Shukree ShabOZ. The Wicked Witch of Troy picked on the little guy once too often. They must have been shocked to realize that what the Tin Man lacked, ShabOZ and his Aggie buddies showed up with in spades . . . Heart! Beaten down by the tornado that had ravaged their 2003 season, it seemed ready to gather strength to blow their house down again in 2004.
Each player must have closed his eyes and whispered the words that spoke to the hearts of every true Aggie Fan in attendance . . . "There's no place like Home . . . There's no place like Home." And on this night there honestly was no place like Home.
Shabazz, who leads the team in tackles, both assisted and solo, flew around in coverage like a Winged Monkey waiting to dive on a helpless Toto. He even managed to strip the ball on the fumble recovery in the second half.
Different defensive schemes allowed more players to cause disruption in the Troy backfield; kudos to the whole defensive staff for making these adjustments. The Troy running game wasn't enough nor was their passing attack as the Aggie defense stepped up and played with abandon and with the courage the Cowardly Lion lacked.
The defensive front and the linebackers held the running game staunchly in the first half. The secondary came with their game faces on and never gave up . . . never. Matt Griebel received the Player of the Week for his efforts in the secondary, but Matt would tell you that the King of the Forest this night was the entire defense. They all dropped the house . . . their house . . . on the Wicked Witch from the East.
Stopping the Troy offense was only half the story. The offensive coaches had to find a way to generate enough offense to put this one in the W column. The quick counter play was a sparkle in what had seemed a previously dull and predictable offensive attack.
Having Dombrowski on the field, wearing so many different hats, was a powerful force for a tested defense like Troy's to deal with. He does so many things well. If it is possible to have a utility player in football, he fits the bill. Pierce's passing skills found a reflection in the hands of a receiver core that was truly the diamond in the rough this night.
The simple flat passes helped to set up the run and long passing attack. The faithful had almost forgotten their 12th Man position as the game came down to the lead shifting in the final minutes . . . almost. The decibel level was muffled and uncertain at times, but as the final buzzer sounded the faithful cheered and yelled and whooped ‘til they wobbled and then rushed the field to join their friends in uniform in a victorious celebration that lacked only the obligatory tearing down of a goal post.
Perhaps the wisdom that the Scarecrow lacked is what tempered the hearts and minds of a crowd overcome with the joy of such a hard fought victory over a noble opponent like Troy State.
Troy State arrived in Las CrucOz with a record to impress the greatest of football wizards. On the first week of competition they had defeated a strong Marshall Team who, on this same game day, gave #3 Georgia all they wanted. The following week Troy had surprised a Heisman hopeful Missouri Team as an exclamation point to announce their presence to the Wizard like, first tier conferences. They came to the land of Oz thinking it would take little to rock the house of Tony Samuel and his Aggies who had already felt the sting of defeat to an underrated Arkansas Team and a 12th ranked Cal Team. What had they to fear from this little team that the unfaithful believe is poorly coached and lacking in talent? Chutzpah!
The guts to believe in themselves when others didn't; the nerve to walk onto the field and play in the shadow of the new Emerald City filled with powerful alumni hoping they could live up to the glory of the gift; the pluck necessary to find a way to recapture the hearts of the faithful. It had always been right there inside each coach and players heart . . . always.
All that remained was the fresh, earthy aroma of the dust being rinsed from the New Mexico evening sky.