Red Dogs battle Bandits tonight in Sioux City
05/11/02 Rapid City Journal
With three wins in four weeks and showing a marked improvement in their play, the Rapid City Red Dogs seem to be back to the winning ways of the past two seasons.
Rapid City went on the road last week and gutted out a 44-42 win over Tri-City to even its overall record at 4-4. The Red Dogs went turnover free and didn't give up a special teams touchdown for the third time in four weeks.
Head coach Dan Maciejczak's team will need an equal if not improved effort when Rapid City takes on the Sioux City Bandits tonight in a non-conference National Indoor Football League face-off at the Sioux City Auditorium.
"We got a victory on the road, and we've been playing pretty well at home now," said Maciejczak, whose team in unbeaten in three games against non-conference foes. "It will be a good test to see what we can do as a team playing a good quality football team."
The Bandits enter the game at 5-1 overall after suffering their first loss of the season last week at Lincoln, Neb. They're unbeaten at the quirky Auditorium, which features a low ceiling and the smallest playing field in the NIFL.
At 4-4, the Red Dogs sit fourth in the Pacific North Division and can ill afford to lose many more games this season if they are going to squeak into the playoffs.
"We figure we've got to win all of our games from now on," said Maciejczak. "Of course we've got to win, but by the same token, if we play well - no turnovers and stuff like that - the wins will slide into the right category for us."
Sioux City, much like the Sioux Falls Storm, uses its defense to provide its offense with a short field to work with and easy scoring opportunities. The Bandits are fourth in the NIFL in scoring, averaging 43.7 points a game, but they're ninth in the league in total offense (217.2 ypg). Sioux City's defense is tops in the NIFL against the run and has a league-best turnover ratio (plus-14). They've forced 19 total turnovers through six games.
Linebacker Matt Hughes and lineman Jesse Wavrunek, both among the NIFL leaders in tackles, lead a quick defensive front.
Maciejczak said it will be important for his team to avoid an all-or-nothing type game like the one it played against Tri-City last week.
In that game, Rapid City held a 33-21 halftime lead, but the Red Dogs needed a late field goal from Aaron Turner and a stop on a Diesel two-point conversion in the final seconds of the game to hold off Tri-City.
"The first half we played great football, probably one of the best halves of football we've had. We controlled the ball and we scored almost every series," said Maciejczak. "The second half we slumped off after we came right out and scored.
"We saw how well we can perform, but we saw how bad we can do, too, if we let people play with us."
Rapid City's hopes were bolstered by Antonio Conley's kickoff return for a touchdown right before half and that the Red Dogs' return teams didn't often give the Diesel favorable field position.
"Anything I've asked of the team - special teams improvement and getting rid of turnovers - we've done," said Maciejczak. "Now we're starting to win."
Maciejczak expects the Bandits to run an offense similar to Tri-City's: empty out the backfield and use four receivers on a majority of their plays.
"I don't think they're a possession team," said Maciejczak. "They're a big play team. We're hoping to shut down their big plays."
Quarterback Jarrod DeGeorgia, who has completed 87 of 148 pass attempts for 1,028 yards, has thrown 15 touchdowns for the Bandits against only four interceptions. DeGeorgia has also rushed for five scores.
Receiver Irv Whitehead has caught a team-high 27 passes for 269 yards and three TDs. John Ostermeyer leads the Bandits in receiving yards with 383 from 25 catches. He and David Perrigo lead Sioux City in touchdown receptions with five.
After two straight weeks on the road, the Red Dogs host Tri-City next Saturday at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. Rapid City then has its first bye week of the season after 10 straight weeks of play.
"Thank God," said Maciejczak of his team's upcoming break. "It will be a good to have a week off. We've been working our butts off, and it's been a long haul to get back to .500."
Red Dog quarterback Jason Murdock has completed 75 of 119 passes for 833 yards. He's thrown 21 TD passes against two interceptions in six games. ... Rapid City's statistics from its season-opener against Wyoming are not included in this week's NIFL statistics. ... Maciejczak said the NIFL is re-examining its playoff format as two divisions have teams with sub-.500 records - the Atlantic East, where the second-place Mississippi Firedogs are 2-3, and the Atlantic South, where the Austin Knights and Houma Bayou Bucks sit second with 2-4 records. Maciejczak said the league may pick the teams with the top eight records for the playoffs. "We're still in the hunt. We've just got to win," said Maciejczak. ... Rapid City defensive lineman Al Everett is still day to day with a hamstring injury. ... Conley and offensive lineman Devin Volzky both suffered sprained ankles against Tri-City last week but are expected to play tonight.