Friday, September 20, 2013

Game Day: Pumas squeak out opener

One of the more enjoyable things I've done in this craft in recent years has been my autumn visits to Indiana small colleges to photograph campus landscapes -- and to indulge that annual fall sports ritual we know as college football.

This strictly personal project has taken me to nine schools already, five of which I've visited on more than one occasion (two of the returns were just for football-related shoots; two others were for basketball; one was both!). If you follow this blog regularly, you may recall that my football "Game Day" shoots had taken me to Marian, DePauw and Taylor universities; the universities of Indianapolis and St. Francis; and Franklin, Wabash and Hanover colleges.

The project began in September 2009 with a trip to Franklin, where I witnessed a very thrilling come-from-behind win by the Grizzlies over then-Top-25-ranked Trine University (which is on my "to do" list). That was when Franklin's gridiron surface was still natural grass; it had been converted to an artificial turf by the time I made my return visit last year.

I continued the ongoing project two weekends ago when I made my first visit to St. Joseph's College in Rensselaer, the seat of Jasper County in northwest Indiana, a school founded by the Missionaries of the Precious Blood as a secondary school to educate Native Americans. It's also where the Chicago Bears of the National Football League held their preseason training camp in the 1960s and '70s ... and where motion picture producers filmed Brian's Song, the heart-wrenching buddy story of Bears' running backs Brian Piccolo and Gayle Sayers. Piccolo died of cancer on June 16, 1970.

My experience there on Sept. 7 had its ups and downs. The big, most important aspect of it is that I got some great action photos, perhaps some of the best in my project collection to date. The most unusual aspect was the hot, humid weather -- and how it affected my shooting. I had brought a couple water bottles with me, but elected not to lug them with me because I didn't know where I could store them. I figured I could buy some water (or perhaps find a water fountain at the stadium), but I was wrong on both counts.

Curiously, the concession stand had run out of water before halftime (I bought and drank a bottle of pop, but that was not hitting the spot; it simply made me more thirsty) -- and there was no public fountain anywhere that I could find at the stadium. I started feeling dehydrated late in the third quarter, and found myself lusting for the water bottles I saw lying next to each and every member of the flag corps standing in the north end zone. I was losing attention to camera settings, at one point inadvertently nudging my shooting mode off my intended shutter priority to the program mode. It adversely affected exposure on a lot of shots until I eventually noticed it. Once the host Pumas defense seemed to have secured the 34-31 win with a fourth down stop of the visiting Valparaiso Crusaders with under 2 minutes left in the game, I bolted the stadium for the Halleck Student Center, where I gulped copious swallows of water from a fountain there ... and bought a cold bottle that was for sale in the bookstore. I had that gulped down in another 10 minutes.

The biggest disappointment was a one-two punch I encountered during my pregame swing through the campus: The front facade of the impressive Romanesque-style chapel was covered with construction scaffolding, apparently in the throes of a facelift. Adding insult to that was the fact that the nearby reflecting pond was bone dry.

I carried two cameras with me -- my main, the Canon 7D equipped with a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens with a 1.4x attachment. The backup, a Canon 30D equipped with a Canon mount Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di PZD VC lens, which I used exclusively for the campus shots you'll see in the next post.

The photo of St. Joe's quarterback Billy VanderMerkt leading off the post isn't necessarily my best; it conjured memories of posed shots taken for NFL trading cards and promotional images that I saw in my childhood days -- that angled turn of a runner trying to dodge a tackle.

Today's post is about the game pictures, a full gallery of which can be found at my SmugMug site. There will be two subsequent posts -- one dedicated to the stadium environment (including cheerleaders and, especially, the St. Joe's marching band), and then one on the campus shots. I'm trying to get at least one of the three St. Joe's posts up today before I embark on tomorrow's next stop -- Terre Haute and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Above and below: There were several shots I liked from the group taken as the teams prepared to take the field before the start of the game. Several not seen here (but can be found in the gallery at SmugMug), for example, have one of the Pumas team leaders leading the full squad at the south end zone in swaying to and fro in a pep chant. That came after the Pumas' captains jogged onto the field (above) to meet the Crusaders' captains at midfield for the coin toss to determine who would have possession to start the game. The captains are, from left, Drew Byrd, Billy VanderMerkt, Gary Yeoman and Trent Hall. Below, after the St. Joseph's players marched onto the field, the cheerleaders and mascot followed close behind. In the batch of burst shots I fired off, I lucked out in getting this nice capture in one of the frames. 

Above: Billy VanderMerkt again, this time in an image taken two frames after the one leading off the post. VanderMerkt managed to elude this tackle and was brought down a few yards later by another Valpo defender. 

Above: Valparaiso running back Brandon Hall scored on a nice 12-yard end run in the third quarter that gave the Crusaders a 23-18 lead. 
Above and below: VanderMerkt (9) and wide receive Julian Walker (5) connected often; 10 of VanderMerkt's 28 completions -- including three for touchdowns -- went to the red-shirt senior from Southport.

Above and below: St. Joe's had only 109 yards rushing on 34 carries. Kobi Cook (8) led all Puma runners with 39 yards on 11 carries.

Above and below: Dropped passes stood out in this game. On the St. Joe's side, Tyler Callaghan had this pass in his hands ... before it slipped out for an incompletion.

Above and next three below: Returning the favor for Valparaiso was Fred Gladney, who was wide open for this sure touchdown, only to let it slip through as well. Moments later on the sidelines, a teammate gave Gladney an encouraging word. I don't know the Valpo players to know for sure who the teammate was -- and I didn't capture the player's jersey number -- but I believe it was the quarterback, Eric Hoffman. Fortunately for the Crusaders, not long afterward Kent Warren would haul in a TD pass from Hoffman, enabling the visitors to trim St. Joe's margine to 18-13 just before the half.

Above: VanderMerkt unloading a pass downfield. 

Above: Brandon Hall does his best balancing act to stay afoot after a St. Joe's defender tripped him up. Hall succeeded for a few more yards before two other defenders brought him down. Hall gained 34 yards on 5 carries on the day.

Above and below: Valpo's Tanner Kuramata leaves four Puma defenders in his wake as he heads downfield during a 58-yard scamper after catching a short pass from Eric Hoffman in the fourth quarter. He drags a Crusader into the end zone with him. 

 Above: St. Joe's head football coach Corey Sanders having an animated discussion with the field judge.

Above and below: St. Joe's Chris Edgerton (21) deflects this pass intended for Valpo's Tanner Kuramata.

Above: Edgerton (on ground) and Kuramata were together again for another missed pass late in the game. 

Above: A recurring theme in the photos in this post is a loose football; here's another.

Above and below: The game stopped several times to tend to injuries on the field. The one to fifth-year senior offensive lineman Bill Bodzianowski  (above) of Valpo appeared to be the most serious. Below, St. Joe's staff tends to offensive lineman Brandon Good along the sidelines after a play.

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