Nothing to lose

Joe Lord

Phi Beta Paydirt needed a touchdown. The intramural flag football team from Western was down by seven points to the nationally-ranked No. 3 Mean Machine of Middle Tennessee.

Richmond sophomore Jon Allen, a Paydirt supporter, watched from the sideline.

“They better get this in there or I’m going to be so mad,”he murmured.

Allen would get his wish. With 31 seconds in the game and two yards from the endzone, Greensburg senior Cheslee Bloyd threw for a touchdown to Dave Henderson, a senior from Brentwood, Tenn.

After a successful two-point conversion, Paydirt took a 34-33 lead.

Paydirt overcame a 13-point deficit and earned a spot in the finals of the

American Collegiate Intramurals Championship regional tournament held last weekend at the Preston Intramurals Complex on Campbell Lane.

They were among 40 teams, including eight from the Hill, competing for berths in the ACIC national tournament this December in New Orleans, said Mark Williams, assistant director of intramurals and recreational sports at Western.

The regional in Bowling Green was one of four national sites, Williams said. This was the first time a regional has been held at Western.

Challengers from as far as Georgia came to knock heads with the best intramural flag football teams in the region, which included teams from Kentucky, Georgia, Arkansas, Ohio, West Virginia, Illinois and Tennessee.

They competed in men’s, women’s and co-rec competition, Williams said. Mean Machine’s co-rec team won its division, and Wallbangers from University of Central Arkansas won the women’s division.

Keely Yarbrough, a Wallbanger, said the tournament was worth the seven-hour drive to Bowling Green – a hopping college town, compared to UCA’s hometown of Conway, Ark.

“We were really pleasantly surprised,” Yarbrough said.

Players weren’t the only imports in the tournament. The referees were also shipped in.

William Wells, from University of North Carolina-Ashville, said he chose to travel to Kentucky instead of officiating at the regional tournament held at his home in Greenville, N.C., because it’s a passion for refs as much as it is for players, Wells said.

“I just feel when you’re officiating, you are the line between order and chaos,” he said.

Paydirt is about more than football, said Brandon Phillips, a senior from Reo, Ind. Most of the team members have played together in intramural sports for three years. Five of them live in the same house.

“All of us have just been friends since we’ve been here,” said Phillips, Paydirt’s captain.

The tournament presented a welcome challenge for the team, he said. They wanted a chance to play teams who didn’t know what to expect from this year’s intramural flag football champions at Western.

The great distance the other teams traveled didn’t faze Paydirt, who found an advantage in playing in their own backyard.

“Here, we didn’t have anything to lose,” said Webster junior Josh Mitcham, one of eight Paydirt players who took the field this weekend.

Paydirt won its first game early Saturday morning 34-0 against the Strength and Honor team of Northern Illinois, but the 40-degree weather and a muddy field convinced the team to head home until the next game.

Once they arrived at the house shared by five team members, the players stripped off their mud-soaked socks and threw them in the dryer. Mitcham took off his muddy warm-up pants and bolted from a bedroom into a crowd of teammates standing in the living room and kitchen. Mitcham was wearing white long-johns, dirt covering the legs.

“Hey, I’m Brian Boitano,” he said.

After killing about an hour, Paydirt returned to the frozen tundra of the Intramurals Complex. The Tau Kappa Epsilon team from Akron, which lost to Strength and Honor earlier that morning, was waiting for them.

TKE would give Paydirt an unexpected scare, but Western’s team won 27-20. Paydirt won their pool and was also awarded a bye in the first found of tournament play on Sunday.

Paydirt returned to their house and ate deer steak Saturday night. They knew their toughest challenge awaited them in the morning.

The Mean Machine game was set up after Paydirt beat the Gold team from Tennessee Tech.

Down early against Mean Machine, Paydirt adjusted their defense at halftime and scratched their way back into the game. A 35-yard pass from Bloyd to Mitcham, who beat a defender and fought his way to the two-yard line, set up the winning touchdown.

About 20 people, including Paydirt’s friends and family, stood on the sideline as the last seconds of the game ticked by. When the referee signaled the end of the game, the Paydirt players ran down the field to greet their supporters.

“I knew nobody gave us a chance to win this game,” Phillips said.

It was more than a hard-fought victory.

On the sleeve of Paydirt’s red jerseys is a white No. 2 – the number of Matt Rzepka, a former Paydirt member who died this year after falling from a dorm window at the University of Kentucky.

The teammates yell. “Rzepka!” when they break huddle.

“It’s all for him,” Phillips said.

Paydirt was already given a berth to the national championships in New Orleans because they would at least be runners-up. The championship game against Ball State was just for pride.

But it wasn’t to be. Paydirt rallied in the last minutes of the game, but Ball State won the men’s division Sunday afternoon 27-25.

Kevin Hoying, from Ball State’s team, said Paydirt was worthy competition.

“They were one of the best teams we’ve played,” he said.

For Paydirt, this was no devastating loss.

“It was a great experience and we had a great time,” Phillips said. “You can’t win them all.”

Besides, intramurals basketball is just around the corner.