some strong efforts by the rest (one game in particular) the running game never really got going.  Injuries may have taken their toll on a line that wasn’t very deep. 

Running Backs:  Then:  5.  Now:  No change.  Again, one breakout game from Marquette Smith, but there was several games where he struggled. 

Quarterbacks:  Then:  6.5.  Now:  Much improved.  Hoolihan is a winner, despite what the record says.  He proved Chris was right all along—he is the real deal.

Receivers:  Then:  7.5.  Now:  No change.  Good corps of receivers—someone was always there to step up when needed.

Defensive Line:  Then:  9.5.  Now:  Slight decrease.  Coakley was reckoned with in the second half of the season and yet still performed incredibly.  But the rest of the line was somewhat average and didn’t really take advantage of the extra attention Coakley was getting.

Linebackers:  Then:  5.5.  Now:  decreased.  Lots of receivers open in the short middle of the field for the opponents.  Definitely and area for upgrade in the offseason.

Secondary:  Then:  8.  Now:  decreased.  Lots of big plays given up.  Not terribly consistent.  Marvin Hooker is the exception, and the main reason the score was as high as it is.

Special Teams:  Then:  8.  Now:  decreased.  Gorden slumped, and so did the return game toward the end of the year.

Coaching/Personnel:  Then:  3.5.  Now:  Incomplete (see below)

Atmosphere:  Then:  9.5.  Now:  No change.  The La Crosse Center was always a fun place to watch a game.

Overall score:  Then:  67.25, a D+.  Now:  Decreased, but it’s still tough to give a grade like that to a team that played that much better than they did a season before.  Again, I’ll enforce a curve and say we were probably more like a C- overall.

More Changes?

Just because the season ended is no reason to believe the constant changes we saw during the season will stop.  This promises to be a turbulent off-season as a 4-10 record was not what owner Andy Temte was looking for.  

And it’s already starting…

General Manager Michael Grego announced on Monday that coach Reggie Mathis will need to re-apply for his job as a nation-wide search for a coach begins.  According to an article in the La Crosse Tribune, Mathis and Grego don’t necessarily see things the same way, and Mathis insists on being in charge of football operations if he is to be coach in 2004.  Stay tuned to the Tribune for further information on what will likely be the biggest story of the summer for the Night Train.

And Finally…

I want to thank a few people for a great year.  First off, to Chris for being a great friend and car-pooler.  Watching the games with you is just plain fun.  Secondly, thanks go out to Adam Peterman and Michael Grego for allowing me to write this article every week, and for letting me say exactly what I want to say.  Thanks, too, to webmaster Jerry for accepting late articles every once in a while and for giving me some advice when I needed it. 

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