Within minutes, the Cats were tested severely, with St. Mary's mixing pass and run in expert fashion. The young and green Wildcats snarled with ferocity but, like Arsene Wenger during halftime adjustments, had few answers for the initial onslaught (#ArsenalProblems). The score was a disconcerting 13-0 before Westminster asserted its muscle in the second quarter, with Dyllan Conway taking an eighteen-yard toss from field general Chad "Air Raid" Briden and smoking into the end zone with the speed of an F-16 Fighting Falcon (#AirForceFlyboys), leaving a clan of Dragons sputtering in their heat vapors. The Wildcat running game asserted itself, with the indomitable Steve Webb lighting things up with 16 carries for 207 yards and three scoring jaunts. Before the crowd knew what hit them, Westminster had snapped back for a 14-13 lead. The Dragons stole another score and had the ball with under two minutes in the half and a 20-14 lead. To sit on it or want more? Like Stephen Douglas did in penning the Kansas-Nebraska Act, they wanted more, and like the Kansas-Nebraska Act, it turned out to be an unmitigated disaster (#IdiotFranklinPierce). Dyllan Conway gathered in an interception near midfield, the ball nestling into his arms like it was his firstborn child, and there was no Gandalf raised up against him on the return journey to stay his ilk from pay dirt (#YouShallNotPass). 21-20 was the score as the teams broke for the locker rooms after a half as vexing and exhausting as the historic Salem Witch Trials (#PuritanShame).
The fast break tempo continued in the second half, hearkening back to the halcyon days of yore when NBA teams knew what a fast break was and Magic Johnson led the way (#RedHotChiliPeppers). Re-born pivot man Gus Dattolli chiseled away at the Wildcat defense, finding wideouts like Jalen Bethany and Antonio Burks at the end of improbable frozen ropes. Burks himself plucked an eye-popping 16 receptions for 324 yards, absolutely inhuman numbers--or at least Jerry Rice-like stats (#GreatestOfAllTime). Briden answered the bell and took on the challenge, finding Grant Lavalle for two second-half scores as part of his 16 of 26 for 226 yards stat line. At no point in the second half did the Wildcats trail, but at no point were they out of danger, for Dattolli's heroic effort of 29 of 50 for 528 yards (you read that right) kept the pressure on (#BringBackAndreWare). Although running back Jordan Grant (104 yards) inflicted early damage, the Wildcat stop troops adjusted as the game went on, bringing the Dragons' rush average down to their pregame defensive goals, and the swagger from the Cats went from #MeowKitty toward #RegalRoar. Westminster gave the ball over on downs deep in St. Mary's territory late, and here came the Dragons again down the field. In the press box above, the sentiment was it was strange a defensive play was needed to secure a Wildcat win. No sooner had that sentiment turned into functional carbon dioxide than Steve Webb stepped in front of a Dattolli zip line to take it back safe from threat of loss.
So, the takeaways:
(1) The Wildcats showed themselves to be a team with much work to do, but a team of much spit-and-polish grit. Not since the town coal miners in Richard Lleweylyn's How Green Was My Valley has one seen such a lunch pail effort in the face of hardship. You can argue with the fact that St. Mary's came to our house and plunked down nearly 700 yards of offense, but you can't argue that it was a win, and to gain the first victory of the Chris Pederson era, these Cats needed to pull themselves up and face threats square in the eye and plunge into danger as if facing a meteor (#DeepImpactOrArmageddonMovies). Remember that we still have players--I'm looking at you, Cooper Moore and Josh Pottebaum--who can split players in twain in Roman Reigns-like fashion.
(2) As much air yardage as Dattolli got, the Wildcats managed to improve their clamps on the Dragons' ground game as the contest progressed. In talking to Coach Pederson, it was clear that they had a goal of limitations for their Job 38:11 defense ("Here thou shalt come, and no farther") and the yards-per-carry average was one of which the staff was pleased (#ProjectStuffTheRun).
(3) The offense is still clicking for Westminster. Chad Briden has not skipped a beat in taking the baton from Evan Johnson in a smooth stride (#UsainBolt). Conway is complemented by receivers Grant Lavalle and Logan Sells, so that Briden has several dangerous weapons. Webb is...well, vintage Steve Webb, always at full throttle. So all these ingredients add up to a fully loaded offensive cache (#DaddyWants).
(4) To the critics who felt that was a very un-Westminster-like performance: Your team took it on the chin, between the eyes, and in the groin, and STILL got up and came back to throw haymakers. The slumbering giant awoke upon invasion like a throwback to the Falkland Islands when Great Britain flexed its muscle against bully Argentina (#MaggieThatcherGoesFreakingNinja). What happened last Saturday might not have been pretty. Then again, neither was Manuel Noriega. But unlike the Pulveriser of Panama, your Wildcats are unparanoid men of character. Better to face adversity now and grow stronger through it than to coast easily and never learn at all. We can leave behind the Dragons as if it was a bad memory from Game of Thrones (#JonSnowLives). I guarantee you they're already preparing at full steam for St. Dominic.
Speaking of which, that'll be the subject of the next post when we preview this Saturday's game against the Crusaders from across the Missouri River. Stay tuned.