Billings squad recovers in time to down winless LaCrosse, 48-39
04/28/02 Billings Gazette
The Billings Outlaws, struggling against a winless opponent in front a quiet crowd Saturday night, found another player to key on: Keyon Kemp.
The 175-pound Kemp ignited the crowd and the Outlaws by returning two missed LaCrosse field goals for scores, helping Billings beat the Night Train 48-39 in a National Indoor Football League game in front of 4,576 fans at Metra.
It was a first for Kemp, who'd never run back two kicks for scores before. His first put the Outlaws up 7-0 with 12:06 left in the first quarter. His second made it 42-19 early in the fourth, and gave the home team some breathing room after neither team scored in the third frame.
"Big," Albert Higgs said, after Billings improved to 6-1. "Big lift in the second half, especially when the offense was sputtering. He took that missed field goal down the field and scored. Definitely the player of the game."
LaCrosse, which fell to 0-5, managed to close to 42-31 with 2:40 left, but its ensuing kickoff went out of bounds. That gave the Outlaws the ball at midfield - the 25-yard line. On their second play, Night Train defensive back Larry Miller leveled Billings receiver James Owens in the end zone on a flea-flicker. That set up Jaquwan Brackenridge's second touchdown run, a clincher from two yards out.
After the game ended, it was announced that Sioux Falls had lost; that left Billings in sole possession of first in the Pacific West Division.
Not bad for a middling performance. "I had a week off, and the timing was off a little bit," said Higgs, who after missing last week's game with a gash on his index finger, threw for 180 yards and three touchdowns but also fumbled twice and was intercepted once. "No excuses. We got caught up in that 0-5 stuff a little bit. But sometimes, when you don't play well and you get a win, it's just as well, you know?"
The Night Train got mixed performances from two new additions on defense, noseguard Ted Coleman and defensive end Derric Coakley. Coakley played well, forcing and recovering a fumble a couple minutes after scoring on a one-yard run. The recovery set up a Marrial Sheilds-to-Darrel Dixon scoring pass of 12 yards, making it 42-31.
Coleman, meanwhile, jumped offsides several times, then was ejected - along with Billings guard Brad Halsten - for fighting after Brackenridge scored from eight yards out at 4:17 of the second quarter. Billings led 32-13 at the time. "Extremely disappointing," was how LaCrosse defensive coordinator Mike Brown described the performance.
But Brown was just as disappointed in his team's special teams breakdowns. The ball is live much of the time in arena football, making every field goal attempt an adventure. Derek Chance missed from 49 and 59 yards on Kemp's two scores. Kemp juked three times in the end zone alone on the first one. On the second he faked Garnet Asmundson out of his pads at the 15-yard line, cut to the left wall, then toward a seam up the middle.
"Those were so crucial, because we felt when we gave them up, we were playing great defense," said Brown of the runbacks. "We felt we could have held them and got the ball back.
"They were just little individual one-on-one breakdowns, too. We work on them all the time. it's very distressing - we felt it could've been a different outcome, if we wouldn't have given them up."
Kemp shrugged off his heroics, and stuck up for an offense that picked up two scoring passes - to Cory Grow and James Owens - of over 34 yards. "The main thing is we got it going when we needed it," he said. "If I can keep doing what I'm doing, helping out the team, that's what I'll do.
"All I'm trying to do is make plays, and bring in fans. If they come out every game like this, I feel like I can do that every game."
Grow's TDs covered 34 and four yards. Luke Twibell had 12 tackles and a fumble recovery to lead Billings' defense. Sheilds threw for 84 yards and ran for 50 for the Night Train.