Billings pushes past Red Dogs

06/16/02 Rapid City Journal
If a National Indoor Football season could be appropriately summed up in one word, then Rapid City Red Dogs coach Dan Maciejczak was the ultimate assessor when he responded with "Adversity" Saturday night to describe what his team had endured in its 70-55 loss to the Billings Outlaws at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, as well as the season.

The loss bumped the Red Dogs, already longshots before the game, from the miniscule playoff hopes they'd harbored. Billings, meanwhile, is heading strongly into the playoff picture with its next game, at Bismarck, the eventual deciding factor in the Pacific North Divisional title.

"This was a big game for us," Outlaws coach Joe Curtiss said. "We weren't looking past Rapid City because they're a tough team. And can make you pay if you don't take care of business. But we are looking forward to our next game."

Rapid City has only its final game in Sioux Falls to look forward to for the last two weeks of the season. "We're looking forward to use the game to help some guys get picked up by the Arena league football teams," Maciejczak said. Maciejczak plans to switch some players around in positions to allow them a better chance of catching on with one of the bigger teams.

But then, Maciejczak was already forced to make some changes in position players for the game with the Outlaws.

The Red Dogs were already short-handed with starting receivers Brian Mills and Ryan Speed not available because of personal business. Maciejczak planned to make due with regular receivers Casey Veenhof and Antonio Conley, and pressing one of his defensive backs, J.B. Flowers, into service. But that was before he lost starting quarterback Jason Murdock to a mild knee injury midway through the second quarter.

Veenhof, who'd started at quarterback for the first three games of the season as Maciejczak searched for a signal caller, was switched to QB further depleting an already scarce receiving corps. On top of that, Flowers, who hooked up with Veenhof for a pair of long passes, suffered a hamstring injury.

"Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for us tonight," Maciejczak said. "This game tonight took a toll on us. This is the kind of luck we've had all season. After players started getting hurt, we had to piece together an offense. We switched to the no-huddle because the players we had to use in those positions didn't know the plays anyway. We were just running around."

That was never more apparent than late in the fourth quarter when twice the Red Dogs moved the ball inside the opponent's 10-yard line, only to be shut out from hitting paydirt.

The game was touted as potentially high-scoring contest, a specialty of indoor football, and that was epitomized in a 59-second span midway through the first period.

After Rapid City took the quick 7-0 lead on its second play of the game, a 29-yard scoring strike from Jason Murdock to Antonio Conley with barely a minute passed in the game, the game seesawed dramatically.

A one-yard plunge by Billings' Jaquwan Brackenridge signaled the start of the scoring frenzy, but the extra point was blocked by Andrae Rowe, 7-6, with 9:04 to play in the first.

On the ensuing kickoff, Red Dogs return man Antonio Conley returned the kickoff 48 yards, 13-6, and 8:40 remaining.

A 36-yard scoring pass from Outlaws quarterback Albert Higgs found Cory Grow at the 8:05 mark, 14-13 in favor of Billings.

Higgs had a quarterback sneak with two minutes remaining to give the Outlaws the 21-14 first quarter lead.

The Red Dogs actually outscored their opponents, 23-21, in the second period but the advantage remained in favor of the Outlaws, 42-37. Rapid City also lost their Murdock, after a series of furious sacks by Billings' Ty O'Connor that moved the Red Dogs from the Outlaws 6-yard line, well within scoring range, all the way back to the 16-yard line. A field goal attempt by Aaron Turner failed on fourth down. Rapid City was trailing 35-31 at the time and never fully recovered.

"Ty O'Connor was working on his farm up until a couple of weeks ago when we signed him," said Curtiss. "So he's just now getting into shape."

Billings bounced back on the Higgs to Robert Hampton scoring pass, 42-31.

Rapid City, with backup quarterback Veenhof at the helm, did score with five seconds left in the half. Veenhof found Conley, 42-37.

Without Murdock, the Red Dogs steadily lost pace with the Outlaws being outscored 28-18 for the third and fourth two quarters.

The Red Dogs closed to within four, 28-24, on Murdock's delayed pass to Dymon Adams at the four-yard in the right flat. Adams, another injury casualty who'd returned for this game, carried the ball to paydirt while accounting for all of Rapid City's yards in the four-play series.

Rapid City forced Billings' Brackenridge to fumble on the next series with Eric Rice recovering the loose ball at the 6-yard line and returning it for the score.

The Red Dogs travel to Sioux Falls in two weeks to finish the season. "We're looking forward to it," Maciejczak said. "We have nothing to lose and we're going to make it an entertaining game."

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