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Wow. What an opener. Hours later, and I'm still excited. The first half alone felt like three or four games worth of subplots. I don't even know how to write a lede to this story!
Do I write about the emergence of senior RB Brennan Frost as one of the most explosive and versatile players in recent Viking history, between his 80-yard dash to open the game, his excellent punting and kicking, and his Kirk Gibson limping fourth quarter interception to seal the game?
Or should we talk about Defensive Coordinator Joe Cronin and his charges pitching virtually a complete shutout (minus two first quarter big plays) against a playoff caliber Wing T?
What about senior left tackle Garek Stuart dominating the highly-touted Mariner DE Mychael Tuiasosopo at the line of scrimmage again and again, while also shoring up the middle of the Viking D. In the words of Lake line coach and former NFL great Coach Jeff Pahukoa - "Garek is the biggest surprise of the season".
I could jot about senior Arvid Isaksen - starting his first varsity game at WR, right? He nabbed five balls, showed sure hands, and saved the Vikings' butt by fighting his way through a crowd of Mariner defenders to snare an ill-concieved screen pass deep in Marauder territory?
Hell, we could talk about junior QB Bryson Daggett and the growth he showed as the game progressed. Early, it was ugly as nerves (and a few drops) led to a 1/6 start passing. But in the second half, Daggett was razor-sharp, completing seven straight to start the half and also threading a beautiful 25-yard fade to WR Brandon Preslar that was just off the fingertips.
We could even talk about the aforementioned Preslar - and while I'm sure he'd be the first to admit that tonight's game doesn't even begin to tap his potential - he did haul in two deep balls - one for a touchdown.
And then there is senior S/WR Chameron Lackey - and while he was a complete afterthought on offense, he came up with two key interceptions on defense to help earn the W.
Aside from the individual efforts, we learned alot about our 2009 Vikings as a team. They beat a very good Mariner squad last night - and while the score was close - after the first quarter it was obvious that the Vikings were in control.
And now, let me rant about he refs for a sec.
In our pregame prediction. we talked about the ability of great teams to overcome adversity. In the case of the 2009 Vikings, we talked about the loss of Duke Dolphin, and compared it to similar losses on 07 and 08. But we also talked about the ability of the team to overcome adversity on a smaller scale: on a series by series or even play by play basis.
If tonight's 18-14 win over Mariner is any clue, this team has the balls to challenge for a league title. I hate to start with something as trite and tired as criticizing the officials, but quite simply this was the worst officiated game I have ever seen. Seahawks Superbowl included.
In the first half, the officiating crew saw fit to disappear second down during an official timeout. The ensuing play occurred, and instead of third and seven near midfield, the Vikes were stuck with fourth down due to a chain gang error.
The Viking coaching staff caught on, and Coach Tri damn near went apoplectic, but the officials turned a deaf ear. They didn't even offer an explanation. (Side note: This really happened. I have it on film. And the worst part is the officials were 1. so irresponsible that they lost track of the down - I mean, how hard is it to count to three; and 2. When they were confronted with the obvious error they decided to be too prideful or too stupid to even attempt to rectify the situation or explain why they lost third down to the LS coaching staff.) The Vikes were forced to punt, in what amounted to an unforced turnover on a potential scoring drive.
In the second half, the Zebras struck again. Mariner had the ball pinned back in their own territory - third and long. For some reason, Mariner elected to pass (why??? Give the ball to 5!!! He was awesome!!!) and Lake linebacker Jason Mendel intercepted the pass.
As Mendel rumbled towards the goaline, Viking linebacker Chase Crowley hit the Mariner QB with a block in the open field.
This is all well and good.
Except for the fact that the inept crew of stripers on the field decided to call a Roughing the Passer penalty - on an open field block, post possesssion nonetheless. They gave the ball back to Mariner -AND - they gave them 15 yards. I was amazed that Coach Tri didn't keel over and die from a heart attack at this display of official inenptitude. I mean really. Did these guys find somewhere to lay Mariner plus the points? Seriously. It was awful.
A couple key points from the game that stood out to me:
1. Line Play: Any doubts about the Lake line have to be put to rest for now. Daggett was hardly ever under pressure, and the emerging Stuart handled the Mariner pass rushing specialist with aplomb. I can't say it enbough. Garek Stuart is a beast!
2. Cronin's new defense - designed to stop the the run, no doubt - worked exceptionally well against a very talented line and running back.
3. Coach/offensive coordinator Tom Tri and QB Bryson Daggett are still in the trial period. Daggett was shaky early, but came on in the second hal - starting 7/7. But Tri still opted to run the ball - even reverting to eye I formation - inside the twenty. The Vikes came away with just three points total after two lengthy third quarter drives deep into Marauder territory. This easily could have been a blow out.
4. My new favorite player is Frosty. He's ice cold, baby - and he's got great hair. Plus - he's the most naturally talented back I've seen in my time covering the Vikes, while also managing punting, kick-off and cornerback duties. This guy is gonna make the season fun.
5. Water. If you drink water, you won't be dehydrated. Write it down, Vikes. Due to cramping, the Purple and Gold had FIVE defensive starters on the sidelines during a key fourth quarter Mariner drive.
Congrats Vikes. Great win. It was dirty, it was scrappy, it was sloppy at times. But the team played with heart for every second of the game and responded in the face of manufactured adversity. We discovered a superstarRB. We found our QB for the next two years. We found a D that can shut down the Wing T. We got a win on opening night against a playoff-caliber team.
And I know that I'm not supposed to refer to the team as "we" - but after a game like Friday's, I don't really care. We're all Vikings today.