WHEN the final shot hit home, the roar that exploded from Brad Jacobs and his rink was echoed by over 8,600 curling fans that leaped from their MTS Centre seats.
The Brier champion's hammer gamble had paid off, in the sixth game of the round-robin on Thursday night. Undefeated in these Olympic trials and trailing reigning Olympic champion Kevin Martin 4-3, Jacobs blanked the eighth and ninth ends and carried last rock into the 10th. With a chance at nailing a bye into Sunday's final on the line, Jacobs' final throw pulled two points out of a crowded house for a 5-4 win.
"What a game," Jacobs said, just seconds after the win, with the buzz of the crowd still filtering in to the media room.
"We hung in there, we dug deep, and the boys just pounded that last one... I said to myself in the 10th end, 'we'll see what we're made of this end.' And I'm really proud of the guys for making the shots they made, coming in and giving us a chance to throw something to win that. We made it as a team."
Jacobs and his rink, who curl out of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., are now just one win away from a ticket to Sochi.
"Sounds pretty cool," Jacobs said. "We just need to come out in that last game, and put on another performance. Hopefully we can do it."
They still have to wrap up the round robin, with Jacobs set to play an 8:30 a.m. game today against Toronto's John Epping. If they win that one, they have a chance to be the first team to go undefeated through the Olympic trials. The win would be good to keep the momentum going, Jacobs said, but the skip didn't want to get too hung up on it. "We just want to come out and play well, and we'll see what happens," he said. "We know what game really matters now."
It was fitting, almost, that Martin and Jacobs should wait to face each other almost until the end, after running unbeaten through their opponents through the opening days of the round robin. It wasn't exactly a beautiful game: Jacobs called it "sloppy," and Martin agreed. There were some misses, rocks coming in too hot or rolling out of the house; that happened on Jacobs' last throw of the fourth, and Martin stole a point out of that one to take a 3-1 lead.
"It was definitely an interesting game from the first end on," Martin said, still smiling in the wake of his first loss of the trials.
"Every end, both teams kind of took turns. There was some good shots made too, though. Brad made two doubles in three, to get us into trouble and make us take one... it was just one of those games where neither could really put the other away, and came right down to the last inch."
Martin will play John Morris this morning.
Although Martin has already secured his spot in the semifinal with a record of 5-1, there is a big playoff implication for the game: If Martin beats his former longtime third and Manitoban skip Mike McEwen wins his game against Kevin Koe, then McEwen and Morris will both finish 4-3 for the week, and go to a tiebreaker game to battle for the other semifinal spot on Saturday.
A reminder there's always a little room for fun in even the most hard-fought game: In the final end, when Martin third David Nedohin left his crutch by the hack, Jacobs' third Ryan Fry walked down the sheet to hand it back. Nedohin made the exchange with a sheepish grin, as the crowd laughed.