Six interceptions key 51-31 win in home opener
03/25/02 Sioux Falls Storm
Picture Christopher Gannon/Argus Leader Storm quarterback Ryan Aulenbacher (left) tries to elude Billings lineman Chuck Hayter on Sunday at the Arena.
The game was over, but Philip Wilson wasn't done stealing things. The strong safety had hooked three first-half interceptions, and now, wearing a sunny grin and surrounded by a beefier batch of autograph-seekers than the starting quarterback could drum up, he appeared to be robbing the fans' hearts.
Who says crime doesn't pay? For the Sioux Falls Storm, a glut of six interceptions keyed a 51-31 NIFL victory over the Billings Outlaws on Sunday afternoon. The Storm's home-opening contest drew an unofficial 2,500 to the Arena.
In a game in which its offense occasionally sputtered and its defense periodically napped, Sioux Falls' salvation was its sticky-fingered pass-coverage unit. Besides Wilson's meddling, Billings quarterback Albert Higgs was also picked by Todd Tyron, Shannon Poppinga and linebacker Don Hilsenroth. Wilson and Tyron each ran a theft back for an interception.
"I credit the whole line for that," said Wilson, a 200-pound alum of the University of Sioux Dakota. "They put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, and we did our responsibility. Everybody was on the right page."
Around the league this morning, the Storm probably has all quarterbacks in a sweat. Sioux Falls has 10 interceptions in its first two games, both victories. And not one has been made by free safety Bobby Perkins, who has snatched 20 interceptions over the past two seasons.
"We just have the ability to take some chances," Storm coach Mike Aldrich said. "If you take some chances, sometimes that's going to be bad for you. But as long as you realize that and can move on, you'll have days like this where you'll get six interceptions."
Those turnovers masked Sioux Falls' stalled offense in the opening half. On its first four possessions, the Storm generated only a 39-yard Nate Krull field goal. But thanks to Wilson's 25-yard interception runback for a TD, the game was tied at 10 late in the second quarter.
Later, after Wilson made his third and final pick, the Sioux Falls' offense finally found its flow. A three-play drive was capped by a determined 16-yard touchdown run by David Ruter. On the sweep, Ruter, an ex-University of Sioux Falls running back, bulldozed over one Outlaw defender, then cut inside and dashed to the end zone.
Moments later, Ruter punched in another touchdown with 9.9 seconds left in the half, giving the Storm a 27-17 advantage at the break.
Sioux Falls continued moving well in the second half, with quarterback Ryan Aulenbacher chucking two TD passes. And this came after an icy start for Aulenbacher, who was starting his second NIFL game.
Aldrich explained that the Billings defense was giving his quarterback false pre-snap reads. Once the Storm coaches were able to crack the Outlaws' code, Aulenbacher was able to "just go out and play football," Aldrich said.
Sioux Falls' offensive star was Ruter. He rushed for 28 hard-earned yards, and tallied a team-best 60 receiving yards. He gathered four touchdowns.
Aldrich praised Ruter, stopping just short of naming him the Storm's official starting back: "We have three great running backs, so it's a situation where it really depends. But you could see today that what David did, that's the David Ruter we signed. ... As of right now, he's got to be one of the better backs in the league."
Such might be the status of Wilson among defensive backs. It's been a long road for Wilson, who blew out his Achilles tendon last season while playing for the Sioux City Bandits. After nine months of rehab, he seems to be back to form.
Wilson agreed that his injury ordeal makes a three-interception day all the better. \"It was a whole let better," he said. "It's a better year than ever, after going through something like that."
The Storm hits the road this coming weekend, traveling across the state to face the 1-1 Rapid City Red Dogs on Saturday at 8:05 p.m. CST.
NOTES - Storm wide receiver Chad Gomarko took a brutal hit while making a catch over the middle late in the third. He was taken off the field on a backboard, then transported to the hospital. But reports seemed to indicate that no permanent damage was done.