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Vikings’ Walsh Shakes Georgia Slump

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September 10, 2012

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Rookie Blair Walsh kicked a 55-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter yesterday to send the Vikings-Jaguars game into overtime.  Then the Vikings’ placekicker made an overtime 38-yard field goal in his first regular season NFL game to lift Minnesota to a 26-23 win.  But Walsh said in the locker room after the game that neither of those pressure field goals produced the anxiety experienced in the second quarter.

“The most nervous I was all day was my first point after touchdown,” Walsh said.  “I was so anxious to get going in the NFL and start a career.”

What a way to begin a career, making all four of his field goal attempts and both extra points including after the Vikings scored a late second quarter touchdown to cut the Jaguars’ lead to 9-7.  The performance justified not only the decision to draft Walsh in the sixth round earlier this year, but to cut 15-year veteran Ryan Longwell.

Walsh, who said he “tremendously” respected Longwell, missed 14 field goal attempts during his senior season at Georgia after never missing more than eight in one year.  “I think my stats dipped a little bit last year because I was pushing a little too much,” he told Sports Headliners last week.  “I missed early on (in 2011) and I hadn’t missed early on in my career.  I just pushed.  I wanted to be there for my team and help them. One thing led to another and I just never really got back into my rhythm.”

A four-year career at Georgia, playing in college football’s best conference (the SEC), helped develop a philosophy about pressure. “One miss is not going to kill you, and one make is not going to make you,” Walsh said.

Maybe Walsh’s pressure field goals yesterday won’t make him or the Vikings, but yesterday was a step forward for a team that was 3-13 last season.  The smallest Vikings home crowd at the Metrodome since December 21, 1997 offered plenty of boos in the first half, often directing the boos to a faltering quarterback, Christian Ponder.

But by game’s end, many in the announced crowd of 56,607 had acquired some faith in the home team.  Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams told Sports Headliners last Thursday he knew about the doubters.

“We believe in ourselves,” Williams said then. “I don’t think anybody outside this locker room believes in us.  We believe we’ve got the talent to win some games. We just need to put it on display Sunday and start with the Jacksonville Jaguars.”

After the game Williams was asked whether the win will make converts.  “We might a got one or two people over,” he said.  “We (the defense) made a lot of mistakes.  We gotta look at this film and get that stuff corrected.  We didn’t play as well as we’re capable of playing.”

The mistakes included allowing a 39-yard touchdown reception by Cecil Shorts III to put the Jaguars ahead 23-20 during the final minute of the fourth quarter.  Not only did cornerback Chris Cook get beat but there was no help from other Vikings defenders on the play.

But that won’t be remembered as much as this: Vikings 26, Jaguars 23.

Notes:

The Jaguars might have won the game in regulation had their coaching staff decided to go for a touchdown on fourth down from the Vikings one-yard line in the first quarter.  Instead, the Jaguars kicked a field goal, taking three points and not six from a potential touchdown.  An odd decision early in a game that was the NFL opener for both teams.

One hour before kickoff yesterday there were parking spaces on Park Avenue within about a block of the stadium.  A ticket hawker was asking $70 for a $120 seat on the 40-yard line, row 15.

Vikings rookie safety Harrison Smith said last week his parents travelled from Knoxville to watch all his games, home and away, while he was at Notre Dame.  He’s told them they don’t need to do that in the NFL but they planned to be in Minneapolis for the Vikings opener yesterday.  Smith expected “about nine” family members and a friend to come from out of town to watch him play his first regular season NFL game.

Smith welcomes feeling apprehensive before games.  “I like having the butterflies,” he said.  “I like being a little nervous before the games—put me on edge a little bit, get me excited.  At the same time you don’t want to be nervous and shaky, and everything.”

The Gophers played one of their best games in memory against a non-BCS opponent on Saturday, dominating New Hampshire in a 44-7 win at TCF Bank Stadium.  The 2-0 Gophers have won four of their last seven games dating back to 2011.

Quarterback Alex Carder threw five touchdown passes in Western Michigan’s 52-21 win over Eastern Illinois on Saturday.  The Broncos (1-1) play Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium next Saturday.

The Aspire Group had sold “about 600 full season tickets” for Gophers football as of early last week, according to Jason LaFrenz.  The Gophers associate athletics director said the Atlanta-based company has 12 sales reps here selling season and group tickets for 12 different University of Minnesota sports including football.  The goal for the school year is $1.2 million in ticket revenues.

Former Gophers center Ralph Sampson III watched his father Ralph Sampson II be inducted with 11 other honorees last week into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.  The older Sampson is a former three-time college basketball player of the year.  Among those also inducted was former Indiana Pacers star Mel Daniels who started his ABA career with the Minnesota Muskies.

Serving on the Hall of Fame’s board of governors is former Gophers golfer and New York Times best selling author Harvey MackayMannie Jackson, a former executive in Minneapolis with Honeywell, is also on the board.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire tied with the Giants Bruce Bochy for fourth in a Sports Illustrated poll published last week that determined baseball’s most underrated manager, according to a vote by players.

Cole De Vries, 4-4 after beating the Indians on Saturday night, has a 1.54 ERA in his last four starts for the Twins.  He’s won his last three starts.

Twins outfielder Ben Revere has stolen 36 bases, the most on the club since Otis Nixon had 37 steals in 1998.

Much publicized Twins prospect Miguel Sano, playing for Beloit, led the Midwest League in home runs with 28 and RBI with 100.

Canterbury Park concluded its 2012 live racing season with an increase in attendance from last year.  Average attendance for the 62-day meet was 6,595, up from 6,143 in 2011.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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