Storm drops first game of season

04/15/02 Sioux Falls Argus Leader
SIOUX CITY - In his very first postgame sentence Sunday, Mike Aldrich, speaking without a trace of self-pity, declined to play the injury card. But the coach relented a few moments later, and with good reason.

Here's how vexed the Sioux Falls Storm is by injuries: Dean Herrboldt and Wyatt Haines joined the club but days ago, and they both have doctor appointments today.

The toll also showed on the field Sunday. With the wideout unit almost completely recast from last week and a running back who hadn't taken a handoff since last year, the Sioux Falls offense slipped into mistakes most of the afternoon. Those struggles allowed the Sioux City Bandits to hand the Storm its first NIFL loss this year, 40-21 at the Sioux City Auditorium.

Surprisingly, the patchwork Storm offense did advance the ball, occasionally with ease. But during the second and third quarters, five straight possessions concluded as follows: missed 18-yard field goal, interception returned for a touchdown, interception, fumble, interception. That transformed a 7-6 Sioux City lead into a 34-6 bulge.

"We don't really want to blame anything on our injuries," Aldrich said right away. "We got forced into a sitation where we have to play guys who haven't had much time with us in a game situation. But that happens."

Later, Aldrich was more honest: "The injury bug is biting us pretty bad - right on the butt. You battle the coaches and the players of the other team, and sometimes a bad call or something. ... But there really isn't much you can do about injuries."

Storm tailback Jim Bean, who led the club in rushing last season but was seeing his first 2002 action on Sunday, had no luck on the ground. He did punch in a 3-yard TD run, but finished with minus-6 yards total.

Yet Sioux Falls made some capital via the air, with quarterback Ryan Aulenbacher tossing for 192 yards. Bean, used as a safety valve, reeled in 10 passes for 67 yards while Adam Syphers totaled 69 yards in receptions.

But near-the-end-zone execution was the problem. All three of Aulenbacher's interceptions were stolen within the Bandits' 15-yard line. And that fumble came when a shotgun snap sailed over Aulbenbacher's head - when the Storm had the ball at the Sioux City 6.

Still, this outcome was within a reasonable doubt as late as the fourth quarter. Aulenbacher hooked up with Syphers on a 30-yard bomb early in that period, and the two-point conversion made it a 16-point game.

But the Bandits turned to clutch kicker Adam Hicks, who toed a 28 yarder with five minutes remaining to seal the win. The University of South Dakota alum went 4-for-4 on field goal tries, and even earned the Bandits' player-of-the-game honors.

Knowing it would likely have to duplicate its remarkable performance from the week before to have a shot at victory, the Storm defense appeared up to the challenge in the first quarter. Bobby Perkins and Don Hilsenroth both picked off passes, and Sioux City scored just one touchdown.

But as the game went on, the Bandits began to melt the defense's resolve. Aldrich was especailly troubled with Sioux City's 6-for-11 convertion rate on third downs.

"That was the part that killed our defense - we'd stop them on everything but third down," he said. "When they needed to get 10, they'd get 11; when they needed 15, they'd get 16. That's one of those things that will keep me up all night pulling my hair."

What's more disturbing for the Storm is the circumstances of this loss. Like last year, Sioux Falls began this season with four consecutive victories. In 2001, those first four wins were followed by injuries and a flood of six setbacks.

Aldrich said that things should be different this time. "Instead of walking into practice like maybe we did last year - we'd be like, 'Well, we're still the better team' and act overconfident - we know we can't overlook any team. I think we'll prepare very seriously for everyone we play."

The Storm's next date will be Saturday evening at the Sioux Falls Arena against the Tri-City Diesel, a club from Kearney, Neb. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.

Aldrich had one more thought. "And hopefully we'll get some of those injuries taken care of this week."

Unfortunately for the Storm, that's one thing a coach can't game-plan around.

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