On Saturday I rode out to Las Vegas, to see a football game (natch! you mean there's other stuff you can do in Vegas?) The California Quake were visiting the Las Vegas Showgirlz for a 6 pm kickoff. Both these teams are in the IWFL's Pacific SW division and both undefeated coming into the game, so the matchup had big implications for the standings. Also, this is the Showgirlz' third season -- their two prior years they'd been playing in the WPFL and had been roundly spanked by the likes of the Amazons, Energy and Scorpions, and their only wins prior to 2008 had been recorded against the New Mexico Burn. However, they'd been working hard in the offseason on bringing their game up to the next level. They have good athletes and are definitely a threat nowadays. The Showgirlz had beaten the Breakers and Monsoon earlier this year, by ten and nineteen points respectively.
Now it was time for a bigger test. A lot of people picked this as the IWFL Game Of The Week, along with the Pittsburgh-DC showdown back east. I was on the sideline with a camera, the KodakGallery shots are here (317 photos.)
When the (figurative) dust cleared, California edged out the win with a big gut-check second half, with a final score of 30-27. The Quake now stand at 4-0, first place in the division. What a game! It certainly lived up to its billing.
After receiving the kickoff, the Showgirlz opened with a swinging gate formation. Personally I don't like the swinging gate, it's too gimmicky even for me who likes razzle-dazzle double reverses, but hey it's their choice and it's legal so they can run it if they want to. It didn't work too well for them when the center flung the snap over the quarterback's head, and Las Vegas ended up pinned inside their own five yard line and had to punt it away.
The Quake got out of the blocks fast when superstar running back Monique Zaky (#5) scored on a long run down the left side. Julie Blied (#33) threw a crunching block that opened up the sideline for Zaky, and set the tone of big hitting in the game. The team converted the two-pointer to take an 8-0 lead in the first quarter. In the second, California added a safety when the Las Vegas longsnapper sailed the ball past the punter, who had to fall on it in the end zone. The Quake later added a second touchdown and two-point conversion, to build the lead to 18-0. The score was by Kristin "Bulldog" Nicholas (#42) on a short blast run, her first touchdown of the year. Then, a huge momentum swing happened when the Showgirlz ran back the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown. On their next possession, the Quake eventually turned the ball over on downs in Las Vegas territory. Showgirlz quarterback Kerri Mytych (#9) hit her receiver in stride on a long pass play that scored, and with under a minute remaining in the half, an eighteen-nothing game had suddenly closed to 18-14.
Coming out of halftime, Quake head coach Josh Penn started freely adjusting his team's formations and personnel, in order to stymie the Las Vegas defense which had come on strong in the second quarter. The adjustments worked: the Showgirlz couldn't seem to get a handle on the constantly changing splits on the O-line, and the Quake started moving the ball again. California put together a long drive that ended with a score by Zaky. Quake went for two and failed, and the score was 24-14. Las Vegas answered back with another long pass play, and narrowed the gap to 24-21. Three points was as close as the Showgirlz would get, and on this night of great football, everything still hung in the balance. This game would go down to the final whistle.
Incomprehensibly, the Showgirlz tried the swinging gate a few more times. I thought the whole point of that play is to catch the defense napping, or confused. The more times you run it the less it's gonna work. Same thing with a razzle-dazzle double reverse ... if the defense has a pulse, you'll be dead in the water the third or fourth time you run it LOL.
It was during the grind-it-out minutes of the fourth quarter that Zaky demonstrated that she has toughness as well as speed, and the California offensive line took control and won the game in the trenches. Play after play, the Quake would advance the ball three or four or five yards at a time, getting first downs when they needed them, and Zaky took a pounding and kept coming back for more. She scored her third touchdown on the night to put the lead back up to nine, at 30-21. On their next series, the Showgirlz completed a pass to the receiver on the left side, who had to go to the ground to get the ball. The referee missed seeing the Quake defender touch the girl down, or possibly thought she had gotten up before being touched by the defender, so when she got up and ran to the end zone the touchdown was allowed. This brought the score back to three points, 30-27, as the Showgirlz failed the two-point try. With about 1:40 on the clock, an attempted onside kick turned out to be a thiry-yard line drive down the middle. The Quake recovered it, and with only one time out remaining for Las Vegas, California was able to bang a few plays into the line and let the clock expire.
HUGE kudos to both teams for a GREAT game. That was one of the most exciting matchups I've seen in a while! However, I am admittedly biased, I cheer for the Quake and wear purple to the games, so I have to say it was one of the most nerve-wracking games I've ever been to, and I think the team owes me a new bottle of Tums LOL.
On the radio the next day, the Vegas coach said they just ran out of clock and would have beaten the Quake if they had more time. I understand that he's a coach and he's gotta say those kind of things, but I respectfully disagree. What his team really needed was to come alive before the two-minute warning at the half. The Showgirlz had the Quake a little stunned by those two quick scores, but California came back after the halftime break with their sh*t in order and went toe-to-toe with Vegas for the rest of the night. The four-point margin at the half got narrowed by one point in two additional quarters of play. I am so freakin proud of those girls. They played one hell of a game.