Roasted! Second half Omaha rally leave Night Train fans stewing

05/07/03 Jason Christopherson

Can we have the “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish” theme three weeks in a row in this article?  Probably not, but it did hold true again Friday night as the Night Train squandered a 20-point third quarter lead in falling to the Omaha Beef 53-50.   The loss prevented La Crosse from vaulting into first place in the Pacific North due to the improbable shutout of Sioux City by Lincoln. 

In what appears to be the trend for the Beef, the defense allowed quarterback Johnny Johnson to pick and choose his receivers in the first half.  Newly acquired receiver Ryan Hinske, as well as DiAllo Johnson and Jose Banda, stepped up in the absence of Larry Henderson, who had a tryout with the San Francisco 49ers.  Hinske finished with seven catches for 81 yards while Johnson added six grabs for 73 yards.  Moving the ball looked WAY too easy in the first half, and it appears the team was content with that style going into the second half.  Once Omaha flipped the switch and shut down the short range passes in the third quarter, the lack of a solid running game was truly exposed.  Johnny Johnson ended up with gaudy-looking numbers:  20-42 for 247 yards and five touchdowns while playing on a slightly injured ankle.  But it wasn’t enough as Beef QB Troy Travis played a nearly flawless ballgame, going 17-21 for 175 yards (including a seven-yarder to himself).  “Ground Beef” was also effective as Clinton Childs ran for 72 yards on 17 carries, including a 22-yard run with 1:40 left to effectively salt away (okay, I’m done with the cutesy beef references) the game.

The guy who doesn’t appear all that much in the stat sheet but was very effective was Eddie McKennie.  McKennie, all 5’6” of him, was a dynamo when on the field, mostly on special teams.  He recorded a couple of solo tackles but was a like a guided missile pointed toward the ball carrier all night.  He’s an exciting player to watch—a nice pickup for the Night Train.

Oh, and kudos to the dozen or so Beef fans up there in the nosebleed section.  Long drive, but you were rewarded.  Gotta think Andrew Hoyle was up there, right?

Change is constant with the Night Train, and another flurry of changes will have an impact on this week’s game, a non-conference tilt against Rapid City on Saturday Night (note the different night, fans) at the Station.  Sean Hoolihan will get the start at quarterback over Johnson.  Meanwhile, Marrial Shields, who finished last year as the team’s starting quarterback but fell to number three on the depth chart with the signing of Hoolihan, was traded to Tri-City for linebacker Anthony Parker.  Defensive back D.J. Johnson was signed.  Also, defensive coordinator Bob Canny was fired.  DiAllo Johnson will not play due to an injury, and wide receiver Ben Antony (along with defensive back Freddie Cruz) was released, meaning the other receivers will need to step up again. 

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