Friday, September 14, 2007

Game day is a big deal in Chadron by Con Marshall

Game day is a big deal in scores of college and university towns across America. That is true in Chadron, just as it is in Lincoln, Ann Arbor, South Bend or Tuscaloosa.
Fans don’t flock to watch the Eagles by the tens of thousands like they do in the heavily-populated areas and fill stadiums that hold more bodies than there are living in a 150-mile radius of Chadron. But they do come from great distances and the past several years have been jamming into Don Beebe Stadium at Elliott Field in the shadow of C Hill at Chadron State until there’s standing room only. And, in some instances, there’s not much of that anymore.
Perhaps with the exception of Fur Trade Days in the second weekend in July, Chadron’s biggest crowds are on the autumn afternoons when the Eagles are in action. No evangelist, governor, orator or movie star can draw the multitudes like a football game. (Of course, the last movie star to openly visit may have been Freida Romine in 1916 when she portrayed Calamity Jane during the filming of a western that was never released.)
But even graduation when moms, dads, grandpas, grandmas and, as CSC president Janie Park likes to say, “cousins by the dozens,” fill the Armstrong Building to the rafters doesn’t produce as large a nose count as when the gladiators of the gridiron collide.
“Football games bring us the most business,” said Matt Reeves, manager of the Best Western Motel in Chadron. “Most of the teams stay with us and then we have the parents, grandparents and alumni who follow the Eagles. We never have to worry about having any vacant rooms when there’s a football game scheduled.”
Reeves noted that it’s not just the motels that benefit from game day. So do the restaurants, gas stations and retail businesses.
Business is particularly brisk when the Eagles have a good team, or as Reeves puts it, “All ships rise on a high tide.”
Brad Smith, who became the Eagles’ head football coach 20 years ago this fall and is CSC athletic director, said his wife remembers when there were more weeds growing on the floor of the stadium than there were people sitting on the seats. That was the first year he was the head coach following a dismal few years when fans didn’t have much to cheer about.
Smith quickly turned things around. During his third year, the Eagles went 8-2 and were in the playoffs. That brought back the fans in droves and a drive was kicked off to triple the seating capacity until today the stadium and auxiliary seating hold at least 3,600, or about two-thirds of Chadron’s population.
Thankfully, the rocked banks on the south side of Elliott Field allow fans who can’t find a seat or don’t want one to watch the game while they are standing. So far, the topography is such that no one has ever been turned away from a CSC game.
Both Reeves and another Chadron motel mogul, Larry Hollers, owner of the Westerner and Grand Motels, say the excitement about the Eagles is higher now than it ever has been.
“I had a rancher from down around Valentine call me this week and say he wants two rooms for the next game because he wants to come and watch that (Danny) Woodhead kid carry the football,” Hollers said. “I told him that it would be worth his time and money, but also told him there are a lot of other good players on the team, too.
“It used to be that most of our customers the night before the game and afterwards were parents of players,” Hollers continued. “But now, we’re having people come whose kids don’t play football and fans who just want to watch the Eagles. I’m so excited about this team myself that I can hardly sit still. I’m about getting to the place where I was with the Cornhuskers when (Tom) Osborne coached them. I’m thinking they can’t be beat. I suppose I’ll get disappointed sometime, but they’re looking awfully good.”
The attention Coach Bill O’Boyle’s Eagles are receiving will undoubtedly quicken as the Eagles’ winning streak, which was at 16 regular-season games following three non-conference victories this fall, grows and Woodhead draws closer to becoming college football’s all-time leader in rushing, all-purpose yards and scoring. It should all happen sometime in October.
During the first three games, the senior from North Platte, who was last year’s Harlon Hill Award winner, has gained 541 yards rushing and grabbed 10 passes for another 249 yards. He’s averaging almost 10 yards every time he touches the ball. And, he’s already scored nine touchdowns, giving him 95 during his star-studded career. Only one player has ever scored 100 TDs in his college days.
Danny’s antics aren’t going unnoticed. Reporters from the New York Times, Denver Post, Omaha World-Herald and USA Today have already been to the campus to interview him. Sports Illustrated saluted him in its “Who’s Hot” feature earlier this month.
Woodhead and Co. have also sparked a reunion. Members of the CSC teams from the late 1970s when Danny’s uncle, Kent, and father, Mark, were playing for the Eagles are getting together on Oct. 13 to watch the 2007 team tangle with Fort Lewis. The call for the get-together was sounded by Chadron native Bill Ryan, a standout on those teams of 25-plus years ago.
“I told them they’d better get to Chadron before he graduates,” Ryan said. “They’re never going to see a better running back in their lives than he is. I think after they see him, they’ll all thank me for doing them a big favor.”

WOU tops Linfield 32-20 in front of 3,800 at McArthur Field

MONMOUTH, Ore.—Western Oregon controlled the football and thus the game during a 32-20 win over Linfield in front of an overflow crowd of 3,800 fans at McArthur Field on Saturday night.

The Wolves had the ball for over 38 minutes in the ball game, compared to 21+ for the visiting Wildcats as WOU moved to 2-0 on the season. The game was the season opener for Linfield.

Western Oregon had nearly 400 yards in total offense and held Linfield to just six yards rushing, but Wolf fans still had to hold their collective breath late in the contest as the Wildcats moved inside the five-yard line with less than five minutes to play, down just 12 points (32-20).

But a rare mistake by Wildcat quarterback Trevor Scharer resulted in a Zach Christopherson interception at the goal line to kill the drive.

Scharer was 24-for-36 for 274 yards on a night where the Wildcat running game was negligent but the passing game was not. His WOU counterpart Mark Thorson was very effective as well, hitting 24 of 34 attempts for 280 yards and three scores.

Twice in the first half, Thorson found tight end Cory Dickson for touchdown passes. In what was a crazy first 30 minutes of play, the Wolves jumped out to a quick 16-0 lead on one of those Thorson to Dickson connections, a 30-yard fumble recovery and run by linebacker Gavin Romanick for a score and a 41-yard field goal by Bruce Voges that came after a Wildcat fumble on the kick-off.

But the Wildcats came right back with a TD run by Drew Ragan and a 10-yard connection from Scharer to Tyler Kaluza to make it 16-13. The first half also included a Wolves safety (Victor Felipe and JT Gilmore on the tackle) and a 74-yard fumble recovery and run by Linfield’s Jaymin Jackson for a score. That came as the Wolves were driving for a potential score to go into the locker room up by 19 points, but instead had to settle for a 25-20 lead.

While the first half featured lots of everything, the second half turned into more of a chess match, with the Wolves controlling the pieces. WOU had the ball 19 of the 30-second half minutes, and produced the only score after intermission on a 19-yard pass from Thorson to Shaun Kauleinamoku. WOU advanced into Linfield territory twice, including a drive that advanced to the 12-yard line before tailback Ben Kuenzi’s pass was intercepted.

That was a rare miscue for Kuenzi, who had a hard-earned 89 yards on 26 carries. Tyler Wilson added 40 yards on 12 carries, while Kauleinamoku was Thorson’s top receiver with eight catches for 86 yards. Isaiah Smith had six grabs for 75 yards.

Andrew Bean and Keone Tawata were busy on defense for Linfield, each recording 17 tackles on the night. Casey O’Donnell had two tackles for loss for the Wolves defense, leading seven different players who had tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Western Oregon will hit the road next week, traveling to Texas A&M-Kingsville on Saturday. Start time is 7 pm Central Daylight Time.

USD Defeats Winona State 49-28

For the second straight game The University of South Dakota amassed over 600 yards of offense in a game as USD picked up their first victory of the season. The Coyotes, who entered the game ranked 20th in the nation, defeated Winona State University 49-28 in front of 8,267 fans at the DakotaDome.The win for USD is their 20th-straight home victory, dating back to the final game of the 2003 season. The Coyotes are now 1-1 on the season.Amos Allen (Sr., Miami, Fla.) and Noah Shepard (So., Lakewood, Colo.) combined to score six of the Coyotes seven touchdowns in the game. The only touchdown that the USD dynamic duo did not account for was when T.J. Simmons (Jr., Houston, Texas) scooped up a WSU fumble and ran it back 22 yards for the score.Once again the USD ground attack was near impossible to stop, thanks in large to the 5-8, 180 pound transfer from Dixie State. Allen, who one week ago ran for 162 yards and one touchdown against West Texas A&M, compiled 220 yards rushing on 20 carries and found the endzone three times. Shepard also was productive in running the ball for USD as he racked up 50 yards on four carries.Along with his 50 rushing yards, Shepard also had a big night passing the ball. He completed 17-of-27 passes for 293 yards. He connected with Dan Skelly (So., Champlin, Minn.) on two touchdown passes and improved his quarterback rating to 166.4 on the season. Shepard’s touchdown passes both came on the long ball. His first touchdown connection with Skelly was for 57 yards and the other was 67 yards.After the first quarter of action it looked as though the two teams were in line for a defensive battle. The Coyote defense came out strong to start the game as they forced WSU into a three and out on their first possession. USD then put together a drive that lasted 10:38 and went 66 yards on 16 plays. South Dakota was unable to come away with any points however, as Frank Leibfarth (Sr., Yankton, S.D.) just missed a 47-yard field goal. Both Winona State and USD would have the ball one more time in the first quarter, but neither would manage any points.That would all change in the second quarter as the two teams combined for 28 points in the 15 minutes prior to halftime. The Coyotes got on the board first when Allen punched in his first of three touchdowns. South Dakota moved the ball 92 yards on the scoring drive, mostly thanks to short passes and runs of seven or more yards. Allen finally capped off the drive with his 13-yard touchdown run to put USD up 7-0.Winona State looked as though they were on their way to getting on the scoreboard on the following possession. Warrior quarterback Drew Aber got their offense moving with a pair of long passes, but gave the ball back to USD when he was intercepted by Byron Bullock (Jr., Inglewood, Calif.). Shepard would need just one snap to put the Coyotes in the endzone again. He found Skelly on a play action pass for the touchdown on the very first snap of the drive, as South Dakota went up 14-0.The Warriors would answer back and finally get on the scoreboard. Aber completed passes for 17 and 12 yards and Alex Wiese had a 17 yard run to set up Aber’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Ellis Minor to cut the USD lead in half.With just 1:11 to play in before halftime, it looked as though the Coyotes would go into the locker room with a touchdown lead. However, for the second straight time they would score on their very first play of the drive. After WSU kicker Ryan Abbott kicked the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, Allen bolted off for a 65-yard touchdown run. Just 1:05 into the second half the Coyotes found themselves up 28-7. USD received the ball first in the second half, but was unable to move the ball and went three and out. However, on the first play of Winona State’s drive, Simmons recovered an Alex Wiese fumble and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.Following Simmons’ touchdown return, the two teams would go nearly nine minutes of scoreless action. Winona State would again cut the lead in half when Aber connected with Abbott on a 14-yard touchdown pass.The Coyote offense would again waste little time in getting back on the board following a Winona touchdown. On USD’s next possession following the Warrior score, Shepard started the drive with a 41-yard pass to Mitch Mohr (RFr., Genoa, Neb.). On the next play Allen busted off another long run as he went 33 yards for his third touchdown of the evening to put USD up 35-14.Winona State was able to cut the lead down to two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Following a Coyote turnover, Aber connected with Scott Peters for a 35-yard touchdown pass to bring the score to 35-21. The Winona State momentum would not last long as the Coyotes were able to once again answer back on their next drive.Allen had a 19-yard run and Shepard broke off a 29-yard run to put USD in the redzone again. With the ball on the WSU eight yard line and South Dakota with a third and five, Shepard scrambled for a touchdown to put Coyotes up 42-21.With just under eight minutes to play in the game, the Warriors were determined not to go away quietly. They moved the ball down the field 70 yards on just five plays in 1:38 to cut the USD lead to 42-28 when Aber again found Scott for a 41-yard touchdown pass.USD would finally put the game away, again on another quick score following a Warrior touchdown. After a pair of two-yard runs by Allen, Shepard again went for the long ball when he found Skelly for a 67-yard touchdown pass.When it was all said and done, the Coyotes compiled 603 yards of offense on the night. Both teams were efficient through the air, however it was South Dakota’s ability to stop the run that proved to be the game’s biggest advantage. USD ran for 310 yards and limited WSU to just 55 yards on the ground. With their second-straight game of over 600 yards of total offense, the Coyotes are now averaging 648.0 yards of total offense on the season.The Coyote defense was led by Justiss Scales (Sr., Columbus, Ohio) who had a team-high seven tackles. Simmons also added five tackles to go along with his fumble return.South Dakota will now turn its attention to North Central Conference action when they travel to Duluth, Minn. next weekend. The Coyotes will play their first NCC game of the season on Saturday, September 15 when they take on the University of Minnesota-Duluth at 6:00 p.m.