Football makes its bid, but World Series is big

John Gilbert

John Larson, UMD QB, returns this weekend. Photo credit: John Gilbert
John Larson, UMD QB, returns this weekend. Photo credit: John Gilbert

We’re not sure when it happened, but football has passed up baseball
as the favorite sport to watch for most people in the U.S.  I don’t
share that view, necessarily, especially at this time of year — World
Series time. Part of my interest this year is that I wrote before the
playoffs that if the Twins couldn’t get there, I hoped that the World
Series would bring together Houston and Washington.

My reasoning was simple. The starting pitchers I most enjoy watching
are Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Garrit Cole, and Steven Strasberg.
So in a season where all the talk was about juiced baseballs, with the
seams down flush to lessen the spin, and the Twins hit a record 207
home runs to edge the Yankees, who his 206, I much prefer to watch
well pitched games.

And if Houston, with Verlander and Cole, faced Washington, with
Scherzer and Strasberg, it would mean many hours of sitting back and
enjoying the absolute artistry of those four pitchers, going against
each other. There are others, too, like Zack Greinke of the Astros and
The Nationals Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez. Whatever, the Astros
and Nationals can hit home runs with the best of them, but this World
Series will come down to which great pitchers beat which other great
pitchers.

In Game 1, Max Scherzer was greeted rudely by the Astros and fell
behind 2-0 in the last of the first inning, but he came back to pitch
solidly through five innings, and the Nationals got a big 3-run fifth
against Cole and won 5-4. Great start, and we’ll keep watching.
To bring up a sore point to Detroit Tigers fans, I shall repeat that
the idea of trading away quality players to get numbers in hopes of
building for the future is absurd. How bad are the Detroit Tigers?
Would they be any better if they had a pitching staff that included
Verlander, Scherzer, and Sanchez? Yes, all three of them, as well as
David Price, were Tigers before their trading frenzy. If they still
had those four, they would be contenders. Period.

Football, however, deserves its intense interest, and we’re finding it
right here in Minnesota. Start in Duluth, where the UMD Bulldogs
pulled off a little sleight-of-hand. After losing 52-7 at Minnesota
State-Mankato, they lost last Saturday 34-3 at Sioux Falls. It’s rare
for the Bulldogs to lose by such lopsided margins to any other
Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference team,  but if you look at the
standings, there sits UMD, tied for first place with Bemidji State.

Thank heaven for the NSIC’s two divisions. Both Mankato and Sioux
Falls are in the South Division, while UMD is in the North.On top of
that, when the Bulldogs return home to face Upper Iowa Saturday,
injured quarterback John Larson returns to action after missing
two-plus games with a shoulder injury. Larson not only accomplished
great quantities of yards and points by passing, but he also is UMDF’s
leading rusher.

Then we move from Division II UMD to Division III St. Scholastica,
which also has had a couple of rough outings. But senior quarterback
Zach Edwards at least had a great game when the Saints lost 40-34 at
Greenville. The Panthers jumped ahead 20-0 behind quarterback George
Harris, who threw four touchdown passes. But Edwards got rolling and
brought the Saints back with three touchdown passes and he ran for a
fourth. Edwards set a program record with 509 yards passing in the
game.

Zach Edwards, St. Scholastica QB, sets record. Photo credit: John Gilbert
Zach Edwards, St. Scholastica QB, sets record. Photo credit: John Gilbert

When Edwards hit Mitchell Adrian for a 34-yard touchdown with less
than 8 minutes remaining, it tied the game 34-34. But Harris threw his
fourth TD pass for a 40-34 lead. The Saints marched down the field and
threatened, but Greenville held on fourth down, and ran out the clock.

That paled by comparison to a couple of huge Division I games that
were worth watching. Minnesota, which continues to feast on foes who
have had quarterback woes, hammered Rutgers 42-7, blowing open what
had been a tight game most of the first half. That makes the Gophers
7-0 for the first time since 1960, and 4-0 in the Big Ten as the
Gophers piled up 443 yards of offense. That victory thrust the Gophers
into first place in the western half of the Big Ten.

The reason was that powerful and undefeated and ranked No. 6
Wisconsin, with the No. 1 ranked defense, was playing at Illinois,
against an Illini team that was winless in the Big Ten and were
30-point underdogs. But the plucky Illini closed the gap to 20-14 on a
43-yard touchdown run by Reggie Corbin, against what appeared to be a
disinterested Badger outfit. When Wisconsin stretched it out to 23-14
with a field goal, Illinois looked doomed to another loss. But
Illinois came back to cut the deficit to 23-21 with 5:53 remaining,
and got the ball back on an interception at midfield. James McCourt
kicked a 39-yard field goal as time expired, giving Illinois a 24-23
victory that was clearly the biggest upset of the season in college
football.

The Badgers loss gave first place in the West to Minnesota, and it is
getting interesting now, because while Minnesota plays Maryland,
Wisconsin has to bounce back against powerful Ohio State. Minnesota’s
schedule gets much tougher later, but if the Gophers win and the
Badgers lose again, the Gophers would look amazingly golden.

My other favorite game to watch was No. 12 Oregon playing at No 25
Washington, where the host Huskies stalked to a 14-point lead in the
second half behind quarterback Jacob Eason led the way. But the Ducks
rallied from 28-14 to 31-28 on a 36-yard fourth-down pass play at the
end of the third quarter. Then quarterback Justin Herbert and Oregon
took the lead with his fourth touchdown pass with five minutes
remaining. Down 35-31, Washington had plenty of time, and Eason got to
the Oregon 38 before the superb Oregon defense sacked him, and on
fourth and three, Eason’s pass fell incomplete and Oregon won 35-31.

  The Ducks have rallied from an opening game loss to stand 6-1, and
5-0 in the Pac-12, while Washington slipped to 5-3, and a surprising
2-3 in the conference.

The excitement seems to have rubbed off on the Vikings, who subdued a
very good Detroit team 42-30. Kirk Cousins again played the way
Vikings fans had assumed he would for two years now. He was 24-34
passing for 337 yards, and four touchdowns, and his receivers
contributed a series of spectacular catches to make him look
spectacular, too.

Adam Thielen made an unbelievable leaping catch and got both feet down
at the end line for a huge touchdown, although he strained a hamstring
as he did his toe-dance to get both feet down. So Cousins distributed
the ball to everyone he could find in purple, with Stefan Diggs
catching seven balls for 142 yards, and touchdown passes went to
forgotten man Kyle Rudolph, Olabisi Johnson, and Duluth’s own C.J.
Ham. Dalvin Cook gained 142 yards on 42 carries.

Probably the only shadow on the victory was that the Lions inflicted
433 yards on the Vikings, who had taken great pride in their defense.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford  was 30-45 for 364 yards — actually
outgunning Cousins in a losing cause.

The Green Bay Packers moved to 6-1 atop the division, with a
surprisingly easy 42-24 victory over Oakland, as Aaron Rodgers threw
five touchdown passes, and the Vikings are second at 5-2, and coming
back quickly to face Washington Thursday night. Washington has former
Vikings standout Case Keenum at quarterback and Adrian Peterson
running the ball, which might make it interesting.

The Chicago Bears continue to struggle, even with Mitchell Trubisky
back from injury. The Bears fell 36-25 to the New Orleans Saints, led
by Teddy Bridgewater, who piled up 281 yards and improved his record
to 5-0 filling in for the injured Drew Brees.