Riders, Billings battle to be best in West

06/18/02 Bismarck Tribune
Although this weekend's results did more to muddy the NIFL playoff picture than clarify it, Saturday's clash between the Bismarck Roughriders and Billings Outlaws is still almost certain to be where the (Pacific) West is won.

Although the Roughriders (9-3) squandered their one-game lead in Billings with a 72-70 loss to Lincoln on Friday, Bismarck can clinch the division title if it can score a third consecutive win over the Outlaws (9-3).

Regardless, a win in either of their final two games will secure a postseason berth for Bismarck.

Even if they lose to the Outlaws, the Riders have an outside shot at winning the West: That would require a Bismarck win over Casper (2-10) in its regular-season finale, and a La Crosse (1-10) upset of the Outlaws.

The only way Billings and Bismarck could tie is with 10-4 records. Regardless of who wins this weekend, Bismarck would take the division title in that scenario due to a better divisional record. The Riders are currently 7-2 in the Pacific West -- although the NIFL Web site has their division record incorrectly listed as 6-2 -- while Billings is 6-3.

The league itself seems a little shaky on its tiebreaker procedure. A list on the league's Web site has divisional record as the No. 1 criterion, followed by head-to-head competition, points scored in head-to-head competition, point differential for the entire season, then points scored.

Most leagues -- such as the NFL, for example -- don't use divisional record as a tiebreaker for wild cards, since the teams are different divisions, so it wouldn't normally be considered relevant. Earlier this season a league representative told the Tribune that divisional records would not be used to determine wild cards, but on Monday the league reversed that position and said the posted tiebreaker formula would be used to break all deadlocks.

Although Bismarck currently has the best division record in the Pacific Conference, the Riders would still end up losing a tiebreaker with most of the teams in the North Division. That is because the only way Bismarck could end up tied with any contender other than Billings is by losing one or both of its final games, both of which are in the division.

As it stands now, Bismarck and Billings are essentially on even footing in the West. Sioux Falls (7-5) has no chance to win the division title, but still has a decent shot at a wild card thanks to its 4-2 division record. Rapid City (6-7) is out.

Lincoln (8-4) has the upper hand in the Pacific North. The Capitols are one half-game in front of Sioux City (7-4) and Omaha (7-4). Tri-City (6-6) still has a chance to sneak in, but needs to beat Lincoln and Sioux City and get help.

In the Atlantic, Lake Charles (11-1) and Ohio Valley (10-0) have clinched the South and North divisions, respectively.

The East is still wide open. At 6-5, Louisiana is in the driver's seat, but Tupelo (4-7) and even Mississippi (3-8) still have hope. In fact if the Firedogs -- the defending NIFL champs -- can string together three straight wins, they have a very good shot at making the postseason with a sub-.500 record. All it would take is the powerful Land Sharks downing Louisiana, then Tupelo defeating the Rangers.

Tennessee (7-4) and Austin (6-5) are the only teams with realistic wild card hopes in the Atlantic.

* RIDERS SIGN SCHMIDT: The Roughriders quietly bolstered their linebacking corps before last week's roster freeze, inking former Mandan and University of North Dakota standout Eric Schmidt.

Schmidt did not travel with the Roughriders to Lincoln, but could be in the lineup Saturday against Billings.

Schmidt was a three-sport star at Mandan High, even winning the state championship in the 300 hurdles.

A two-year starter for UND, last year the 6-foot-2, 235-pounder helped the Sioux win their first national championship.

"Eric was very disappointed that he didn't get a shot at the NFL this year, but this is his opportunity to get on the field, get some game film and get some indoor experience," Bismarck coach Collins Sanders said.

"He liked that idea."

One thing the Riders like about Schmidt was his versatility. Sanders said that in addition to linebacker, Schmidt could see time at strong safety or even defensive end for the Roughriders.


Pacific Conference

West Division


ROUGHRIDERS 9 3 597 589

Billings 9 3 627 507

Sioux Falls 7 5 507 441

Rapid City 6 7 539 575

Wyoming 2 10 494 616

North Division


Lincoln 8 4 565 494

Omaha 7 4 486 411

Sioux City 7 4 475 360

Tri-City 6 6 463 491

La Crosse 1 10 319 531

Atlantic Conference

East Division


Louisiana 6 5 500 506

Tupelo 4 7 306 448

Mississippi 3 8 306 416

North Division


x-Ohio Valley 10 0 572 271

Tennessee 7 4 541 406

Winston-Salem 4 6 521 427

River City 0 11 205 580

South Division


x-Lake Charles 11 1 511 298

Austin 6 5 491 462

Houma 4 7 397 444

Oklahoma 1 10 264 503

x --clinched playoff berth

Friday, June 14

ROUGHRIDERS 72, Lincoln 70

Saturday, June 15

Billings 70, Rapid City 55

Austin 63, River City 6

Tri-City 51, LaCrosse 39

Louisiana 59, Winston-Salem 51

Sioux Falls 35, Sioux City 22

Ohio Valley 61, Tennessee 52

Mississippi 45, Tupelo 29

Lake Charles 48, Oklahoma 27

Friday, June 21

Sioux Falls at Wyoming

La Crosse at Ohio Valley

Saturday, June 22

Billings at ROUGHRIDERS, 7:35 p.m.

Mississippi at Austin

Oklahoma at Houma

Louisiana at Lake Charles

Winston-Salem at River City

Omaha at Sioux City

Tennessee at Tupelo

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