At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Wildcat Lair (2016: Vol. 7)

For those of you wondering when this will stop, stand firm.

Your team is doing so.

For the first time since 2012, the Westminster Wildcats have been hit with a two-game losing streak. As such, that means this year's senior class is coping with something unknown. That also means that the Wildcat Universe needs to give them room to deal with it.

The heartbreaking 24-21 loss to number-one area small school Lutheran North puts the Wildcats at 1-2 on the season with a daunting game against John Burroughs coming up this Saturday. I'm not going to go into all the details of the play-by-play. John Hough has captured the highlights of the contest here at Gateway Sports Venue (by the way, there is no better sole proprietor-run vehicle of high school football action in the St. Louis than what John Hough puts really need to check him out). I'll simply say a few things.

1. It's disheartening to give up big plays, especially the game-winner when you have the opponent on their side of the field. I think it's fair to say the players and the coaching staff are of one accord in saying they will improve in this area.

2. Josh Pottebaum came in and did a great job spelling the injured Chad Briden. This is in addition to playing defense. Great mobility, too...and as we move through the stretch of games we have remaining, that should be a tremendous asset to the offense. Just stay healthy, Josh.

3. Dyllan Conway continues to impress, if that was at all possible given what he's already done in his career. Two more touchdown grabs last Saturday makes people wonder what could possibly be an encore. So there are good things here.

Now let me offer one more insight. Yes, I realize we are 1-2. Let's also recalibrate this matter in a different light (apologies for the mixed metaphor).

Gilles Tippette's book Saturday's Children recounts the 1971 Rice University football season under head coach Bill Peterson (whose surname is a phonetic hair's breadth away from that of Westminster head coach Chris Pederson). The Rice Owls played a fierce schedule loaded with powerhouses like Houston, USC, LSU, Texas, and Arkansas. The final record was 3-7-1, which means Rice was relegated to the lower division of the then-Southwest Conference.

But look at the results week-by-week and you'll see many close games. To wit:
     9/11/71        Houston                    Lost        21-23
     9/18/71        (#17) USC                 Lost          0-24
     9/25/71        Tulane                       Won       14-11
     10/2/71        @ (#16) LSU            Lost          3-38
     10/16/71      SMU                         Lost         10-16*
     10/23/71      @ (#16) Texas          Lost         10-39*
     10/30/71      @ Texas Tech           Won          9-7*
     11/6/71        (#16) Arkansas         Tied         24-24*
     11/13/71      Texas A&M              Lost         13-18*
     11/20/71      @ TCU                     Lost          19-20*
     11/27/71      Baylor                       Won         23-0*

The conference games are marked with an asterisk (this was before Houston joined the SWC). And therein lies the wonder. Note the margins of defeat. Six points to SMU. Five points to Texas A&M. One point to TCU. And a last-second tie against Arkansas when the Hogs kicked a field goal at the final gun.

After the last game vs. Baylor (the Bears were a tepid 1-10 that season, nothing like the recent powerhouses), Peterson told the team about "sixteen points". That was the spread that kept the Owls OUT OF THE COTTON BOWL AS CONFERENCE CHAMPS! Had the Owls scored 7 more points vs. SMU, one more against Arkansas, six more against A&M, and two more against TCU, they'd have finished 7-4 overall but a sterling 6-1 in the conference. They would have tied with Texas and--under the conference rules of "most recent appearance"--because the Longhorns had been to the Cotton Bowl more recently, in the event of a tie, Rice would've gone to Dallas!

3-7-1, and sixteen points was the spread that kept the Owls from a New Year's Day trip to Dallas to play Penn State.

What does this have to do with Westminster, you ask? Well, we're not that far away from lofty heights ourselves.

A high snap on a punt vs. St. Dominic. Punching in another TD against the Crusaders. Defending the last TD against Lutheran North.

Courage, fans. We are three plays away from being 3-0 on the season. That's how close we are.

That should be a bolstering encouragement to our team. We're on the verge of something great. We need to gain more experience, but we're getting there.

The ride has only begun. Look out, Burroughs. Because we're coming at you.

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