Fantastic bowl games dim the Vikings' collapse

John Gilbert

UMD starting goalie Zach Stejskal stops a short-handed St. Thomas rush by Lucas Wahlin, aided by teammate Ben Steeves making a penalty-inducing takedown in UMD’s 2-1 victory. Photo by John Gilbert.

The Minnesota Vikings showed how their fragility can explode in a flash, in last weekend’s 41-17 loss inflicted by the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Not a good way to kick off Jan. 1, 2023.
Funny, how the complete failure of Kirk Cousins to rally the Vikings offense until the deficit had reached 41-3, makes this weekend’s final games of the regular season particularly interesting, eliminating the runaway boosterism and replacing it with genuine apprehension for Sunday’s finale game in Chicago, and the following weekend’s first-round playoff game.

The Packers have their own concerns, needing to avoid an emotional letdown when they face a sizzling Detroit Lions outfit that can make the playoffs themselves if they beat the Packers.
Maybe you saw the huge, full front sports page photo of Justin Jefferson, proclaiming him the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Sportsperson of the Year?
The story was spread across two full pages inside, and also listed the 25 previous winners of the award, nominated and determined by the Strib sports staff. That was in the Saturday, New Year’s Eve edition. Twenty-four hours later, Jefferson made one catch at Lambeau Field in the game he needed to underscore his obvious brilliance.

The reason wide receivers don’t win such awards is that their success depends on the choices of the quarterback to select them as targets for the next pass. Adam Thielen also caught one pass, because Cousins simply didn’t throw him the ball.
Packers defensive backs had a more efficient day than Jefferson and Thielen combined, because they caught three Cousins passes!
For true excitement, however, you have to look at this year’s crop of college bowl games. The two semifinals for the NCAA championship were fantastic.
In the Fiesta Bowl, Texas Christian jumped ahead of No. 2 ranked Michigan 21-6 by halftime, and when the Wolverines clicked into high gear in the second half, TCU simply countered with offensive answers and won 51-45. Explosive offenses overran tough defenses all over the place.
In the Peach Bowl, Ohio State jumped No. 1 Georgia early and seemed to have the game in hand, leading 21-7 in the first half, and holding on at 38-24 in the fourth quarter – two touchdown leads in both halves.
The most dramatic of a game-full of high drama came with Ohio State leading 38-27 with fourth down and 1 yard to go and the Buckeyes went for a well-practiced fake punt play.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said he spotted something that looked out of sorts in the OSU punt formation, so he called time out just as the ball was snapped. Sure enough, the play called for a direct snap to Smith Rossi, and he blasted through the line for an apparent first down.
But the play was called back because of the time out, and, with the surprise gone, the Buckeyes punted to the Georgia 24 yard line.
On first down, Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett fired a 76-yard touchdown pass to Arien Smith, then followed with a 2-point conversion pass to Ladd McConkey that closed the deficit to 38-35, and Ohio State’s Noah Ruggles kicked a 48-yard field goal with 2:49 left to make it 41-35, meaning the Bulldogs would need a touchdown, not just a field goal.

So Georgia QB Bennett led the Bulldogs down the field and connected with Adonai Mitchell for a 10-yard touchdown with only 54 seconds left.
Then it was Ohio State’s turn, and C.J. Stroud, who wound up passing for 348 yards and four touchdowns, got the team to midfield, and with 0:03 remaining, Ruggles tried for a 50-yard game-winning field goal.
It hooked, wide left, and the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs will face the explosive Texas Christian Horned Frogs in next Monday’s NCAA championship game.
But without a doubt, the best game of the whole bowl season was the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, where Southern California was prohibitive favorite against Tulane, the American Athletic Conference champion.
Southern Cal seemed able to score at will, after jumping off to a 14-0 lead at the start. Tulane’s Michael Pratt continually countered to keep the Green Wave close, however. They trailed the Trojans 45-30 with 4:07 left, but Pratt amazingly completed a 24-yard pass to tight end Alex Bauman on a fourth and 10, then hit Deuce Watts for another 24-yard gain on another fourth and 10 to reach the USC 6 with 18 seconds remaining.

Tyjae Spears crashed the final 4 yards for his fourth touchdown of the game, giving him 205 yards on 17 carries in the game.
The conversion closed Tulane’s deficit to 45-37, and inexplicably the Trojans fumbled the ensuing kickoff that squirted out of bounds on the 1.
Tulane’s defense smeared the Trojan ball-carrier in the end zone for a safety – two points that made it 45-39 and also gave Pratt and the Horned Frogs the ball again.
Incredibly, he pulled it off, reaching the USC 6 with 9 seconds left. He threw over the middle to Bauman, who was hit hard as he lunged for the goal line, and the pass was ruled incomplete.
But a review showed that while the ball was jarred loose, he kept his hand under it and the ball never touched the ground. The call was reversed: Touchdown!
The 45-45 tie lasted only until Valentine Ambrosio calmly kicked the game-winning extra point for an exhaustive 46-45 triumph.
What can future playoff and bowl games show us that can beat those? If you missed them, try to find highlights on ESPN or YouTube, or somewhere.
On the local front, UMD’s hockey team resumed play with a fast-paced but defensive minded 2-1 victory against St. Thomas, which is just building its Division 1 program.
The Tommies have done well, hiring Rico Blasi, the former outstanding coach at Miami of Ohio. St. Thomas wanted to go big-time, and Blasi will get them there quickly.
“We’ve still only had one recruiting year,” Blast told me. “So we’re 10 scholarship players short.”
As it was, the Tommies made a stirring push at the end that was withstood by Matthew Thiessen, the third of three UMD goalies who played a period each. He had to make two or three tough saves when Blais pulled his goaltender with a closing power play. UMD, incidentally, announced that junior winger Blake Biondi of Hermantown will miss the rest of the season to have shoulder surgery.

On the high school front, Hermantown continues to roll, hiking its record to 9-0-1 by blitzing Delano 8-0, then topping East Grand Forks 3-0 on a tough road trip, and building a 4-0 lead before holding off Shakopee 4-3.
Wyatt Carlson finally failed to get a goal, after scoring eight goals in three games through his hat trick against Delano.
And keep an eye out for Duluth East. The Greyhounds followed up their impressive 5-1 victory against defending AA champion Andover by hammering a rebuilding Blaine team 8-1 at Essential Heritage Center – the same arena where Cloquet-Esko-Carlton won the holiday tournament with three victories, including a final game 5-2 against Park of Cottage Grove.

The Lumberjacks are playing a forceful, physical style and grabbed a 3-0 first-period lead that was too much for Park to overcome.