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Railers, Cards, Illini, Redbirds and the Rail cap a LABORious weekend

By Jeff Mayfield          Send a link to a friend

[SEPT. 7, 2004]  If you are a local sports fan, you likely had a wonderful Labor Day weekend. Virtually every team represented in our area has something to smile about. If not a victory, the weather or an extra day off. It would be impossible to try to catch you up on four to five days of sports news, so I'm just going to go ramblin'… Hey, why do you think they call this column Mutterings???

The Lincoln Railer football squad had a most impressive 35-19 victory Friday night over the Lanphier Lions. Congratulations to Coach Oaks and his staff for getting his gridders back on track after the disappointing loss in week one.

What a performance by Chris Boward! Some reports have him rushing for 201 yards and other reports have him down for 203 yards. Whatever the official total turns out to be, that is one impressive night.

Obviously, that could not have been accomplished without a great performance by the offensive line, especially in the second half. They opened up some nice holes that sprung Boward and others at the critical time to put the game away. I don't want to start naming names of every lineman because I'll leave someone out. Surely, there is a mother or grandmother or a proud dad or granddad out there who can mention everyone we need to know about? Send those names to us.

Curt Courtwright also had an awesome night. Courtwright scampered 80 yards through a herd of defenders and initiated the scoring for the 2004 Railers. He also cruised for 89 yards on only nine carries to demonstrate more great running and more great blocking.

Hats off to the defense as well. They stopped the Lions when they had to. When Lanphier scored to make it 28-19 Lincoln, the Lions were on a roll and decided to go for two. Lincoln's defensive wall hung tough and stopped them, and in many respects that was the ballgame. Coach Oaks has been giving Lincoln defensive lineman Lance Agostino some rave reviews over the last two seasons. Even though he doesn't have tremendous size, the coach calls him "the quickest lineman I have ever had." The only time my coaches ever called me quick was when I went through the buffet line!

The kicking game, and actually all special teams, were fairly special, as Lincoln also recovered an onside kick. All in all a performance that the fans would like to see repeated on a regular basis.

On opening day Illinois matched their win total from a season ago with an impressive 52-13 showing of their own. The Illini beat Florida A & M, which does have the funkiest band I've ever seen. That game was well-scheduled and exactly what I would want if I were coaching in the Big Time. You need to build confidence the first two or three weeks of any season and get your team in the bowl-bound mix.

A couple of LDN correspondent Greg Taylor's favs, backs Pierre Thomas and E.B. Halsey, had nice runs for Illinois. Thomas scampered for 143 yards on 14 rushes while Halsey tallied 79 on 16 carries. QB Jon Beutjer had an outstanding day as well, connecting on 16-of-18 for 228 yards and no interceptions! Leading the pass catchers was Kendrick Jones, who snagged three passes for 101 yards. Many Illini receivers looked good in their time on the field, and freshman kicker Jason Reda scored 10 points in his Illini debut.

The best performances of the day, however, may have come on the defensive side of the ball. New "D" coordinator Mike Mallory was unveiled to the Illini faithful, and he didn't disappoint in his initial voyage. Morris Virgil, a converted running back, looked pretty good with the defensive unit. But how 'bout the day former receiver Kelvin Hayden had? All he did was intercept two passes, taking one to the house, forced a fumble, and I think he may have sold a few programs on the side! It is doubtful that Illinois' defense did more than that in all of 12 games last season!

Hats off to a crowd of almost 50,000 who showed up for opening day. I guess the sunshine lovers will be back if Illinois wins another game or two.


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A great start to the campaign was also enjoyed in Normal on Thursday night as the ISU Redbirds mauled the St. Xavier Cougars 44-14 before over 7,500 happy fans at Hancock Stadium. Demetrus Johnson led the way with 161 yards and three touchdowns, including a 70-yard sprint the first time ISU touched the ball. Yance Vaughn looked good at QB, going 13-20 for 225 and two TDs. The Redbirds tackle Minnesota on the road next Saturday. [Click here for pre-game notes.]

The Cards pretty much won about every game since we posted the last Mutterings, which makes writing about them all the more exhilarating. Winning the series against both the Pads and the Dodgers is exciting, but sweeping them was just not what I expected. The injury to Larry Walker concerns me mainly because the Cards are not all that deep in the outfield. I would like to see them continue to take care of business and then rest as many starters as possible while still keeping their timing intact.

The Cubs were sidelined for the weekend because of the fury of Hurricane Frances but still look to be in the driver's seat in the NL wild card race.

The Lady Railers got their volleyball season started on the right foot by winning their first two matches. LCC got a taste of volleyball in the Big Time as they traveled to the University of Alaska for a tournament. [Click here for results.]

This very column suggested to you loyal LDN readers that it wouldn't be Phil Mickelson nor would it be Ernie Els, although those would have been two of the best choices you could have made. The guess here was that it would be Vijay Singh who would overtake Tiger Woods as the No. 1 player in the world. Did you see what happened yesterday?

Speaking of golf… I got to spend a few minutes (less than 75) this weekend down at the Rail, where Christie Kerr won her fourth LPGA title by firing a ridiculous 24-under-par 264, good enough to claim the top prize of $180,000. She staved off the wild and crazy Christina Kim, who also shot a blistering 265 to come up one shot short, but Kim's second-place finish was the best of her young career. I did speak with fan favorite Kate Golden, who managed her same friendly manner in spite of not really being in contention.

The Rail seemed to be in as good a shape as I've ever seen it, and of course it is susceptible to low scores. So the records broken were not much of a surprise. Hats off to the Rail and its group of workers for bringing in such a premier event to central Illinois.

NFL football starts this week!

Non-sports items of the week:

The Illinois Symphony played Friday night at LCC, and we caught the concert before Railer football action. Karen Lynne Deal is as good a conductor as there is in the business. That orchestra is phenomenal, and if you missed them you missed one of the best treats in Lincoln in 2004!

Hats off to Lincoln Fire Chief Bucky Washam and his entire staff for the great open house they annually throw for the area kids! Our son loves it so much he figures the fire department will probably call him to assign him to a truck. The kids all had a great time and so did the parents.

That's it for me... Have a great week, everybody!

[Jeff Mayfield]

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