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It was handy, for Twin Ports sports fans, to have the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference men’s soccer tournament championship in Duluth last Saturday, since both the UMD and St. Scholastica football and hockey teams were all out of town.
It was even handier that the finalists in the UMAC tournament were hometown entries – St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior. For UWS, in their first year since departing from the Wisconsin State College conference and joining the UMAC, it was monumental achievement to win an upset or two and reach the tournament final. For the Saints, it was nothing new, but no less exciting.
The Saints administered a harsh, 5-0 lesson in the title game, at Ordean Field, to earn the right to advance as UMAC’s automatic entry in the NCAA Division III tournament.
It will be a tough field, with Macalester as host in St. Paul, waiting as heavy favorites to take on the Saints in one semifinal, while Wisconsin-Oshkosh will face St. Olaf in the other. Mac is 13-1-5, having suffered their only loss in the MIAC tournament, but already set in the D-III field. St. Scholastica is 18-2-1, and a decided underdog, simply because the UMAC still has to prove itself by advancing at regional tournament time.
Gaining the automatic berth is a big thing for the Saints, as it is for the St. Scholastica women’s soccer team, which takes a 12-6-2 record as UMAC women’s champ, to face Wartburg, while Augustana takes on Puget Sound in the other semifinal.
They join the St. Scholastica football team, which went on the road last weekend and clipped Greenville 40-19 to capture the UMAC title and NCAA Division III berth outright -- winning every game after an opening nonconference loss at Ripon.
The Saints men’s soccer victory reinforced the school’s rivalry with UWS, as fans from the two schools exchanged some good-natured heckles and cheers. It was a close battle through the scoreless first 23 minutes. At that point, UWS got a red card, losing a player and also giving the Saints a penalty kick.
Now, penalties in hockey, or football, seem serious, but in soccer, a foul that earns a penalty kick seems the most unfair advantage of all. The goal is huge, and to a casual onlooker, it appears that the kicker is about 10 yards out, point-blank, really, while the goalkeeper is about a foot wide. It seems that anyone missing a goal kick should be benched.
It’s not that easy, of course, but in this case, Tom Corcoran lined up against goalkeeper Ben Wilhelm, who did what goalies must do in such circumstances – he gambled and made a dive for where he guessed the shot might go. He was right, but he had no chance to reach the bullet-like shot by Corcoran, which broke the scoreless tie.
Shortly after that, Jonny Harkin made a deft move on a UWS defender, and managed to get a shot to squirt past Wilhelm, and barely a minute later, Sean Morgan also scored for a 3-0 halftime lead. Harkin and Morgan scored again in the second half, and the Saints jogged off with a 5-0 victory.
Vikings-Packers On Track
At the start of the NFL season, anyone suggesting the Vikings could challenge the Green Bay Packers for supremacy in the NFC North division might have been fitted for a padded cell. The idea always intrigued me, however, and I went so far as to predict that if Adrian Peterson could approach his pre-exile running back stature, the emerging Teddy Bridgewater could provide a 1-2 punch that could lift the Vikings above the Lions and Bears to challenge Green Bay.
As the Packers sailed off to a 6-0 record, and the Vikings dropped a couple, that still seemed like a stretch. But the Packers came apart at undefeated Denver, when Peyton Manning outplayed Aaron Rodgers badly, and then the Pack went to unbeaten Carolina, and fell just short for a second straight loss.
Meantime, the Vikings kept finding ways to win, and after beating the St. Louis Rams last Sunday, their fourth straight victory boosts the Vikings to an identical 6-2 record. If the Packers can beat the Lions Sunday, and the Vikings can beat Oakland, the two will both be 7-2 when they square off against each other next week.
The variable is that Bridgewater may not be at 100 percent. We just hope he can play this weekend. Bridgewater was the victim of a vicious elbow-flipper to the facemask, while he was sliding to the turf in the universally accepted gesture of capitulation. When a quarterback runs for a gain and purposely slides to the turf, all a defensive player must do is touch him, and the play is over. Rams cornerback Lamarcus Joyner apparently missed that tidbit in the players handbook. Bridgewater made his gain, saw one Ram coming from his left, and Joyner coming from straight on, so he slid to the turf, the way a baserunner might slide into second base.
Joyner hurled his body in a downward trajectory toward Bridgewater’s head, and while flying over most of his quarry’s form, he snapped a nasty elbow flipper that hit Bridgewater in the facemask and caused his head to snap back, off the turf. He appeared to be knocked out, briefly, before struggling to his feet and being helped off the field and to the dressing room with an apparent concussion.
Joyner insisted he would never do such a thing on purpose, and that he “didn’t know” Bridgewater was sliding(!), and that he had “already launched” himself and couldn’t stop.
Of course, a sane person watching the event would say that if Joyner was telling the truth, his launch would have sent him on a chest-high trajectory that would have sent him flying over Bridgewater. In reality, his trajectory was at a downward arc, aimed like a head-seeking missile at Bridgewater’s head. He didn’t have to throw that elbow, which some accounts called his shoulder, and there would have been only a minor issue for a cheapshot. This was a huge cheapshot.
And for those naive enough to think that all that vicious contact is just happenstance – the impromptu collisions of a violent sport – consider the most vicious game you and I have ever witnessed. That was the New Orleans Saints mugging the Vikings in that playoff game that probably ended Brett Favre’s career. It also led to some suspensions of Saints coaching staff, when it was discovered they had offered bounties for hits that approached the proper level of viciousness.
Years have passed, so now we see more viciousness. And just who is it that is defensive coordinator of the Rams now? Greg Williams. If that name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because he is the same fellow who used to coach on the New Orleans Saints staff during the Favregate year.