Jacob Clear, Beat Writer
Banner image by J.R. Lawless
Houston’s fairy-tale run continued on strongly as the #10 seed upset the seventh-seeded Chicago Wildcats 13-7 on October 12th on Eleven Sports. Headed into Week 11 the Hyenas were 2-7, but managed to turn things around and run the table to make the Wildcard round of the playoffs. It might have at first seemed like a dream for them just to be there, but their defeat of the higher-seeded 8-4 Chicago Wildcats has made it a sudden reality.
What would shock most here was that despite the dual threat of running back Warren Murray and quarterback Kentez Johnson, Houston didn’t score once with their offense. The only time the Hyenas found the endzone was a pick-six from corner Everett Garrison meant all the difference, as their only other points were off the legs of kicker (and #FromCouchToField rookie) Matthew Flynn. Those kicks were the difference, however, as the Wildcats would only be able to find Buchanan Simons for a touchdown pass to put them on the board.
For Chicago, they weren’t able to get much going all game long. Looking at individual stats, ET King failed to make a much of an impact with a 57% completion rate and only 11 completed passes. The real takeaway from the passing game is his growing connection with wide receiver Buchanan Simons, who managed to reel in more than half of King’s total passing yards for the game as well as the only score for the Wildcats. Despite his best efforts, Ash Odom failed to make the most of his 23 carries. Usually an imminent threat, Odom only mustered a surprising 9 yards on his longest carry and managed a disappointing 3.3 yards per carry.
On the other hand, the Wildcats put up one of the best performances of their season defensively. Linebackers Clint Hendershot and Blake Craize had 19 tackles together, while AJ Barnes was a shining light, contributing 6 tackles and kept the offense from scoring a 6 pointer. The Wildcats were sound in their attempts to stop the Hyenas offense, again preventing them from crossing Hollywood Boulevard once in the game. Johnson had a solid outing despite the lack of scores, completing 20 of 28 of his pass attempts for 179 yards, spreading it out to everyone on the offense. Power rusher Warren Murray was one of the stars of the game, taking on 31 carries and 7 receptions for a total of 120 yards.
Ultimately it was Houston’s defense that sealed the win. Safety Eddie Gauge continues to play strongly despite his impending move to ownership in Arizona, with 5 tackles. Anthony Wyo was also of note, making 3 tackles. And without the pass from ET King that was ultimately picked by Everett Garrison, the Hyenas wold still have fallen short a single point. To say it was a defensive slugfest would sell it short; this was a defensive war.
You can run through the ugly stats as much as you like, but when speaking to playing staff from both sides, players seemed to agree that the efforts from their passers had terrific performances. Just ask Chad Takkul of Houston: “Imma be real with you when I say In Kentez We Trust.”
Shann Varner put it plainly; “We played too conservatively and it cost us.”
Eddie Gauge looked back on the week. “In regards to Houston’s defensive game plan, our 1st and 2nd priorities were containing Ash Odom. All week in practice there was an emphasis on limiting his chances. Swarming to the ball & gang tackling him was absolutely mandatory if we had any aspirations of beating Chicago. Keeping Chicago one dimensional is paramount to our success as a defense. Secondly, we had to keep everything in front of us. Chicago favors the deep passing game, as they have weapons all across the field. It’s impossible to take everything away from an offense. So I decided to try to limit Ash Odom and their deep passing. We had a few plays in which we gambled on, that worked out in our favor. We were fortunate but now we have to put that in the rear view mirror and move on to Denver.”
The Hyenas entered the playoffs as the only team with a losing (5-7) record based on the strength of their final three victories, including a single point thriller to start the run off in the Windy City itself. Unfortunately for Chicago, regular season woes came back to haunt them as the defensive plan of Eddie Gauge and company was too much to overcome. The Wildcats now shift to the offseason while the Hyenas will travel to the top-ranked Denver Nightwings to see if they can be the first-ever #10 seed to unseat the #1 on October 16th on Eleven Sports.