Red Dogs begin playoff push at home tonight against Roughriders

06/01/02 Rapid City Journal
It may seem a little early to start a playoff drive, but at 5-5 with four games remaining in their National Indoor Football League season, that's exactly how the Rapid City Red Dogs are approaching the season's stretch drive.

Rapid City, which is 2-4 in Pacific North Division play, begins its playoff push tonight when they host the Bismarck Roughriders (7-2, 6-2 Pacific West) at 7:05 p.m. the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.

"I told our guys this week, our playoffs are here," said Red Dog coach Dan Maciejczak. "We've got to win them all. We've got to win our four to get to the playoffs and win through the playoffs.

"It's time to kick it up another notch."

Rapid City comes in riding high after demolishing the Tri-City Diesel 62-13 and the enjoying its first bye week after playing 10 straight games to open the season.

Maciejczak said the week off came at a good time. It allowed his players to get healed up and rested. It also allowed the team to step back and watch as some of their divisional opponents played last week.

"It was perfect," said Maciejczak of the week off. "It seems like in practice, we've stepped everything up a lot more."

While several playoff scenarios are aplenty in the Pacific North, Maciejczak thinks his team stands the best bet of making the playoffs if they can knock off the Roughriders tonight and win their final three games (at Oklahoma, home against Billings and at Sioux Falls) and have Bismarck wins its remaining contests.

"The best bet for us is for us to beat Bismarck and Bismarck to win the rest of the way and us sit in second place," he said. "Bismarck has a tiebreaker against us no matter what. Everybody else is still open. We play Sioux Falls and Billings. If we beat them we can hold a tiebreaker against them."

Beating Bismarck will be no easy task.

The Roughriders are much improved since quarterback Danny Ragsdale rejoined the team a month ago.

A loss to Billings in Week 6 left Bismarck at 2-2. The Roughriders have reeled off five straight wins since.

Bismarck also owns two wins over Rapid City this season. The Roughriders claimed a 48-38 win at Rapid City in Week 4 and followed up with a 29-20 win at Bismarck two weeks later. The Red Dogs were plagued by fumbled snaps, turnovers and poor special teams in both losses, but particularly in the second one.

"When you watch the film, overall we didn't play well," said Maciejczak. "I don't know if we let up and expected them to fall over or what it was. I think we're a totally different ball club now."

Ragsdale has had a huge impact on the Roughriders' offense. He's 79 of 106 for 966 yards, 19 touchdowns and two interceptions in just four games. In their previous five contests, four Bismarck signal callers were a combined 27 of 90 for 341 yards, nine TDs and 14 interceptions.

Running back Quentin Cradle, MVP of the Indoor Football League two years ago, has rushed for 562 yards and 13 TDs in nine games. He's also caught a team-high 32 passes for 329 yards and two scores.

Wide receiver A.J. Street, who played for the Red Dogs for a short time last season, has 24 catches for 395 yards and 11 TDs. He also has four kickoff returns for TDs.

"Bismarck throws the ball well and they can run the ball well," said Maciejczak. "They're well balanced.

"The biggest thing is we need to be physical against them. We need to hit them in the mouth."

The Roughriders also boast one of the NIFL's top defensive fronts. Anthony Bonner has recorded 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss this season, with teammate Nakia Parson having seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss. Robert Gaines has four sacks and eight tackles for loss.

"Whenever you get into the situation where you can only throw the ball on five-step drops, you get to where their d-line performs its best, because they're just rushing the passer," Maciejczak said. "We have to be able to run the ball well and throw the ball well. We've got to keep them on their toes."

Game notes: Tonight's game against the Roughriders is Book Night. Bring a new or well-conditioned children's book and get a general admission ticket for $5. ... Four Roughriders played for Rapid City last season: Street, defensive backs Kyle Sires and Bryce Ritter, and running back Verna Owens. Sires has a team-high three interceptions. ... Defensive lineman Al Everett (hamstring) is out again this week. ... Bismarck is third (47.3 points per game) and Rapid City is fifth (45.4 ppg) in the NIFL in scoring offense. ... The Roughriders are 20th (48.6 ppg) and the Red Dogs are ninth (38.9 ppg) in scoring defense. ... Rapid City leads the NIFL in total offense (255.3 yards per game). ... Bismarck leads the league in sacks (18-105). ... Red Dog quarterback Jason Murdock is fourth in the NIFL in passing with a rating of 107.4. He's thrown 31 TD passes against only three interceptions in seven games. ... Rapid City travels to Enid, Okla., to take on the Oklahoma Crude next Saturday. ... The Red Dogs' final home game is on June 15, when they host Billings.

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