In a season full of ups and downs, it seemed fitting for the the Trojans to end their 2015 campaign with a 23-21 loss to Wisconsin in the Holiday Bowl in a wild affair Wednesday night at Qualcomm Stadium.After the Badgers went ahead 23-21 with less than three minutes remaining in the game on a field goal, redshirt senior quarterback Cody Kessler was intercepted by Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton on the third play of USC’s next drive.The Trojans forced a punt, leaving them with 35 seconds and no timeouts to work with. They advanced to midfield before Kessler threw incomplete to junior wide receiver Darreus Rogers on a fourth-and-10 pass that would have been short of the first down anyway.Kessler noted after the game that Rogers misread the down and distance.“I probably should have just thrown the Hail Mary,” Kessler said. “Honestly it was not on [Rogers]. We were trying to get a quick 10 yards and get it out and make it an easier. I called the play and he came up after and said, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know what down and distance it was.’”“The team that made the least amount of mistakes won the game,” head coach Clay Helton said. “Really credit [Wisconsin] Coach [Paul] Chryst, his staff on a well-earned, hard-fought victory. We had enough mistakes in that game to get beat.”The Trojans took their first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter on a methodical drive with three third-down conversions. On third-and-four from the Badgers’ 23-yard line, Kessler found sophomore wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 10-yard gain, and then on third-and-four from the seven-yard line, Kessler waited and patiently found Rogers for the touchdown to give the Trojans a 21-20 advantage.After USC went three-and-out on its opening drive of the second half, the Badgers went on a 12-play, six-minute drive capped off with a four-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joel Stave to tight end Austin Traylor to put Wisconsin up 20-7.But the Trojans answered with a quick drive that took just over two minutes, sparked by a 39-yard completion from Kessler to Smith-Schuster and a clever first down run by Jalen Greene on a lateral. On first and goal from the four-yard line, junior running back Justin Davis ran it in to cut the Badgers’ advantage to 20-14 with five minutes to play in the third quarter.USC outgained Wisconsin 221-217 in the air but struggled to implement the run game with just 65 rushing yards to the Badgers’ 177.“They’ve got a solid front five and the tackles and the guards that I was going against were competitive and physical on the run,” redshirt senior defensive tackle Delvon Simmons said. “It was a competitive game. They came out ready to work, we came out ready to work and they came out on top and that’s unfortunate.”Wisconsin took a 10-0 lead with just under nine minutes to play in the first half on a 74-yard drive that took just six plays. Stave completed all three of his pass attempts on the drive, the latter of which was a 26-yard completion to Traylor that set up a first and goal. On the next play, Corey Clement ran it in from six yards out – a play that was deemed a touchdown upon video review – to open up a two score advantage for the Badgers.The Trojans’ offense finally showed signs of life midway through the second quarter when it crossed midfield for the first time. The drive featured two fourth down conversions, the first a 34-yard catch-and-run by sophomore Adoree’ Jackson to the two-yard line of Wisconsin and the second a leaping touchdown by Davis on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line to put USC on the board and cut the lead to 10-7.The score came after freshman Ronald Jones II’s two-yard touchdown run was negated by a holding penalty and Smith-Schuster was tackled just short of the goal line on a third-down catch.The Badgers answered with a 33-yard field goal by Rafael Gaglianone and took a 13-7 lead into halftime.The first quarter was scoreless and featured just 107 yards of total offense from each team. Both USC and Wisconsin punted twice after their drives stalled.“I thought our offensive line in that first quarter had some missed assignments in that set us back,” Helton said on the slow start. “And once again we came out just like [in the Stanford game] and started off a little slow assignment wise, and it cost us.”The Badgers got on the board first with a 28-yard field goal early in the second quarter by Gaglianone, set up by a one-handed 21-yard catch by Robert Wheelwright that put Wisconsin in the red zone.Wisconsin entered the game boasting the nation’s top defense, which allowed just 13.1 points per game prior to Wednesday night. The Trojans came into the night averaging 34.9 points per game.The Trojans end the season with an 8-6 record, finishing 5-4 under Helton, who took over midway through the year after Steve Sarkisian’s dismissal. Helton, who was given the permanent head coaching job before the Pac-12 Championship game, does not see the sour end to the season affecting the team’s future.“[We] won a Pac-12 South Championship,” Helton said. “We haven’t done that in a while, and to be able to do that and go to the Pac-12 Championship game and come to the Holiday Bowl, I think we’re on the rise. I think our future is very, very bright, and I do not let this game deter it. It was two really good teams that had a very hard-fought game, and we just came out on the short end of the stick.”Kessler, the redshirt senior whose final game as a Trojan did not go to according to plan, concurred that the future is promising under Helton.“We went through the darkest times so that there could be a bright future,” Kessler said. “I really believe that this team is going to make some noise next year and a lot of that’s due to Coach Helton. I know he’s going to get these guys ready next year, and it’s going to be fun to watch.”
Nelson has lost five straight and 12 of 14 games dating back to October 31.In other words, November was a nightmare of the worst kind.And December hasn’t started out much better with four consecutive defeats.And the upcoming schedule isn’t very kind to the Leafs — in Fruitvale Friday to face the Murdoch Division-leading Nitehawks before returning home Saturday against the Osoyoos Coyotes, who just happen to lead the Okanagan Division with a 21-5-0-0-1 record.Revolving door keeps revolvingAs with any losing team there are changes.The latest to be shown the door are forwards Brendan Smith and Nick Novin.McLellan wouldn’t get into specifics, saying there were “off-ice issues” that led to the departure of the two players.Also sent packing was forward Tyler Garcia, traded, McLellan said, to a junior team in the United States.Leafs captain, Rayce Miller, is also not with the Leafs at this time.However, Miller is back home in Arizona to nurse a bad back that has been plaguing the former 27-goal scorer for most of the season.Injuries continue to haunt the LeafsMcLellan said his club is starting to see some players return to the lineup.Back on defence is Dash Thompson along with Andy Fitzpatrick on the forward line — both have been sorely missed in the lineup.However, defenceman Max Daerendinger and forward Austin Lindsay remain on the IR with Lindsay back home seeing a specialist for an injury that happened against Summerland Steam. Ever have one of those days when you wake up, get out of bed and kick the bedpost with your foot?Then bang your head into the door to the bathroom you thought was open.Walking into the kitchen you trip over the cat and drive your knee into the kitchen cabinet.When you get to work the boss gives you an ear full even before the first cup of coffee is finished.Now multiply that feeling ten-fold and you have a clear indication what life is like inside the Nelson Leafs dressing room.What could go wrong is going wrong as the once-mighty, and proud, Heritage City franchise.“Internally, we’re fine,” confessed Nelson Leafs coach and GM Dave McLellan when asked about the mood of the club.“It’s a old cliché, but I thought we were the better team the other night (in Grand Forks). We just had an untimely goal that hurt us.”“We need to get healthier,” McLellan added. “We’ve got guys coming off the shelf . . . we’ve got new guys in the lineup that don’t know our system who cost us a goal.”For those keeping score at home Nelson watched a 3-1 lead vanish faster than the lear jet in a David Copperfield magic show to Grand Forks in a 4-3 loss to the Border Bruins.What’s worse is the Leafs, which have toyed with the Bruins for years, are now on the other end of the Yo-Yo.The woes of the Green and White have been well documented.
Liam Fraser and Kyle Strohmann combined for 40 points to lead the Grand Forks Wolves to a 65-53 victory over Stanley Humphries Rockers of Castlegar in the final of the Bomber Junior Boy’s Invitational Saturday at the L.V. Rogers Hangar.Strohman, playing most of the game in foul trouble, finished with a game-high 23 points while Fraser, lights out from behind the three-point line, had 17 including five threes.
SHERMAN RECEIVES DORTMUND FROM KALEEM SHAHThe New Year began with surprising but welcome news for trainers Art Sherman and Doug O’Neill, recipients of some blueblood Thoroughbreds from owner/breeder Kaleem Shah, who moved his 13 horses from Bob Baffert, giving six to Sherman and seven to O’Neill.In an email, Baffert said he and Shah “have ended their business relationship.”Among those given to Sherman were 2015 Santa Anita Derby winner Dortmund and Triple Crown hopeful Klimt, winner of the Grade I Del Mar Futurity this past September. Among those sent to O’Neill were three-year-old maiden winner Iliad, a son of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, and American Gal, third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.“It was a big surprise for me,” said Sherman, who will send out 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome for his final race in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park. After that, it’s off to stud for the popular California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit who turned six today, so Dortmund could prove a fortuitous acquisition.“I only met Mr. Shah one time. He was very cordial and a very nice man,” Sherman said. “It came out of the blue. I’ve never had a client like him with so much money.”Sherman will ship California Chrome to Florida from Ontario Airport at 2 a.m. on Jan. 6. Sherman plans to leave Jan.19.“The horse is doing unbelievably good,” Sherman said.Said Doug O’Neill: “We’re so excited, blessed and grateful. We’re looking forward to being a part of Team Shah.”Added Doug’s brother, Dennis: “We were sitting in our suite at Santa Anita when we got the news. We were extremely surprised.” NAKATANI RETURNS TO SANTA ANITA A WINNERCorey Nakatani is back.Now 46, the native of Covina has returned to Santa Anita, site of some of his greatest triumphs, looking fresh, fit, and if the front-running win in Saturday’s second race on first-time starter Gogoula at 8-1 for trainer George Papaprodromou is any indication, formidable as well.For good measure, Nakatani won the fourth race, the $100,000 Robert J. Frankel Stakes, aboard the Richard Baltas-trained Goodyearforroses.“I’m happy to be home,” said Nakatani, looking like he just sipped from the Fountain of Youth. “California is where I was born (in Covina), this is where I started racing (in 1988) and Santa Anita’s always had a special place in my heart. I was leading rider here (in 1995-96 and 1999-2000) and won so many stakes races (132, placing him eighth all-time at Santa Anita).”Nakatani was the leading apprentice rider in Southern California in 1989, topping the nation in earnings among ‘bug’ boys with $2.3 million. His victory on Goodyearforroses gave him 1,035 at Santa Anita, ninth on the track’s all-time list.“I’ve got my weight down to 118 pounds and I’m working out with Becky (Touber) at Sierra Fitness in Sierra Madre. I train sometimes two days a week and I need to lose about five pounds of muscle weight, which is a lot harder to lose. I’ve got to get back into the grind and do what I do best, which is riding horses.“So we started to do interval training two and three times a day. Becky came up with a regimen and it’s worked, but it’s not over yet. I’m just doing what I do best and enjoying it now that we’re healthy again. Everything’s fine now.”Nakatani overcame walking pneumonia after a recent stint at Oaklawn Park.“I’m going to get my weight down to 114, which would be perfect,” he said. “Then I could tack 17, 18 (pounds) every day. My training regimen is very similar to what Laffit (Pincay Jr.) had with Becky.”Corey’s agent is his son, Matt, who graduated from the University of Louisville two years ago and is mature beyond his 24 years. When Gogoula won, it marked his first win as an agent.“I studied sports management and communications,” Matt said, “and I planned to go to law school from there to be an NFL sports agent, but when the opportunity came for me to represent my father, I couldn’t turn it down. It was something I always wanted to do. I always loved following the horses. I think I’ve watched every race of my Dad’s for the past 10 years.“I follow the horses pretty heavily; my whole family’s involved. My Mom (Michele) is a trainer, my Aunt (Aimee) trains for Graham Motion, my grandfather (the late Wally Dollase) was a trainer and my uncle Craig is a trainer, so it’s always been in my blood from Day One.“I’ve always wanted to do it but never knew if I would get the opportunity. When my Dad stepped away for a little while, I knew I was going to be the key to getting him back, so I’ve been on him for months.“It took time, but when I said we should do this as a team, we’re here for each other and we have each other’s backs, ultimately, I got him to return.” FINISH LINES: Phil D’Amato, trainer of new San Pasqual morning line favorite at 2-5 Midnight Storm with the scratch of Arrogate: “I would think we’re going to be on the pace or right there. Acceptance has some tactical speed, but my guy’s ready to go.” . . . Team O’Neill plans to pass the Sham Stakes against males and run romping Delta Princess victor Shane’s Girlfriend against monster maiden winner Unique Bella and other three-year-old fillies in next Sunday’s Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes at seven furlongs . . . Victor Espinoza will ride Perfectly Majestic in quest of the gelding’s first stakes victory in Saturday’s Grade II San Gabriel Stakes scheduled for 1 1/8 miles on turf. Mike Smith has the assignment on Twentytwentyvision for Richard Mandella, who has Flavien Prat engaged for Chilean import Paquita Coqueta in Saturday’s Grade III Las Cienegas Stakes set for about 6 ½ furlongs on turf . . . Santa Anita will be dark for live racing Tuesday through Thursday. Live racing resumes Friday, Jan. 6, at 1 p.m. Admission gates open at 11 a.m. . . . Players wishing to gain a seat in the 2017 National Handicapping Championship Challenge in Las Vegas Jan. 7 or get a head start in the 2018 event can buy in to Santa Anita’s Players Choice contest for $500. The top five finishers in the Players Choice competition will have their pick of a 2017 or 2018 NHC Challenge entry. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top four Players Choice finishers: $10,000, $2,500, $1,500 and $1,000. For further information, visit santaanita.com/contest. NEW YEAR OFF TO A WINNING START FOR NAKATANISHAH TURNS HIS HORSES OVER TO SHERMAN, O’NEILLSHANE’S GIRLFRIEND TO RUN IN SANTA YNEZ STAKES