To explain, ‘the lead' is the first and/or second paragraph of a typical game story and its' purpose is to give the reader the basic idea of what transpired. In almost all cases, ‘the lead' will include the final score, the contest's biggest star, a key statistic or two, and any other pertinent (or unique) information like the location, crowd size, or sometimes even the weather.
Because of fast approaching deadlines and the need to get a game story ‘on the wire' or to an editor as soon as possible, most sportswriters start writing the lead way before the outcome of the game is known. And depending on how much of the rest of the recap ties into ‘the lead,' a good chunk of the article might need to be rewritten if a dramatic comeback takes place. (See where I am going now?)
For me, I went to Winston Salem prepared to write a quick recap to post on GoMids.com as soon as possible after the game. By the time the game was over, I figured I would have about 80 percent of it written and would just need to add some colorful quotes. And for about three and a half quarters, it looked like my lead (which you read in the first paragraph) was in good shape. Wake Forest was moving the ball at will against the Midshipmen and even though the end was in doubt, the Demon Deacons (with the aid of some pretty questionable calls) seemed poised to come out ahead. But since it was a close game, I kept my lead generic and easy to edit just in case Navy found a way to pull it out.
For the body (or non-lead portion) of my recap, I decided that I was going to concentrate a major part of it on the officiating. It was a major factor in the game and since I am a fan, writing for fans, I thought I would be playing to my base by addressing some of serious gaffs by the ACC crew in the story. So after ‘the lead' this is what would have come next…before final edits:
In a game that will be remembered for the extremely questionable officiating – it will also be forgettable because of the way Wake Forest was able to complete short pass after short pass all night long to sustain drives while keeping Navy's offense off the field. However, when on the field, the Mids were unable to put back-to-back scoring drives together and never really got into a rhythm. Part of that was without a doubt due to some phantom calls by the ACC crew. Perhaps the most blatant of the missed calls was a holding penalty against Navy guard John Dowd which negated a 61-yard pass completion from Ricky Dobbs to Matt Aiken. Replays of the play were inconclusive at best –and at worst – it was a blown call…one of many on the night.
While the Midshipmen had problems with offensive consistency, they were able to fix some of their red zone problems. Coming into the game ranked 118th in the country in red zone efficiency, Navy managed to break out of their funk with three touchdowns while inside the 20-yard line. The first score came on a 6-yard pass from Dobbs to Alexander Teich.
And that's how the story read somewhere early in the fourth quarter minus some basic scoring drive information and a few more examples of the poor officiating that I had ready to insert as appropriate. In addition, my post-game questions to Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo were going to be centered on the referees and the defense's inability to stop Wake Forest's short passing game. It wasn't going to be a happy story by any means, but if Navy lost, well, it wasn't going to be a pleasant outcome, or a pleasant postgame interview for that matter.
And with 3:13 left in the game and Wake Forest holding a 27-21 lead and the ball, my ‘lead' and my partially constructed story were still good to go – and looking better with every second. The only factor that kept me from feeling overly confident about what I had written so far was the fact that Navy actually had two timeouts left this late in the second half. I realize that sounds a little snarky but really, when was the last time the Mids had two timeouts in their pocket this late in a game that they trailed? (I'm sure someone will let me know, but I'm guessing it hasn't happened in a long time.) So that meant Navy had a shot to get the ball back.
However, the Demon Deacons had the ball, and even though I was fairly certain that Jim Grobe would keep the play calling conservative, the best-case scenario for Navy was to get the ball with about a minute or so remaining and at least 80 yards of territory to cover. That would be the scenario IF Wake Forest couldn't get a first down.
80 yards and a minute to play, without any timeouts, is not exactly tailor-made conditions for Navy's triple option offense…so like I said, I thought with just over three minutes to go in the game, my ‘lead' was still safe.
Turns out Navy defensive end Jabaree Tuani had other plans for me and my story. On first down, he dropped Wake Forest running back Josh Harris for a six-yard loss. Niumatalolo elected not to call a timeout after the play so the clock kept running – and so did the Demon Deacons. On second down it was Harris again running the ball, and once again it was Tuani stopping him after a four-yard gain. Now the Mids called a timeout and with 2:26 remaining, Wake Forest faced a third and 12 from their own 36-yard line. This time, Grobe decided to have Price throw a short pass (probably since it had worked all night). It was completed, but once again Navy's defense showed its' determination to screw up my story. This time it was Max Blue tackling speedster Devon Brown after only a three-yard gain.
Facing a fourth and nine at their own 39 yard line, all Wake punter Shane Popham needed to do to help my story out was boot the ball about 50 yards – which he had averaged on his three previous efforts. That would have given the Mids the ball around their own 10 yard line…with no timeouts and with Ben Fay (former Navy quarterback) nowhere in sight.
Popham instead shanked a 25-yard punt, officially giving me, my story and Jim Grobe that not-so-fresh feeling.
But after two quick incomplete passes by Ricky Dobbs, Navy faced third and ten and my story once again looked solid. That was until Aaron Santiago, who the Annapolis Capital's Bill Wagner earlier in the game joked had been released from the witness protection program just in time for the game, caught a nine yard pass and got out of bounds.
Now, the Mids were facing a make-or-break fourth and one from their own 45-yard line, and I and a few thousand other Navy fans braced ourselves for the Dobbs' follow-play. It even looked as if the Demon Deacons defense had crowded the middle of the line as if they were expecting the all-too-familiar play as well.
However, as he had done this entire night, Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper threw out the old ‘Dobbs and short to go' playbook and called a toss sweep - to my story's newest enemy…that Hawaiian slot back named Santiago. Six yards later, the Mids had a first down and a new lease on life.
But I still didn't have that warm fuzzy about a Navy comeback which proved to be an accurate instinct as Dobbs' next two passes found the ground instead of a receiver. So once again it was third and ten – a down and distance that the Mids are not exactly bosom buddies with.
However on this night, 1980s sitcoms starring Tom Hanks were like leads – short lived. And on that third down, Dobbs found Gee Gee Greene in the flat for a 34-yard catch and run, giving Navy a first down at the Wake Forest 15 yard line.
With that catch, I completely forgot about my story and put my Navy fan hat on (not really because that is a no-no in the press box) and started to chant, "I believe that we will win" (to myself because that would be a really big no-no if I did it out loud in the press box).
There was now 1:08 on the clock, and Grobe does what I thought was a favor for the Mids (Dobbs disagreed with me in the post-game press conference) and called a timeout.
Two plays and two Dobbs' option runs later, Navy faced a third and one at the Wake Forest six. And unlike the previous fourth and one play, I had no preconceived notion about what play call to expect from Jasper…which was really exciting. It turns out I was excited for good reason because Navy's offensive coordinator called the same passing play that worked on the first drive of the game…ironically also from the six yard line. However, instead of hitting a wide open Teich just inside the end zone, this time Dobbs lofted a pass into the back of the end zone to Greg Jones. Touchdown, Navy!
And with that, one lead change led to the need for another ‘lead' change.
Sure, a crafty kick-return (Navy's special teams need some work) and a should-have-been completed pass to Wake's Josh Adams almost spoiled the Mids' comeback (and would have caused another change in my ‘lead'), but at that point I had already scraped my entire story. I was too emotionally spent by what I had witnessed on the field that I just decided to celebrate (quietly to myself) and write a column for Monday.
Of course, I still found a way to keep the same ‘lead.' Here's hoping against SMU, Navy can keep one too. Actually a blowout would be a nice change of pace. Both the fan and writer in me would really appreciate it.