Red Dogs not ready to roll over

04/25/02 Rapid City Journal
RAPID CITY - It's time for the Rapid City Red Dogs to learn a new trick - mistake-free football.

The Red Dogs appeared to turn a corner two games back when they shook off two early turnovers and went without another miscue in a 56-27 drubbing of the Oklahoma Crude. But last Sunday, the Red Dogs returned to their form of the season's first four weeks, turning the ball over deep in their territory and giving up kickoff returns for touchdowns in a 29-20 loss at Bismarck.

Frustrating as the losses have been, Red Dog head coach Dan Maciejczak knows his team's new trick won't be to roll over, especially as the team gets healthy again.

Rapid City (2-4, 1-4 Pacific West), which kicks off against the Wyoming Cavalry (0-5, 0-4) at 7:05 p.m. tonight at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, is as healthy as it's been in weeks. The team welcomes receiver Ryan Speed, running back Tom Skoog and safety Percy Scott back into the fold after they missed recent games due to injuries.

Cornerback J.B. Flowers, who played for the Red Dogs last season, also rejoined the team this week.

"Physically, we're in good shape and talent-wise, we're at the top of the league. It's just a matter of being tired and making mental mistakes," said Maciejczak of his team's recent struggles. "So I made our practice tougher as far as the conditioning part, and then we get to the mental stuff, so we're thinking while we're tired."

Part of that regimen included centers and quarterbacks taking 1,000 snaps in practice on Monday and 200 each day on Tuesday and Wednesday to prevent a repeat of the four fumbled snaps suffered last week against the Roughriders.

Maciejczak felt part of the snapping problem came from Bismarck nose guard Anthony Bonner.

"When you get a guy who is as good as that guy from Bismarck, you start worrying about getting up quick out of your stance to look where he's going and you have a tendency to short snap it," said Maciekczak, who played center for the Red Dogs last year.

"Jason was trying to get out quick, and if he leaves before the ball is to him, you've got another fumble."

Here's how bad an enemy the Rapid City offense has become to the Red Dogs' defense. Maciejczak said opposing teams have started playing a base defense against his team, guarding against the big play while laying in wait for a turnover.

"That's everybody's defensive philosophy against us any more," Maciejczak pointed out. "Lately, that's been our forte - doing something stupid that kills us."

Wyoming and Rapid City played a thrilling game in Week 2, which saw the Red Dogs prevail 50-49 in overtime at Casper. Maciejczak expects an equally tough game this time around, despite the fact that the Cavalry are winless coming into tonight's game.

"They're one of those teams that scares me," said Maciejczak. "They're oh-and-whatever, but they've been in every ball game. They're like the Detroit Lions; they've got a good football team, but it's a matter of putting things together."

Wyoming's season has mirrored the Red Dogs' in many ways. In a nutshell, the Cavalry is another team that can be its own worst enemy.

Last week, Wyoming outplayed the Billings Outlaws in almost every phase of the game, but came away with a 34-27 loss. The Cavalry outgained the Outlaws 231-211 and owned a 24-10 lead at one point, but a long kickoff return sparked a 16-0 Billings rally. The only thing missing were the critical turnovers.

"They've got a poised quarterback, Matt Strand. He's a young quarterback, but he makes great reads," said Maciejczak. "They've got a great running game with Anthony Simmons."

Strand is 75 of 132 passing for 609 yards. He's thrown 10 touchdown passes against seven interceptions this season. Leading rusher Siegan Keys averages 21.8 rushing yards a game to Simmons' 14.6, but Simmons has four rushing TDs to Keys' two. Simmons also averages 14.1 receiving yards a game. Receiver Cory Brooks has snared an NIFL-high 30 catches through five games.

Wyoming's defense got a big boost when head coach Tyrone Fittje signed Brian Homer, a Chadron State linebacker who has played for NFL Europe and has had two NFL tryouts. Homer gives the Cavalry a stopper at middle linebacker and an aggressive defender on the defensive front.

Pressure up front, like that exerted by Bonner and company last Sunday at Bismarck and by Sioux Falls in Week 3, has caused the Red Dogs fits, particularly since Jason Murdock, who likes to set up in the pocket, took over at quarterback. That's taken away some of the roll-out passes, which Rapid City used with such success the last two seasons.

"Jason is a good quarterback, but he's not as mobile as what we've had in the past," said Maciejczak. "We do a lot of boot passing because we run the ball well. Teams aren't so worried about our boot action anymore."

That may change with Speed's return to the lineup, which would allow Casey Veenhof to possibly see some downs at quarterback.

Game notes

All reserved seats are $10 for tonight's game between the Red Dogs and Cavalry, who have had an intense rivalry over the three years of indoor football in the two towns. ... Speed is seeing his first action since suffering a knee injury in Week 3 against Sioux Falls. ... Skoog and Scott haven't suited up for the last two games. ... Rapid City is second in the NIFL with eight sacks. Wyoming has registered only one sack through five games. ... The Red Dogs have 17 total giveaways this season, eight by fumble and nine by interception. ... Rapid City receiver Brian Mills is leading the league in receiving yards with 335. ... Andrea Rowe is second to Bonner (6) in sacks with five. ... Mike Nincehelsern is second in the NIFL in tackles for loss (8) and tied for third in sacks (4).

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