Riders finding ways to win

With their weakness at quarterback and tendency to just scrape by against mistake-prone opponents, it's been easy to dwell on the negative with the Bismarck Roughriders.

Coach Collins Sanders has had his fill of that. After all, the Roughriders are 3-2 heading into tonight's important interdivision clash with Lincoln Capitols (Civic Center, 7:35 p.m.)

"The thing that kind of irks me is all the negative comments, like when we win the other teams are just handing us the games," Sanders said.

Sanders has a good point: The Roughriders have been able to get the job done more often than not despite some obvious shortcomings.

The biggest problem has been the turnovers. Bismarck has coughed the ball up six times this year for a league-high 20 giveaways. With the defense producing eight takeaways, that leaves Bismarck with a -12 turnover ratio, the worst in the NIFL. Except for 0-4 La Crosse, which is -11, no other team is worse than a -6.

"We keep handing them the ball and are still finding ways to win," Sanders said. "That says a lot about the resilience of this team."

So why are the Roughriders 3-2 when they are closer to the top than the bottom of the league leaders in most offensive and defensive categories.

Well, first off, the dreadful blowout loss in Billings skewed many of the stats. Second, Bismarck has been getting the job done up front.

Even though indoor football is built around the pass, just like in the outdoor football teams that can stop the run generally fair well. The top teams in the NIFL in rush defense are Sioux Falls (4-0), Ohio Valley (3-0), Sioux Falls (6-1) and Lake Charles (4-0). Bismarck is ninth, not great, but better than it is any other major category. The defensive line has also fared well against the pass, generating a league-high 11 saves.

While the secondary has been too vulnerable to big plays, it also has come up big in a couple of clutch situations.

Specifically, Kyle Sires has returned two interceptions for TDs, one in a two-point victory over River City, the other in a 10-point win over Rapid City.

The offensive line has also been good. The running game is averaging 3.3 yards per carry -- not great, but above the league average -- and 3.8 when the ball is in Quentin Cradle's hands. It has also allowed just one sack.

A.J. Street has been a dynamic presence on special teams. Street has already returned three kickoffs for touchdowns -- tops in the IFL -- and that doesn't count the one that was disallowed because of a penalty in last week's game against Rapid City. He is averaging 24.7 yards a return, the best of any full-time return man and not bad on a 50-yard field.

There is still room for improvement, but if newly acquired quarterback Danny Ragsdale plays anything like he did two years ago with the Blaze, Sanders may not being hearing many negatives over the rest of the season.

* CAPITOL OFFENSE: The Capitols come into tonight's game with a 3-1 mark, but are still stinging from last weekend's 61-39 loss to arch rival Omaha, a team they had beaten earlier in the season.

Lincoln has a lot of different ways to beat teams. Running backs Rayshawn Askew (238 yards rushing, 57 receiving) and Damon Benning (71 rushing, 79 receiving) are both threats.

Quarterback Josh Luedtke has extensive indoor experience and is a steady hand, as evidenced by his touchdown to interception ratio (12-1).

"Lincoln's a well-coached team that's well-disciplined," Sanders said. "They run the ball well and pass the ball well."

* CRUCIAL STRETCH: Next week the Roughriders have a bye, but tonight's game with Lincoln starts a stretch of three in a row in which no team they face has more than one loss. After Lincoln, Bismarck will get rematches with Billings (5-1) and Sioux Falls (6-1). Right now Bismarck has the sixth-best record in the Pacific. Four teams from the conference will make the playoffs.

* A NEW THREAT: Cradle, who leads the NIFL in rushing, caught just one pass in Bismarck's first four games. The Roughriders finally took advantage of his pass-catching skills in last week's win over Rapid City, as Cradle had four receptions for 53 yards.

* NONCOMMITAL: Sanders wasn't tipping his hand on whether or not Ragsdale would get the start at QB, but he noted that he looked good in practice.

 
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