Just got back from another trip to Sacramento, for another football game. This one was the IWFL championship, featuring the New York Sharks versus the Sacramento Sirens. I'm so glad I went, it turned out to be one HELL of a game.
Of course, I rode the motorcycle up again. I'm getting a little more used to these 400-mile jaunts, which is good news in view of my upcoming summer plans. The mid-day heat was still crushing, but I was in not as much of a hurry to get up north (earlier start time, later kickoff) so I went easy on the throttle, took longer breaks and actually stopped for a real lunch along the way. Uneventful ride. I didn't obssess about fire as much this time. :)
Arriving in Sacto, I hooked up with some friends & scoped out the stadium. A good crowd was already on hand & excitement was building. The teams were going through their pre-game warmups. The sun was about an hour away from setting & a nice breeze had sprung up, so the heat started to lose its edge. I mingled & chatted for an hour or so, and then got settled in along with everyone else to watch the big game.
It was a good one from the opening kickoff. Both defenses came out fired up, and neither team could do much with their first two possessions (NY got one or two first downs, Sac went three-and-out both times.) New York scored on a short pass play to make it 6-0 near the end of the first quarter. Sacramento took the lead in the second, on two Julie Wicher touchdowns - one a long seventy-yard scamper down the left side, the other a twelve-yard sweep to the right, both PATs were no good. New York came roaring back, and blocked a punt when Sacramento was pinned deep in their own territory, taking over around the 15 yard line & scoring on a slant pass. They converted the PAT kick to lead 13-12 at halftime.
All around me in the stands, fans were LOVING this game. The see-saw battle, the players' intensity, the big hits had everyone cheering themselves hoarse!
The Sharks took control in the third quarter. Their defense held the Sirens to just one field goal, while the offense scored twice on runs by Monica Marsh. They converted a two-point attempt after the second touchdown, and New York led 27-15 as the final quarter started. Great teams never give up, however, and I've played against Sacto enough to know they are a great team ... now was the time for the Sirens to dig deep. (Football cliché!) They marched downfield and scored on a 2-yard quarterback keeper, the PAT kick was good, cutting the lead to five points. Diamond Lil came up with a key interception (we later teased her about her runback, which was much more east-west than north-south) to snuff out a New York drive, and set up the next Sacramento score, a 25-yard run by Michelle Kahler. The PAT gave them a 29-27 lead halfway through the final period. I was back on the Sirens side of the stands by now, and the fans were predictably going crazy! But there were a whole lot of minutes left on the clock at this point. New York drove downfield again, but I can't remember how it ended ... turnover? turnover on downs? did they kick to pin Sacto deep? ... no score, anyway, and Sac had the ball and eighty-some yards of green in front of them. I remember looking at the clock and seeing seven minutes, and thinking, "They gotta grind it on the ground now. Get a few first downs, and whatever you do, don't turn it over."
Grind it they did. The Sirens ground game moved the ball past midfield and ate up five and a half of those seven minutes before the unthinkable happened. Sacramento fumble, New York recovery. Quick check of the clock - 1:33. Ball spotted around the NY 40. The Sharks are ninety-three seconds and sixty yards from glory, and a bunch of gold helmets are standing in the way.
Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your point of view, glory was not in New York's cards that day. The Sharks looked rattled on their final possession, and after an incomplete pass on first down, committed three (three!) consecutive dead-ball infractions ... false start, illegal procedure, illegal formation ... making it 2nd and 25. A short pass over the middle netted little to no gain and kept the clock moving. On third down, the QB was sacked (and the clock was still moving. NY had used their timeouts in the third quarter.) On 4th and forever, with the seconds tick tick ticking away, the Sharks could only complete a ten-yard pass over the middle, and time expired as the ballcarrier was tackled. Sirens win!
Wow. I gotta hand out kudos to both teams for giving the fans one hell of an exciting game. Some folks were predicting a Sacramento cruise to victory (even I sorta halfway expected it, or at least a two-touchdown win) but I'd rather watch a nailbiter stuggle to the finish any time! New York, my hat's off to you, you played tough and came up just short against one of the best teams out there. Sacramento, congratulations on defending your title and bringing it home for the West, you guys are great.
After-game parties: I went over to the Sirens' bash first, where everyone of course was very jolly. Not just Sacramento folks but players from a whole bunch of other IWFL teams thanked me for coming up to the game. I was decked out in my old Quake gear, first-year white jersey, which I figured I earned the right to wear even though I have retired. I was the sole representative from Long Beach, which surprised me, I thought at least one or two others would come up for the championship. Oh well. Caught up with lots of old friends, some going back to the WAFL days. Later I zoomed over to the Sharks party. I had met up with Trina after the game (she plays corner for NY and is related to a member of my motorcycle club) and she said come by later & she would introduce me around. I had met a few of the NY people before, and a few more knew who I was by my website. They were all awfully nice to me & I hung out and chatted with them for a while. It was pretty late by the time that party started breaking up.
I rode about 100 miles south before getting a cheapie hotel room, very late. Slept in, then made the rest of the trip in the heat of the day. Ugh, it was brutal. Being in no hurry, I made lots of rest stops & cooled off the best I could. Thank the Goddess for air conditioning. Ten minutes in an AM/PM can do wonders to revive you :) I lost track of how many bottles of water and Gatorade I drank, but it was quite a few!