Saturday, December 14th - Cork Bowl 12 was supposed to be one of the best ever played, but when the game ended the Hartebeests had cruised to a 133-72 win and the Meerkats were without their top receiver as Patrick Cork was hurt early in the 1st quarter. "It's kind of an empty victory," responded Hartebeest quarterback Willy Truitt. "Without Patrick out there for much of the game, it just didn't seem like Cork Bowl." After 6 consecutive years of close games (all decided by 16 points or less), this game mirrored Cork Bowl 5 which was played in a snowstorm and finished 130-77.
On a beautiful day with temperatures reaching into the low 40's, the game had a great turnout with 13 fans arriving for the contest. With all the hoopla surrounding the game, including a return to the booth by veteran announcer Eric Dean, a pre-game weather forecast from WTWO's very own Jesse Walker and a moving renditition of the National Anthem by Cork Bowl superfan Akeya Harper, Cork Bowl 12 promised to be the biggest and best ever. However, even from the start the game began slowly. The Meerkats won the coin toss and elected to defer giving the high-powered Hartebeest offense the ball to start the game. Cork Bowl's all-time leading passer Willy Truitt came out of the gates cold throwing three consecutive incomplete passes to start the game. The Hartebeests would punt and the Meerkats would take over near their own 5 yard line.
Meerkat quarterback Tony Cork trotted onto the field for the first time since Cork Bowl 8 looking to lead his team to the first score of the game. Cork's first pass was complete to Patrick on the sideline for 8 yards, but his second down pass was incomplete setting up a big 3rd and 8 play. Tony was rushed by Ryan Tomlinson and he scrambled away from pressure before finding an open Josh Williamson across the field for a big gain deep inside Hartebeest territory, however, Cork was about four yards past the line of scrimmage when the ball was thrown and the play was brought back on the penalty. On the subsequent 4th down play, Cork's pass sailed over the head of Patrick and the Meerkats turned the ball over on downs deep inside their own territory. "The play that was called back really had an impact early," remarked Tony Cork. "It was the right call for sure, but not only did we not get a score that drive, but we set them up for an easy score of their own." The Hartebeests took advantage quickly as Willy found brother Reggie Truitt in the flat on the first play and Reggie was able to fight his way into the endzone for the game's first score and a 7-0 lead.
The Meerkats took over and were blitzed heavily by Greg Howard. Tony Cork scrambled for short yardage twice, but the Meerkats were faced with another 4th and 7. Tony again looked for Patrick on 4th down, but Reggie Truitt jumped the route and picked off the pass at midfield giving the Hartebeests great field position once again. They would drive all the way down to the 2-yard line where they were faced with a 4th and goal situation. Willy Truitt was running low on time in the pocket, but found Ryan Tomlinson coming across the front of the endzone to give the H-Beests a 14-0 advantage.
With the Meerkats desperate for a score, they looked for their top target on 1st down. Tony Cork pushed the ball deep down the right sideline where Patrick Cork made a great catch despite blanket coverage from Reggie Truitt. As Cork came down with the ball, Truitt rolled over him and Patrick appeared to injure his left shoulder on the play with 10 1/2 minutes left in the 1st quarter. After a 5-minute delay, Cork returned to the huddle with the Meerkats deep in Hartebeest territory. "I knew I was hurt when it first happened," commented Patrick. "But I had no idea how bad it really was. I figured I had jammed my shoulder because it felt really tight like a charlie horse, and I couldn't lift my arm more than an inch or two. But I wasn't going to leave the game for what I thought was a bruised shoulder, so I just stayed in and did what I could." It was later found out that Cork had suffered a fractured clavicle and torn ligaments in his left shoulder, however he would not leave the game until halftime playing the next 35 minutes with virtually one arm. (To see images of Patrick's x-ray, and the bruise that formed the following week, click here). Despite only needing 8 yards to score, the Meerkats struggled to get the ball in the endzone as Tony Cork rushed for a gain of 2 on first down and then rushed again on 2nd down to get the ball to the 3 yard line. On 3rd down Cork looked for Patrick in the corner, but the ball was underthrown and on 4th down Tony's pass was high over Chris Cork's head and the Meerkats were still not on the scoreboard. "We had planned on having Kevin and Josh stay in and block their blitzers every play, but Greg was still getting pressure," added Patrick. "With two guys blocking one, they were still getting pressure and our offense couldn't get going. We really dug ourselves a hole in the first quarter." On the first 3 possessions, Tony Cork was just 2-for-8 with no touchdowns and 1 interception.
As the Hartebeests took over on their own 3 yard line, Willy looked deep down the field on first down where Jeff Henney had gotten behind coverage. Henney bobbled the ball several times before hauling it in for the score, and the Hartebeests had vaulted into the lead at 21-0. With Patrick unable to lift his left arm, he decided to get under center and quarterback. "I hadn't thrown a pass in Cork Bowl since 1996," added Patrick. "But I couldn't really do much damage as a receiver with only one arm so it was the only option we had." Patrick looked like a veteran on the drive as he completed three straight passes including a short scoring toss to Chris Cork for the Meerkats first touchdown of the game with just 2 minutes left. The 1st quarter ended with the score 21-7.
Truitt was 7-for-11 in the first quarter with 3 touchdowns. Tony Cork was just 2-for-8 and Patrick was 3-for-3 with the team's only score. The Hartebeests started the second quarter with the ball and after picking up a first down, found themselves with a 3rd and goal at the 10 yard line. Willy Truitt thought he had an open receiver and fired a pass into the endzone, but Greg Howard didn't see the ball immediately and the ball ricocheted off of Howard's face high into the air. Reggie Truitt made a great break on the ball and made a sensational diving catch off the deflection in the endzone for yet another Hartebeest touchdown and a 28-7 lead. "That was just another play that went their way early," added Patrick. "We had clawed our way back within 14, and then that play happened and we kind of deflated again." On the ensuing possession, Patrick was at quarterback again, but this time couldn't find anyone open and the Meerkats had to punt after three incomplete passes. "When Patrick went to QB, they dropped all five men in coverage," added Chris Cork. "Coach and Kevin didn't have the speed to get away from their defenders, and they were doubling me and Josh. Without Patrick running routes, we didn't have anyone that had a good matchup on their defenders. We can usually count on him to either get open on his own or draw two defenders with him. Their team speed was a huge factor, and our fastest player was playing with one arm."
The Hartebeests struggled to keep their offense rolling, and faced a 4th and 10 near midfield. Willy was able to find Henney crossing over the middle for the first down, and then found Reggie open in the corner of the enzone on 3rd and goal to push the lead to 35-7. "Patrick has done a pretty good job on Reggie in the past," commented H-Beest QB Willy Truitt, "but with his shoulder hurting, he couldn't play man-to-man because he couldn't tackle. They tried using Kevin and Coach on Reggie, but he was just too fast for them and we took advantage." Following the score, Tony Cork returned to quarterback for the Meerkats as they hoped Patrick's presence at wideout would help soften the defense. It seemed to work early as Tony completed a first down to pass to Patrick, who hauled it in with his good arm for a 5 yard gain. A short completion to Josh Williamson set up a 3rd and 10. Another short completion, this one to Kevin Ryan, put the ball at midfield and had the Meerkats in another critical 4th down situation. Tony found Chris Cork for the first down and the Meerkats were moving the ball again as they completed 4 straight passes to 4 different receivers. On 2nd and goal, Tony found Chris in the corner of the endzone, but Chris was out of bounds as he caught the pass. On the next play, Tony found Williamson in the right corner of the endzone on a beautiful fade route for his first touchdown pass of the game with just 6 minutes to go in the half and the lead was down to 35-14.
Again the Hartebeests struck back as Willy completed three straight passes and found Henney for another touchdown to push the lead to 42-14. Tony Cork nearly had another touchdown on the next drive as Kevin Ryan got behind Willy Truitt down the right sideline, but Willy closed late on the ball and was able to jump and just tip it away on what would have been a sure touchdown. "All of those close plays that we needed to get back in the game went against us," added Chris Cork. "Reggie's deflection touchdown catch, Willy getting a fingertip on that pass...A couple inches either way, and who knows?" The incompletion forced the Meerkats to punt again, and Willy found Henney deep on another long route for a score to give the Hartebeests their biggest lead at 49-14 with one minute to go in the half. The Meerkats decided to counter the Hartebeest blitzing with a trick play to start the next drive. Tony Cork took the snap and threw a backward pass to Patrick Cork who received the lateral and launched a beautiful length of the field pass to Chris Cork for a touchdown with 51 seconds to go in the half. "If we could have found a way to keep it that close, we would have had a chance to make a run at them in the 2nd half," added Chris Cork. "But the exact opposite happened."
On the first play for the Hartebeests, Reggie Truitt got open behind the Meerkats' beaten up secondary once again and Willy found him wide open in the endzone for a 56-21 advantage. Kevin Ryan took a turn under center for the Meerkats, hoping to be able to stand in the pocket if the Hartebeests decided to rush. However the experiment backfired as Ryan was intercepted once again by Reggie Truitt on his first pass. The Hartebeests threw three straight incompletions and were faced with a 4th and 8 with just 17 seconds to go in the half, but Willy found Henney for a first down to the 3 yard line with 9 seconds left, and Willy was able to avoid the rush and scamper into the endzone for a score to extend the lead to 63-21 with 2 seconds to go in the half. Patrick Cork went under center again for the final play of the half and heaved a hail mary in the direction of Chris Cork. The ball hung in the air near the goal line and was picked off yet again by Reggie Truitt who initially thought of taking a knee, but decided to run it back. Truitt broke a number of tackles and fought into the endzone for a touchdown as time expired and the Hartebeests suddenly led 70-21. The Hartebeests were able to put 21 points on the board in the final 43 seconds. On the final play, Patrick bumped his shoulder trying to bring down Truitt and would finally decide to leave the game for x-rays.
At the half, Willy Truitt had only completed 18 passes on 30 attempts, however 8 of them had gone for touchdowns with 4 of them going to Reggie Truitt who caught 7 passes in the half. Jeff Henney tallied 9 catches and 3 scores in the half, while Ryan Tomlinson had 2 catches and Greg Howard had zero. For the Meerkats, Tony Cork was just 7-for-19 with 1 touchdown and 1 interception and Patrick Cork was 4-for-8 with 2 touchdowns and a pick. He also had 3 catches in the half, while Chris Cork had 4 catches and 2 scores. "Their offense was ok, but it was definitely nothing to write home about," remarked Patrick. "They got most of their scores on long touchdown plays, but never really sustained a drive. The biggest part of the game was how well Reggie was playing defense." Truitt picked off 3 passes in the first half, with all 3 leading to Hartebeest touchdowns. "There is no doubt the reason they got that big lead was because of Reggie Truitt," remarked announcer Eric Dean. "He made big play after big play and that interception return for a touchdown to end the half pretty much sealed the game."
With Patrick out for the rest of the game, the Meerkats added Robinson High School cross country runner Robert Trimble to their roster for the 3rd quarter, but the game seemed to be missing that fire it had before. "Without Patrick out there, we were just kind of going through the motions," responded Willy Truitt. "It was really hard to play the 2nd half," added Greg Howard. "I mean, Patrick IS Cork Bowl and without him out there it just didn't seem right. But the game needed to be finished, so we kept going." On the opening drive of the 2nd half, Tony Cork found Chris Cork on a fade into the endzone for Chris's third score of the game and the lead was 70-28. Again the Hartebeests found themselves with a 4th and goal situation with the Meerkats hoping to get back into the game, and once again Reggie Truitt made a huge play hauling in the pass for a score and the lead was up to 77-28. A bit of history was reached on the next drive as Tony Cork's first down pass was caught by Trimble for his first career Cork Bowl reception. However, the drive would end prematurely as Tony was picked off by Willy Truitt near the sideline. The Hartebeests couldn't convert though and had to punt. The Meerkats acted quickly completing a long pass to Williamson to set up a touchdown toss to Chris Cork to cut the lead to 77-35. Again the Hartebeests answered with the long ball as Willy completed a bomb to Henney to put the score up to 84-35. On the next drive, Reggie Truitt would tie a Cork Bowl record with his 4th interception of the game and returned it all the way to the 3 yard line where Robert Trimble made a touchdown saving tackle - his first ever in Cork Bowl. Willy would find Henney for the short score and the lead was 91-35 at the end of the third quarter.
With the outcome quite obvious, the 4th quarter provided the opportunity for a couple of players to reach some career milestones. After the teams traded touchdowns (the Meerkats' scores came from Kevin Ryan and Chris Cork and the Hartebeests scored on passes to Henney and Tomlinson), Reggie Truitt made a great break on a long pass and picked off yet another pass. Truitt's 5th interception of the game set a new Cork Bowl record that had stood since Cork Bowl 6 when Chad Veenstra had 4 interceptions. "Reggie's defense was amazing," added Patrick. "Cork Bowl is all about turnovers and he forced 5 on his own." On the Meerkats next possession, Chris Cork got a personal record, and helped the team at the same time. After catching a short pass, Cork rumbled downfield dragging tacklers with him. The catch was the 100th of his Cork Bowl career, and just before he was pulled to the ground he lateraled the ball to Josh Williamson who ran the rest of the way into the endzone for a touchdown that made the score 105-56 with 10 minutes to go. "I think that play epitomizes Chris's career," replied Patrick. "He's always been a team player, and even on a play where he sets a personal record like that, he gave up the ball so the team would score." Cork is only the second player in Cork Bowl history to tally 100 receptions in a career.
On the next Hartebeest possession, Josh Williamson extended his career lead in sacks as he shot into the backfield and drug down Willy Truitt in the endzone for a safety. The sack was Williamson's 4th of his career. However, the Meerkats couldn't capitalize on the safety as Tony Cork's 3rd down pass was thrown right to Jeff Henney who walked the 5 yards into the endzone. After another Henney interception on the next play, Willy Truitt found Henney in the endzone for a touchdown that pushed the lead to 119-58, but the bigger news was that it was Willy's 100th career touchdown pass. "I came into the game knowing I needed 14 TD's to get to 100," added Truitt. "I also knew if I got to 100 then our team would have a great chance to win." No other player has more than 47 touchdown passes.
The Meerkats would score again as Chris Cork hauled in a long crossing pattern with 4 minutes to go, but the Hartebeests continued to be in attack mode as they ran a hook-and-lateral on the next drive. Reggie Truitt caught the pass and pitched it to Henney who weaved in and out of the decimated Meerkat defense for another score. On the Meerkats last possession, some more Cork Bowl history was made as Tony Cork completed a pass to Lyndell Wright who had subbed in for Trimble in the 4th quarter. The catch was the first of Wright's career and Tony became the first QB to complete a pass to 6 different receivers in a game. The Meerkats would finish the drive with a touchdown to Kevin Ryan with 9 seconds left for a score of 126-72. Still not satisfied with the 54 point lead, the Hartebeests threw another bomb on the next play that was caught by Henney for a touchdown with 2 seconds remaining and the final score was 133-72. The last few minutes may provide some motivation for the Meerkat players as the 'Beests continued to throw the long ball despite the big lead. "I don't want to judge, but I would have thought they would have tried to get Tomlinson and Greg some touches late since they weren't very involved most of the game," remarked Patrick. "How great would it have been to see a hook and lateral to Tomlison, or even let him throw a pass? There's not one player that has ever played who wouldn't have loved to have seen Tomlinson line up behind center for a few plays. The Meerkats had already conceded the game and made a point to get the ball to their two rookies (Trimble and Wright), so you'd think they would have followed that lead. Of course I wasn't there at the time, so I don't know what the mood was. Maybe it wasn't a big deal, but I'm not gonna forget it."
For the second consecutive year, a player not leading his team in receptions was named Most Valuable Player showing it's more important what kind of impact a player has than on his numbers. Reggie Truitt was awarded the MVP trophy for the first time in his long career, finishing with 12 receptions and a career-high 5 touchdowns on offense, but made his biggest impact on defense with 8 tackles and 5 interceptions - with one returned for a score. "Reggie made the big plays early that gave them the lead," replied Tony Cork. "His catch off the deflection for a touchdown was huge and his interception return at the end of the half put the game away. Really the game was decided in the first half, and Reggie was obviously the best player on the field in the first half." Patrick Cork agreed. "I've lined up against Reggie for a number of years, and he was just a little better this year than ever before. Even before I got hurt, he seemed a step quicker and a little faster than he has in the past, and he seemed determined to win the game. Cork Bowl comes down to big plays every year, and Reggie had a ton of them. Of course him tackling me and breaking my shoulder should have disqualified him, but....just kidding."
Willy Truitt had another solid day throwing the ball, but finished with his lowest number of completions since he starting playing full-time at quarterback with only 33 completions on 56 attempts. However, nearly half of those completions went for touchdowns as he finished with 16 scores, and most importantly 0 interceptions for the first time in his career. He also added his 13th career rushing touchdown in the game. However, the victory was not on the top of Willy's list of wins. "It was kind of an empty win without Patrick out there," added Truitt. "It was nothing for us to brag about for next year that's for sure." The most impressive stat line came from last year's rookie sensation Jeff Henney as he finished with 16 receptions and a record-tying 8 receiving touchdowns (he also had a touchdown on a lateral). Some Henney supporters would argue that he should have been named MVP, however, much of Henney's production came late in the contest with the outcome decided. Four of his touchdowns came in the 4th quarter, including two in the final two minutes of the game. He also finished with 8 tackles and 2 interceptions - both coming in the 4th quarter as well. "There's no doubt that Jeff played a great game," answered announcer Eric Dean. "But a lot of his numbers came after the game had been decided. That's not a knock on him, but it was obvious that Reggie did it all when it mattered most, and Henney was kind of the leader of the clean-up crew as the game concluded. Both played great, but Reggie's impact had a greater effect on the outcome."
Very silent in the game were Hartebeest receivers Greg Howard and Ryan Tomlinson. Howard had vowed to get back on track, but dropped a number of passes in the first half and Willy never really looked for him in the 2nd half as Greg finished with a career low 2 catches and no touchdowns. Tomlinson finished the game with 3 receptions and 2 touchdowns. Defensively, both played solid games as Howard had 6 tackles and Tomlinson contributed well with 5 tackles.
For the Meerkats, Tony Cork finished just 25-for-50 with 8 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Cork had previously only thrown 2 interceptions in 108 attempts, and had trouble making accurate throws when pressured. "He just didn't get much zip on the passes when he had to roll," added Patrick. "He missed a number of open receivers too, but you can expect that with him not playing in four years. Once we got behind he had to force some throws into coverage to try to make big plays, and that led to some interceptions late." Patrick Cork was 4-for-8 throwing the ball with a pair of touchdowns as well. Chris Cork, the only established receiver after Patrick was injured, played a phenomenal game being double teamed much of the game. Cork finished with 13 catches and 6 touchdowns, his best output since a 13 catch, 7 touchdown game in Cork Bowl 8. Chris also was the most effective blocker when he wasn't catching passes. "He never gave up no matter what the score was," remarked Tony Cork. "He kept battling and really had nothing left in the 4th quarter." Josh Williamson had 5 catches and scored once (and had another score on a lateral), and Kevin Ryan also hauled in 5 passes and scored 2 touchdowns. Patrick Cork had just 3 catches in the game, by far the lowest output of his career. However, he found a silver lining. "Hey, I caught the same number of passes as Tomlinson did and I caught more than Greg," remarked Patrick. "I didn't play half the game, and had only one arm for 35 of the 50 minutes I did play. That's not too shabby I guess. I'm just proud of the way the guys fought after I got hurt. Everyone knew they would have to do something they didn't feel comfortable doing, but they never gave up. They kept fighting until the game was over. They made Cork Bowl proud."
Turnovers were once again the key stat in the game. The Hartebeests didn't turn the ball over all afternoon, while the Meerkats tied a Cork Bowl record by throwing 8 interceptions in the game. They didn't set the record for turnovers, as the Rovers turned the ball over 10 times in Cork Bowl 7. Hall of Fame announcer Eric Dean adds his insight into the game:
With so much promise and excitement heading into the game, everyone was without a doubt a little disappointed. However, there was bound to be a blowout sometime, and after having 6 consecutive very close games, a lopsided contest was overdue. Of course it took an injury to cause it, so it will be interesting to see how the league rebounds from this. Amazingly, in the 12 year history of the game, this is the first documented injury. As many remember, Brian Garrard was injured 10 years ago in Cork Bowl 2, and left the game with a chipped tooth. However, the league never received evidence that Garrard was hurt. The whole incident remains a mystery. Congratulations to the Hartebeests and to the Meerkats for playing hard despite the score. Next year's rosters will be announced in late August or early September for Cork Bowl 13.