Storm escapes, remains perfect at home

05/12/02 Sioux Falls Argus Leader
Aulenbacher, Hilsenroth provide key plays

It was, without question, the Sioux Falls Storm's grittiest home game to date. In order to escape the Arena with a win, the Storm had to have one painful, up-the-gut rushing yard from - get this - its quarterback. And its linebacker had to do everything but sell popcorn.

The Storm won its fourth home game in as many tries, as quarterback Ryan Aulenbacher plunged in for a late touchdown while linebacker Don Hilsenroth pounced on the game-clinching fumble. That was enough - barely enough - to give Sioux Falls a 41-33 victory over the determined Lincoln Capitols on Saturday night.

The Storm improved to 6-2, setting itself up nicely for a coming slate of Pacific Western Division games.

But the Capitols were no pushovers. Down by two, they held the ball at midfield with four minutes remaining. The way they were moving the ball, a go-ahead score seemed likely.

But a fumble by quarterback Josh Leudtke was scooped up by Sioux Falls defensive lineman John Green. The Storm offense took advantage of the gift possession, pushing to the Lincoln 2-foot line.

And on third-and-goal, Aulenbacher, a fellow not known for his rush nerve, punched in the score. He was aided by a shove in the back from Hilsenroth, who moonlighted at fullback in short-yardage situations in this game.

Lincoln came right back, scrambling down to the Storm 4. But on third-and-2 with 35 seconds left, Leudtke dropped the snap, and Hilsenroth - who else? - leapt on it. Sioux Falls then ran out the clock.

Lincoln pushed the Storm better than any visitor to the Arena has done this season. With a determined 10-yard TD tear on the first play of the fourth, Capitol back Rayshawn Askew gave his team a 30-29 edge.

But Sioux Falls answered on the very next play. Bobby Perkins gathered in a bounding kickoff, found an opening in the middle and rocketed to the touchdown. The Storm never trailed again.

Although it sputtered some near the goal line, the Sioux Falls offense moved with relative ease throughout the first half. Aulenbacher tossed for 106 yards before halftime - including a picture-perfect 40-yard hookup with the recently activated Chad Gomarko - and running back Jim Bean rushed for 22 yards.

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