Skeen: Storm could serve as springboard

04/20/02 Kearney Cyberhub
KEARNEY — What a difference a week, and a win, can make.

Last Friday Tri-City coach Leland Skeen had to bit his lip to keep the term "must-win" from escaping from his mouth when talking about the Diesel's road game versus the winless Wyoming Cavalry.

But now, following a last-second 48-41 Tri-City victory, the Diesel (2-2) seem more relaxed heading into tonight's (Saturday) game versus the Sioux Falls Storm.

"A win at Sioux Falls would put us in great position," Skeen said. "We would come back with three straight home games in front of us and a lot of confidence. This is not a must-win. … But a win would show people that we are for real."

However, history favors the Storm.

The Diesel went 0-2 versus Sioux Falls last season, including a heart-breaking 42-41 loss at the Tri-City Arena in the second week of the season.

The Storm (4-1), who have outscored their opponents 218-134, have continued their winning ways this season.  Their only loss came at unbeaten Sioux City last weekend with starting running David Ruter sidelined with an injury.

Meanwhile, the Sioux Falls' defense has proved to be the NIFL's most daring thief this season by ripping off a league-high 17 interceptions.

Sioux Falls' cornerbacks — Todd Tryon, Bobby Perkins, Shannon Poppinga, and Philip Wilson — are quickly earning the reputation of being greedy gamblers.

"They have got a pretty good group," Skeen said. "They have been together for a awhile and they will be one of the toughest secondary's we will face this year.

"They do a lot of what we call 'robbing'. They sit back there and try to anticipate. But if they do that at the wrong time, the big play can go the other way."

Big plays have become commonplace for the Diesel since quarterback Justin Coleman has come aboard.

Coleman scorched Wyoming for 271 yards and four touchdowns in only his second start. If the Storm insist on playing cat-and-mouse with Tri-City's receivers, Coleman could easily surpass those sizable numbers.

"We have been experimenting quite a bit with sending four receivers out," Skeen said. "But when you do that you leave yourself vulnerable to blitzing linebackers."

That's where running back Dale Van Housen comes into play.

Van Housen, who leads the NIFL with 10 touchdowns, has become Coleman's security blanket by slipping into the flats and turning short screens into long gains.

"Dale has great hands and that has allowed us to open things up," Skeen said. "He's not getting deep in the pass patterns, but he checks if a blitz is coming and squeaks out in the flats."

Van Housen made a pair of scoring receptions against the Cavalry, including a 34-yard gallop in the first half in which he left a host of defenders in the dust.

The second swing pass came from just eight yards out, but it gave the Diesel a 48-41 lead with less than a minute remaining.

Skeen said he plans on overloading the Cavalry secondary with swarms of receivers in hopes of making them play "honest."

Those words are likely music to ears of Coleman and Van Housen.


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