Finished Business

Section OE defeated a worthy squad from OC with a score of 18-6 to clinch the intramural flag football championship, closing out an undefeated season.

The 12-point margin of victory overstates what was actually a very close contest, fought in bitter conditions of harsh wind and cold rain that made even the simplest offensive pass a struggle. The slick turf and bright lights of Cumnock Field provided an appropriately dramatic stage for the battle, although the bitter weather scared away all but the most devoted fans from both sections.

But not a hint of fear glittered in the eyes of either team, each composed of grizzled EC veterans who had tasted their fair share of IM glory. Both teams advanced far into the playoffs last year, OC led by one-time collegiate quarterback Kyle Matter, and OE by Brandon Gayle, a former member of Harvard’s team across the river. The competitive fire was further fueled by OE’s loss last spring to OC’s tug-of-war team during the Section Olympics, a defeat that cost OE the gold. This year, neither team had yet suffered a loss going into the final game. Two undefeated teams arrived at Cumnock Field that night, but only one could leave with the championship.

OC’s offense opened the game and wasted no time in striking the first blow. QB Matter completed four of his first five passes with cool, clinical efficiency, firing each pass in rapid succession before OE’s defensive specialist Leo Buehler could finish his “FIVE-Mississippi” count to pressure the throw. Matter completed the drive with a perfectly placed pass over the middle of the field to a sprinting Brian Wannop. The drive, notable by any standard against OE’s veteran defense, was all the more impressive considering the miserable weather. The intimidating display of offensive prowess sent OC marching back to the sideline emboldened and enthusiastic, and left OE’s defense rattled, confused, and quietly nervous for the next drive. This touchdown, however, would prove to be OC’s only score of the night.

OE’s offense began their first drive on their own 20, marching downfield into a fierce headwind and chilling rain. QB Sean Murray completed three of his first six passes, one to the offensive specialist Lindsay Steinmetz and two to the six-foot-six Chris Cummings, OE’s tallest receiver who would go on to plague the OC defense for the rest of the game. OE moved the ball upfield, but looked altogether sloppy, and ultimately ceded the ball back to OC on their own 30-yard line.

The teams sloshed back and forth for the rest of the half, both offenses struggling in the harsh conditions. Passes wobbled like migrating ducks, receivers skidded like hydroplaning cars. In one offensive sequence, OE took over possession deep in their opponent’s territory after a fumble recovery and fired a long pass in the end zone to receiver Scott Prime. But the pass fell incomplete, out of Prime’s hands. And in the final seconds of the half, OE again took a shot at the end zone, this time with a mid-field Hail Mary pass that again was swatted incomplete by the formidable OC secondary. As the half came to a close, an OC spectator, considering his team’s 6-0 lead, commented “I think OC is in good shape.”

The second half began with OE on the offensive, this time driving the ball back downwind toward their end zone. QB Murray followed a 20-yard completion to Prime with a 15-yard rush, turning a broken passing play into a first down by sprinting and spinning around the OC defense. A short outlet pass to Doug Haber put OE in scoring position for the first time. But 2nd and 3rd downs were spoiled by a pouncing OC secondary, forcing a 4th and goal showdown. After snapping the ball, Murray was chased out of his pocket by the OC offensive rush. With no receivers open, Murray scrambled to the edge of the field, and finally tossed up a prayer to the back corner of the end zone crowded with OC defenders. Somehow, the pass floated over a defender’s reach and settled into the hands of OE receiver Prime as he dove to the ground. The crowd momentarily held its breath until the referee signaled the catch was clean, then erupted in elation at the tying touchdown. After a deflected pass on the following 2-point conversion try, possession returned to OC, the score tied 6-6.

No points were scored in the subsequent possessions, as each team struggled for advantage and the play became more physical. OC punted after four quick plays, then OE labored to advance the ball. Facing forth and long, Murray decided to go for the first down, rather than punt, resulting in a turnover on downs to OC deep within their own territory after an incomplete pass. After two short gains, OC’s Matter fired two passes into the end zone. The first hit the hands of receiver Joshua Awad, but a bone-crunching hit from OE’s Todd Orenstein prevented the completion. The second pass, on 4th and goal, was caught by OC receiver Brent Grinna as he raced through the back of the end zone, but he was ruled out of bounds by the referee. The close call cost OC the lead and the ball, as OE’s offense took over on downs.

The OE offense wasted no time advancing the ball out of their own territory. A long pass to Cummings and another QB scramble moved the chains, and a clutch reception by Gayle in heavy traffic put OE in scoring position. A fully-extended Cummings was able to keep both feet in bounds for a 20-yard reception in the back of the end zone to end the drive and take the lead, 12-6.

OC took over the ball with three minutes left, but failed to reach midfield against an OE defense impassioned by their team’s growing momentum. OE’s offense regained possession and focused on short passes to keep the ball in bounds and the clock running. On 3rd down, Gayle showed off his speed on an end-around, darting through the OC secondary for a 52-yard run and OE’s third touchdown. OC’s offense took the field one last time, but down 18-6 with less than two minutes to play, the game, and the season, were all but over.

Congratulations to both teams for such an exciting championship game, and to Section OE for the 2009 IM football victory!

Scott Daubin is the Harbus representative from Section OE.ÿ He is originally from Fort Worth, TX, where he learned to appreciate good football.