By Scott Prater
Craig Thompson connected with Jacob Burtschi on a pair of touchdown passes and 11th Space Warning Squadron defended its Schriever Intramural Flag Football title Sept. 29, upending 4th Space Operations Squadron 14-6.
In a concerted effort to keep the ball away from 11 SWS’ potent passing attack, 4 SOPS dominated possession time nearly two to one.
4 SOPS entered the game unbeaten and quarterback Mike Owen showed why his team had disposed of seven straight opponents en route to the championship game. He either found receivers on short passes, or scrambled for first downs as 4 SOPS started the game by eating up valuable clock time. His favorite receivers, Tyler Kimes, Jeremy Brown and Ryan Miller each recorded first downs on the drive.
But, just as 4 SOPS was poised to take an early lead, 11 SWS safety Korey Kuykendall intercepted an Owen pass in the end zone.
Sensing his opponents might try to play keep away, Thompson wasted little time cranking up the 11 SWS offense. Three plays into the possession, he escaped two rushing defenders and lobbed a 30-yard pass high and deep toward the right sideline. Burtschi leaped over a defender, caught the ball with one hand, landed, spun to avoid a tackler and raced into the end zone for the game’s first score.
“I told Craig that the backside might be open and he lobbed it over there,” Burtschi said. “I felt like I wasn’t pursuing well so my first thought was to knock it down so the safety couldn’t come over and pick it off. But those wide-receiver gloves are sticky for a reason. I’ve got a decent size hand. I just put it up there — and it stuck. I was kind of surprised when I came down with it.”
The catch was such a highlight-reel play that it prompted some of Burtschi’s teammates to bellow the opening jingle from SportsCenter.
It also served to strengthen the resolve of his opponents.
When 4 SOPS took possession again, Owen led the team on another long drive that consumed nearly the entire first half. That drive fell short as well, however, this time on 11 SWS’ five-yard line. Dan Lampe swatted Owen’s fourth-down pass away with less than two minutes remaining in the half.
“That stop was the key to victory for us,” Lampe said. It allowed us to go into the half with a 7-0 lead, and we knew we would get the ball to start the second half.”
11 SWS opened the second half with its own long drive. Thompson found Fletcher Caulk for a 20-yard completion, then hit Burtschi in the end zone three plays later to give 11 SWS a 14-point cushion.
That was all the scoring 11 SWS could manage, which proved to be an extraordinary feat for 4 SOPS considering the 11 SWS offense had put 30 points in each of its previous two games.
“We mixed things up defensively,” 4 SOPS coach Luke Zimmerman said. “We chose some fast guys to rush Thompson so he would have to throw quick, and it worked now and then, but he’s got the speed and the arm to get around and make good throws.”
Things started working for 4 SOPS midway through the second half. Owen found Kimes and Miller for short completions and they worked for extra yardage to extend another long drive. Kimes capped the drive with a tough catch in the right corner of the end zone.
“It was a little too late,” Zimmerman said. “We didn’t have enough time to get the ball back.”
All 11 SWS needed to do was gain a first down to end the game and Thompson hit Kuykendall for one with less than 2 minutes to play.
“We called this our redemption tour,” Kuykendall said. “Both teams that knocked us off during the regular season were the teams we beat in the playoffs.”