Moments after Oregon lined up in its traditional Wing-T offense on the first play of scrimmage against Winnebago in an Alumni Football USA game, the Indians got a rude awakening.
These Hawk graduates quickly went to a spread offense and caught Winnebago off guard by passing more than running. That formula combined with a rock solid defense gave the alumni Hawks a 14-0 win over their former Big Northern/Mid-Northern rivals on Aug. 15.
“That surprised us,” Winnebago defensive coordinator Greg Vaught said. “For not being used to it, Oregon did a good job running it.”
“For practicing it once a week, we did a great job of executing,” said Oregon co-coach Shawn Melville (class of ‘93).
It was a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Melville to Tim Danielson (‘01) that clinched the win for the Hawks.
Melville hit Danielson with a perfectly thrown spiral and Danielson did the rest on the 74-yard play, even turning defender Jonathon Mercer completely around on an ill-fated tackle attempt in the flat.
“It was a great inside cut by Danielson,” said Melville, who had 128 yards passing.
Nick Gallardo (‘10) set up the score with his second goal line interception of the game. For their efforts, Danielson was named offensive MVP and Gallardo defensive MVP for Oregon.
There were plenty of other stars for the Hawks, especially on defense. Winnebago could only muster 156 yards of total offense against a youthful and athletic Hawk team.
Nearly half of Oregon’s squad were graduates of the past 10 years, while ‘Bago only had six out of its 30-man roster.
“We knew they had the young bucks,” said Winnebago alumni head coach Dick Medaris, who coached at ‘Bago from 1980-97. “They got in our backfield and quarterback’s face too quickly.”
Winnebago’s defense also gave Oregon fits. Twice in the second half, Oregon had first-and-goal, only to be turned away empty-handed. Led by Ben Powers from his free safety position, the Indians also had four interceptions.
“I thought we played well on defense,” Medaris said. “It was a fun game.”
"Their defense came at us harder than we thought they would,” said Corey Fry, who served as co-coach with Melville. “They had a lot of spirit.”
On the opening possession, Oregon drove to ‘Bago’s 22-yard line, but a fourth-and-one try fell short. On the next play, Casey Howard (‘12) intercepted 36-year old quarterback Chris McCray and the Hawks had the ball right back.
Taking over from Melville at quarterback, Fry led the Hawks into field goal range. Jordan Gorzny (’04), who was a walk-on at Ohio State, was set to try a 50-yard attempt, but the snap was bobbled.
Lineman Aaron Pollock (’00) and middle linebacker Cody Merrill (’12) had tackles for losses and Oregon got the ball back in ‘Bago territory. An interception by Powers ended that Hawk scoring threat.
Nick Palmer (’03) also got into the interception game by picking off McCray with an NFL-caliber acrobatic dive that belied his age. One play later, Melville found Don Jensen (’10), a non-football alum, streaking into the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown.
“After getting drilled by Powers on the previous possession, Jensen did a great job of holding onto the ball,” Melville said.
Gorzny’s extra-point kick made it 7-0 early in the second quarter and the Hawks continued to turn up the heat on defense.
Ryan Mortlock (’03) and Cody Flanigan (’14) had sacks of McCray, the latter a crowd-pleasing leap over the top of McCray. However, McCray got a measure of revenge with his own interception moments later.
Taking over at their own 35-yard line with 1:40 left in the first half, McCray and Powers hooked up for a 34-yard reception. Then, on fourth-and-25, the pair combined for 28 yards, setting up a first-and-goal at the 3-yard line.
P.J. Gabucci (’00) chased McRay down for a 7-yard loss and Gallardo had a pick at the goal line to keep the Indians from tying the game.
“Our defense was something else,” Melville said.
That defense handed the ball to the offense on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. Palmer forced a fumble that was recovered by Howard.
A Jeff Wehmhoefer (’10) 11-yard run gave the Hawks first-and-goal.
The physically imposing, but older Indian line stiffened and Wehmhoefer was stopped for not gain on fourth-and-1. The Hawks soon got the ball back at the 37-yard line after a punt and looked to cushion the 7-0 lead.
Fry had completions to Joe Smith (’03), Josh Merrill (’12) and Gallardo to set up a first-and-goal at the 1-yard line. With fans in the stands yelling for Fry to get under center instead of the shot gun, the Hawks butchered four attempts to get into the end zone. A subsequent 16-yard field goal attempt by Gorzny missed right.
“We didn’t have a goal line offense,” explained Melville.
Winnebago drove into Oregon territory on a 44-pass play from McCray to Mike Matranga. That drive was snuffed out, but the Hawks gave the ball right back on their fifth turnover of the game.
Still threatening to tie or take the lead, Winnebago advanced to the Hawk 15-yard line, but Gallardo had his second interception.
On the very next play, Danielson put the game away with his 74-yard touchdown catch.
Between Melville, Fry and Jeremy Milnes, Oregon quarterbacks combined for 14-of-28 passing and 180 yards. With Josh Merrill and Wehmhoefer getting the bulk of carries, the team rushed 19 times for 75 yards.
“The whole experience was very heartwarming,” said Fry. “It was clean play between both sides. We don’t know the Winnebago guys as well as Stillman or Byron, but there was mutual respect for each other.”
Next year, Oregon will get a home game and Fry is hopeful that a game can be arranged with Stillman or Byron.”
Through ticket sales, Oregon raised around $1,500 for its football program and Winnebago $3,700 for stadium renovation.
Over the years, over a million dollars have been raised for communities through Alumni Football USA.