Diesel dumped from playoffs
07/06/02 Kearney Cyberhub
LINCOLN - With his team striking often, and often striking quickly, Jose Jefferson liked the Lincoln Capitols' chances of winning a second-half offensive shootout Friday night.
When Lincoln finally made a big play on defense, Jefferson figured his team was home free.
Capitols cornerback Ja-Thi Green came through with a crucial fourth-quarter interception, and Tyrone Tyler hauled in a 32-yard touchdown pass from Josh Luedtke on the next play, a combination of events that finally subdued the Tri-City Diesel before 1,796 spectators at Pershing Auditorium.
Lincoln's 61-48 triumph gave the Capitols the Pacific North Division crown in the National Indoor Football League and also locked up a first-round home playoff game next Friday.
The Diesel, who had won four straight, were eliminated from the playoff picture with the loss.
"I'm just happy for the guys," Jefferson said after his team improved to 10-4, including 7-0 at Pershing this season. "They've played their hearts out amid a lot of turbulation this season."
Luedtke, a steadying force for Lincoln all season, overcame two costly first-half turnovers to complete 19 of 27 passes for 269 yards and seven touchdowns. Derrick Smith Jr. made seven receptions for 120 yards and three TDs.
Luedtke's 32-yard scoring strike to Tyler gave Lincoln a 61-41 lead with 9 minutes remaining. On the previous play, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Green, a native of Carson, Calif., playing in only his second game for the Caps, leaped high to grab his second interception of the night.
Tri-City, which finishes 7-7, had scored on each of its previous three second-half possessions.
"I figured the game would be over if we got a quick strike after the interception," Jefferson said.
Jefferson was correct, and now Lincoln, the No. 2 seed in the Pacific Conference, faces a first-round playoff game at 7 p.m. Friday against either the Billings (Mont.) Outlaws or the Omaha Beef, which both wrap up their regular-season schedules tonight (Saturday).
"We thought all along we had the character and resiliency to overcome anything," Luedtke said. "You never heard us cry. We just kept going on."
Indeed, Lincoln pushed through season-ending injuries to defensive back Troy Watchorn and receiver Zach Sangster. In addition, the Capitols have ignored general fan apathy that's been a source of frustration for the organization throughout a successful season on the field.
Luedtke and his teammates faced adversity Friday night after Luedtke's two first-half turnovers both led to Tri-City touchdowns.
Jay Christensen intercepted Luedtke's pass late in the first quarter and returned it 18 yards to Lincoln's 6-yard line. Andre Hatcher scored on the next play to pull Tri-City to 14-7.
Jimmy Moore recovered Luedtke's second-quarter fumble and returned it 39 yards for a touchown, pulling the Diesel to 17-14.
"I was just trying to do too much," Luedtke said. "I had to gather things in and make it simple."
Tri-City led only once, going ahead 21-20 on Justin Coleman's 10-yard touchdown pass to Mitch Ables with 3:24 remaining in the first half.
On Lincoln's next play from scrimmage, Luedtke zipped a 29-yard scoring strike to Tyler, one of three occasions that the Capitols scored TDs on the first play from scrimmage.
Tyler finished with four receptions for 70 yards and two touchdowns, and Caps running back Rayshawn Askew carried 16 times for 52 yards.
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Coleman, the former Nebraska-Kearney standout, completed 13 of 31 throws for 130 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions.
"I've heard everyone talking about how Coleman and (Omaha's) Troy Travis are the best (indoor foot-ball) quarterbacks in the state," Luedtke said. "Not too many people talk about me, but somebody should give me some consideration."
For Luedtke, it was a rare burst of individualism.
"I know this is a team game, and I'm only as good as my teammates," the Omaha resident said. "Believe me, we'll be ready to go (next week)."