Night Train drop 3rd straight

05/21/03 Jason Christopherson

The La Crosse Night Train could never get in gear offensively, scoring only three points in the first half en route to a 42-21 loss to Rapid City Saturday night.  The loss dropped the Night Train to 3-6 overall and playoff hopes are beginning to fade.

Johnny Johnson started at quarterback in what proved to be his last appearance in a Night Train uniform.  The former Illinois star was 14-26 for 105 yards before being replaced with Sean Hoolihan, who was a steady 8-10 for 104 yards.  Johnson left the team on Tuesday as some bad blood apparently existed between he and new coach Reggie Mathis.

For the second time in as many weeks, Verna Owens ran like Jesse Owens through the Night Train defense.  Owens racked up 87 yards on 18 carries and also caught four balls for an additional 20 yards. The Red Dogs’ Mario Patton was quarterback Terrance Bryant’s favorite target, grabbing 8 for 114 yards.

La Crosse hopes to turn things around this week at Lincoln.  From now on, every game is huge for the Night Train, and a win in this game would put the Night Train in third place in the Pacific North.


Technically, it’s a little past “midseason”, but I wanted to hold off until there was a road game, which is always tough to write about.

Chris Lokken and I discussed the team on ten different areas:  Offensive Line, Running Backs, Quarterbacks, Receivers, Defensive Line, Linebackers, Secondary, Special Teams, Coaching/Personnel, and Overall Atmosphere.  We independently graded these areas on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being outstanding.  Then we averaged our responses to get an overall consensus grade.  Without further ado:

Offensive Line:  Score: 6.75.  Pass protection seems to be solid most games, but there have been a few hiccups.  Run blocking could improve, but it is not bad.

Running Backs:  Score:  5.  Tough call on this.  Chris Floyd was arguably the best back in the league, but he’s not here anymore.  Troy Pearson seems to be improving (he caught six passes last week to add another dimension to his game), but this appears to be a weak area for the Night Train right now.  At the beginning of the season, Marquette Smith was supposed to be signed, but an injury delayed his arrival.  No word on how he is progressing, or if there is still interest from the team.

Quarterbacks:  Score:  6.5.  Johnson started strong, but it appears he needed Floyd to take some pressure off.  He also made some costly mistakes at the wrong times, and his leadership was questioned after the coaching change.  Hoolihan shows tremendous upside, but didn’t perform all that well in his first start against Rapid City two weeks ago (although he was pressured most of the night).

Receivers:  Score:  7.5.  This group could be among the best in the league.  But, the injury bug has bitten DiAllo Johnson, leaving some questions.  Jose Banda has really played well in Johnson’s absence, and Ryan Hinske is also emerging as a potential star.  However, the group does get the “dropsies” a little more than normal.  With the reduced effectiveness of the running game, these guys will need to do even better over the last few weeks of the season.

Defensive Line:  Score:  9.5.  Coakley.  Nothing else needs to be said. 

Linebackers:  Score:  5.5.  Group is in a carousel from week to week.  Adequate job, but room for improvement.

Secondary:  Score:  5.5.  Marvin Hooker has been a bright spot, but the team has been burned far too often with the little wide receiver screens.  Good speed and athleticism across the board—this is another unit that may be under performing lately.

Special Teams:  Score:  8.  Chris and I both feel that Brett Gorden is probably the best kicker in the league.  If he isn’t, it may be because he’s a little inconsistent.  Regardless, he’s a ten-fold upgrade from last season, where the team was probably thinking of offering a contract to any guy or girl that booted the 2-liter bottle ten yards to win something at half time.  Kick coverage brings this score down.  It seems as though the opposing team is always starting around the 25.  Decent in the NFL, but not in the NIFL.  Kick returns are above average.

Coaching/Personnel:  Score:  3.5.  Now, I don’t proclaim to be a Ron Wolf.  In fact, I know nothing about the business.  But I just feel there is something to be said for stability.  Guys shouldn’t be playing with a target on their backs—doing that means players will play just well enough to not get cut and, more importantly, for themselves rather than the team.  I’m not pointing any fingers at all.  Just a general comment.  I know everyone is just trying to do what is in the best interest of the team.

Atmosphere:  Score: 9.5.  Fun fun fun.  Another dramatic improvement from last year is the general atmosphere at the La Crosse Center.  Since the team averages over 4000 fans a game, I know I’m not the only one who feels that way.  Good works, guys.

Overall score:  67.25, which grades out to about a D+.  That’s a little harsh for a team that has won three games.  Break down every team like this and I’m sure we can put a curve in so this would be more like a “C”.  Hopefully there are none of those brainiac teams that screw up the curve.  Room for improvement for certain, but great strides have been made already.

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