"It was amazing," commented announcer Tony Cork. "In all my years, I don't ever remember the field being that soft. It was obviously not ideal conditions. It was definitely quagmirish."
It didn't take long for Cork Bowl XI to get exciting. The Ermine started the game with the ball and quickly moved out to midfield on the strength of Steve Sanders' arm. However, on 3rd and 5, Sanders was picked off by rookie Jeff Henney who took the ball into the endzone for an early 7-0 lead for the Bandicoots. It would only get worse for the Ermine. On their next play from scrimmage, Kevin Ryan and Henney blitzed Sanders and sacked him in the endzone for a safety and a 9-0 lead. On the ensuing possession, Willy Truitt found Kevin Ryan running free over the middle for a long touchdown pass, and the the Bandicoots led 16-0 after running only one offensive play.
"Obviously, that start could have demoralized our team," commented Ermine receiver Patrick Cork. "But we had veterans that were aware we still had over 95 minutes to play, so we knew we had plenty of time to crawl back into the game."
The Ermine did begin their march back as Sanders found Patrick Cork for a touchdown on the next drive for the Ermine's first score - with under 18 minutes to go in the quarter. Truitt found Henney in the back of the endzone on the next possession to give the Bandicoots a 23-7 lead, but a short touchdown from Sanders to Patrick brought the lead back to 23-14. After another Truitt-to-Henney touchdown to push the lead to 30-14, the Ermine found themselves deep in their own territory with a crucial 4th-and-15 play. The Ermine went for it, and Sanders fired a pass to Patrick Cork just past the first down marker for a huge conversion. Josh Helton would complete the seven play drive with a touchdown reception to cut the lead to 30-21. The Ermine defense finally stiffened, and forced a Bandicoot punt. With a chance to get the lead down to two points, the Ermine turned the ball right back to the 'Coots as Sanders was again pressured and tried to flip a pass underhanded to Chris Cork as he was being drug down. Kevin Ryan picked off the pass at midfield and the Ermine wasted their first opportunity of the day. Again, however, the Ermine defense kept the Bandicoots out of the endzone to end the first quarter, and after trailing 16-0 early, the Ermine trailed just 30-21.
Sanders was extremely accurate throwing in the quarter, completing 13 of his 17 passes, but his 2 interceptions cost the Ermine dearly. Patrick Cork began what would be a record-setting offensive day with 8 receptions and a pair of touchdowns in the quarter. Willy Truitt completed only 6-of-13 passes in the quarter, but three of them went for touchdowns. "The real difference was just the first 2 minutes of the game," added Patrick. "After that, we handled their pressure better and moved the ball well the rest of the quarter."
The Ermine started the 2nd quarter with the ball, and the Bandicoots began to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback sending Greg Howard on the blitz on most every snap. Sanders still marched his team down the field for a score capped by a Ryan Tomlinson touchdown grab. The Ermine had cut the lead down to 30-28. The Bandicoots answered with a long drive of their own and Truitt found Greg Howard for a one-yard touchdown catch and a 37-28 lead. The Ermine were again backed deep in their own territory when Sanders found Patrick deep down the field on 3rd and long, and then found him again in the endzone on the next play to keep the lead at two points. The Bandicoots would later convert a 4th-and-1 play to Kevin Ryan, who took the ball down near the goal line where Truitt found Howard again for a short touchdown pass and a 44-35 advantage. The Ermine were forced to punt on their next possession - the first time they were stopped since the early troubles - but Willy Truitt was picked off downfield by Chris Cork on the next play.
Sanders would find Helton again in the endzone following the turnover, and the lead again was down to two at 44-42. The Bandicoots marched down the field to the Ermine 8 yard line, but three consecutive dropped passes left them with a 4th-and-goal play. Josh Helton batted down Willy Truitt's pass and the Ermine had their first chance to take the lead with under 3 minutes to go in the half. After a long run by Sanders for a first down, he found Patrick Cork again in the endzone and the Ermine had come all the way back to take a 49-44 lead with one minute to go in the half. The 'Coots would get all the way down to the 5 yard line, but Willy Truitt was rushed for the first time in the game, and his pass was picked off by Sanders in the endzone with just 42 seconds left. The Ermine went for the endzone on the next drive, and Patrick Cork broke free and appeared to be held on the play, but no call was made and the pass fell incomplete. Reggie Truitt stepped in front of a Sanders pass on the next play and intercepted the ball near midfield with 11 seconds to go in the half. The Bandicoots could not score though and the Ermine led 49-44 at halftime.
"I thought the no-call on the long pass was a huge play," remarked Patrick. "We had a chance to extend our lead to nine points going into the half. That was the first of many close plays that went against us all afternoon."
The Ermine outscored the Bandicoots 28-14 in the period, and 49-28 after the quick 16-0 deficit. The Bandicoots continued to struggle offensively in the 2nd quarter, as Willy Truitt was just 17-34 at halftime with only 5 touchdown passes. Reggie Truitt led the team with 7 catches, and Kevin Ryan and Jeff Henney each had 4. Sanders was 22-for-32 with 7 touchdowns in the first half, but threw 3 interceptions as well. Patrick Cork caught 14 balls for 4 scores in the half to lead all receivers.
As the field continued to get sloppier, the Bandicoots began the second half with the ball trailing by five points. The Ermine defense continued to step up, and stopped the 'Coots on a 4th and goal play. The Ermine would take the ball inside Bandicoot territory, but were unable to convert a 4th and goal play of their own when Patrick Cork bobbled a deep fade pattern in the back of the endzone that would have given the Ermine a two score advantage. The Bandicoots regained the lead at 51-49 on the ensuing possession as Kevin Ryan caught a 4th-and-1 pass for a first down, and Jeff Henney grabbed his third touchdown pass of the game. Again the Ermine struggled mightily to move the ball against the relentless blitzing of the Bandicoots, but Sanders was able to roll away from the rush and thread the double coverage on Patrick Cork on a long 4th and goal play, to give the Ermine the lead at 56-51. "That was an amazing throw from the Colonel," added Patrick. "He was being chased all day and couldn't scramble because of the mud, so he had to just stay in the pocket and try to find receivers."
On the Bandicoots next play, Willy Truitt appeared to lose the ball while making a pump-fake, and Chris Cork pounced on the loose ball and rolled into the endzone for an apparent touchdown. However, the play was ruled an incomplete pass, and the Bandicoots kept possession. They were stopped yet again on a short 4th and 5 play near midfield, but the Ermine could not capitalize on the good field position as Sanders' 4th down jump ball pass to Chris Cork was batted away. With under 6 minutes remaining in the quarter, the teams had combined for just 14 points.
"It was so difficult to move the ball that quarter," added Patrick. "They were putting tremendous pressure on us, and our pass coverage on them was excellent as well. I think it took everyone quite a long time to get back in the game after halftime."
The Bandicoots would finally find the endzone as Truitt found Greg Howard in the flat for a 58-56 Bandicoot lead. The next 2 minutes would determine the outcome of the game. With under four minutes to go in the period, Jeff Henney stepped in front of a Sanders pass to Patrick Cork and returned the interception for a touchdown that pushed the lead to 65-56. On the following drive, Henney came with heavy pressure on the QB and tipped Sanders' dump-off pass into the air, grabbed it, and stepped into the endzone for his third defensive touchdown of the game and suddenly the Ermine trailed 72-56.
"We were a little shell-shocked at that point," added Patrick. "We had worked so hard that quarter to generate some offense and fight off their blitzing. We had completely shut them down with our defense, and then on two plays they scored two touchdowns without ever having the ball."
"Of course the end of the third quarter was a big moment in the game," remarked Henney. "Don't forget though, that the Bandicoots were up 16-0 after only one offensive play in the first quarter. I think the quick start, along with the constant pass rush, especially by Greg Howard, really set the tone for whole game."
With the Ermine in desperate need of a score, they were forced to punt again from their own endzone to end the quarter. In the period, the Ermine were able to complete only four passes and couldn't find an answer to the Bandicoot defensive pressure. The Bandicoot offense was unable to add much punch either as Willy Truitt was just 8-for-17 in the quarter with just two touchdown passes, but the two defensive scores helped the Bandicoots outscore the Ermine 28-7 in the period.
With the Bandicoots having the ball and a 16 point lead to start the 4th quarter, the Ermine were desperate for a turnover or a stop, but Willy Truitt found Kevin Ryan wide open on a 4th and long play for a touchdown and the Bandicoots had their biggest advantage as the lead was stretched to 79-56. With the Ermine running a hurry-up offense, Sanders found Chris Cork on a jump ball play to cut the score to 79-63, but the Bandicoots marched right down the field with a number of underneath passing routes and Reggie Truitt scored his first touchdown of the game for an 86-63 lead. Sanders found Patrick on the first play of the next drive on a fly route for a quick score, and with just four minutes off the clock in the quarter, the two teams had combined for 28 points.
"We were desperate for scores, so we tried to get as many possessions as possible," said Chris Cork. "That was our best offense of the day - just line up and go. It slowed down their blitzing too because we were so quick to get to the line and run a play."
Kevin Ryan was again the recipient of a Willy Truitt touchdown pass on the next drive to push the lead to 93-70, but the Ermine continued to fight back as Chris Cork caught his second touchdown of the quarter to bring the lead back to 93-77 with sixteen minutes to play. For the third time in the period, Truitt found Kevin Ryan wide open in the flat for his third touchdown of the quarter, but Patrick Cork answered with another TD grab from Sanders and the lead remained at 16 points at 100-84.
"Our offense was great in the 4th, but for the first time all day we couldn't stop them consistently," remarked Patrick. "Kevin did all of the damage in the 4th quarter. He really came up big with the game on the line."
The Ermine finally forced the Bandicoots to punt, and converted on a 4th and goal play with yet another Sanders to Patrick Cork touchdown and suddenly the lead was back to single digits at 100-91 with under 8 minutes to play. With the Ermine again desperate for a turnover or defensive stop, the Bandicoots dropped a pair of passes to set up a 3rd and long from their own 3 yard line. Truitt found brother Reggie for a completion to midfield, and then completed a huge fourth down pass to Henney for the critical first down. Henney would later catch his fourth touchdown of the game and put the game out of reach at 107-91. Howard and Chris Cork would each add late touchdowns as the game ended with a score of 114-98.
After both teams failed to move the ball at all in the third quarter, each quarterback threw 6 touchdown passes in the fourth as Sanders completed 15-of-27 passes and Truitt completed 16-of-26. Patrick Cork added another 7 receptions in the period, but Kevin Ryan came up huge down the stretch grabbing 6 balls and scoring 3 times in the final frame.
"We really had no answer for Kevin all game," replied Patrick. "It seemed every time I looked up he was running open for long gains. I felt we really contained the rest of their receivers all game. He probably averaged close to 20 yards a catch. Kevin Ryan was definitely the difference."
Kevin finished the game with a career and team high 13 receptions and 4 touchdowns (3 of them coming in the 4th quarter). The 'Coots had a balanced offensive attack with Jeff Henney and Reggie Truitt each catching 12 passes with Henney scoring 4 times and Truitt once. Greg Howard was held to just 4 receptions for 4 scores in the game. Willy Truitt fought off a rough first 3 quarters to finish 41-77 with 13 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
As for the Ermine, their offense was more one-dimensional. "The way they were blitzing every play, we thought the best way to handle that was to keep as many blockers in as possible and hope to get Patrick open," commented Steve Sanders. "That's why people like Chris didn't catch many passes - it was because he was blocking most of the game. When we finally scrapped that strategy in the 4th, Chris caught a bunch of passes."
Patrick Cork fought off double coverage all game and tied his own Cork Bowl record with 24 receptions, and broke the single-game record for touchdowns with 8, but was not satisfied with the individual numbers. "Sure that's a lot of catches, but if I'm the only receiver on most of the plays, I better catch that many. I think it hurt our offense more than it helped because the defense was able to double cover me a lot and our other guys didn't get into much of a rhythm catching the ball."
Chris Cork finished strong after a very quiet first half and caught 7 passes for 3 touchdowns. Josh Helton responded from his poor game a year ago to grab 6 passes for 2 touchdowns and Ryan Tomlinson had 4 catches and one score in the game. Steve Sanders was picked off 6 times in the game, but still completed 41 of 74 passes for 14 touchdowns. Sanders was forced to tuck the ball and run 15 times in the game and was unable to use his speed to scramble because of the horrible field conditions.
"I thought the Colonel still played great," added Patrick. "Considering the pressure he was under all game, the fact that he completed over 55% of his passes was amazing. No other quarterback to ever play in a Cork Bowl could have handled that pressure as well as he did. Nobody. Only 2 of his interceptions were bad throws in my opinion. The two he threw on the sideline were because of miscommunication between me and him. The two he threw for touchdowns in the 3rd quarter were just bad luck. On the first one, if he waits one more second to throw the ball I probably score a touchdown and the other one was tipped and just happened to fall right back to Henney. Needless to say, it just wasn't our day. If a couple of those balls bounce our way, who knows what would have happened."
One main factor was the blitzes the Bandicoots threw at the Ermine. They kept Sanders from picking out a receiver and forced him into some bad throws. They blitzed on nearly 65% of the plays during the game."I thought the difference was Greg and his pressure on Steve," responded Ryan Tomlinson. Because the field was so soft, Sanders was a sitting duck in the pocket and had to tuck the ball and run much more than he would have liked. The Ermine, on the other hand, didn't put any pressure on Willy Truitt. "We didn't blitz them the entire game because we couldn't afford to bring any of our cover guys," added Patrick. "We were playing such good man-to-man defense that we didn't feel the need to pressure them. Plus, they had more weapons defensively and could afford to bring Greg or Jeff knowing that they had enough other guys that could cover. Not counting turnovers, we turned them over on downs or forced them to punt seven times in the game. For Cork Bowl, that's pretty darn good. They scored 23 of their points on defense, so our "D" only gave up 91 points."
Greg Howard finished the game with a career high 14 tackles, and Jeff Henney had 12 tackles, 1/2 sack (for a safety) and picked off 3 passes and scored on all three. Reggie Truitt added 10 tackles and 2 interceptions as well and Kevin Ryan had 6 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks. For the Ermine, Chris Cork and Steve Sanders each had 10 tackles and an interception while Josh Helton played great defense finishing with 7 tackles.
The Cork Bowl 11 MVP award and the Rookie of the Year honor was given to Bandicoot rookie Jeff Henney. "To accomplish your dream of wearing the Cork Bowl Championship ring AND to win the MVP is something I thought beyond consideration," stated an emotional Henney. "I owe so much to my teammates, who stuck with me, showed me the ropes, and believed in me."
"I guess we now know the Skinny on Henney," remarked Kirby Newell. "He was definitely the reason they won the game. Without those three interceptions for scores, the outcome could have been different."
"I would love to see what our team could do in a rematch game," challenged Patrick Cork. "But we'll just have to wait and see what the league can do this late in the year."
If a rematch is not scheduled for mid-Janaury, the next action at Corklestick will take place in November of 2002 for Cork Bowl 12.
From the League Office
In other league news, Greg Howard and Chris Cork are facing possible fines/suspensions for their last-play actions. Cork tackled Henney at the line of scrimmage on the final play, and Howard drilled Steve Sanders in the back with a cheapshot as the 'Coots were running the clock out.
"I don't think that crap is called for in Cork Bowl," remarked an enraged Commissioner. "Chris will be facing a fine situation because he did drag Jeff to the ground. We are truly considering a suspension for Howard. To hit someone in the back like that, especially someone with a well-publicized back injury coming into the game, is completely uncalled for. And to make matters worse, he taunted Steve by saying "I told you it was coming". Obviously Greg didn't feel he could prove his point legally so he had to throw a cheapshot when the game was over. Having played for 6 years now you would think he would respect the game more than that."
"The hit on Steve was totally uncalled for," added Patrick. "Obviously Greg wasn't tough enough to do it during the game, so he does it on the final play. That's the kind of stuff you see in Pop Warner games when a team is getting killed. I mean seriously. He's been talking about how much of a tough guy he is for a couple years now and he goes out and does something cowardly like hitting someone in the back and then taunts him like it was a great play. Heck, he drilled me in the back twice during the game too as plays ended. If you're gonna hit someone do it legally at least. Maybe a one-year suspension would be good for him. That's not what Cork Bowl is all about."
No official action has been taken on either situation yet. The league will continue to study film and hopes to reach a decision by early January.
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