Capitols to host Billings in playoff opener

07/10/02 Capitols Press Release

The Pacific North champion Lincoln Capitols put a three-game winning streak on the line when they open the NIFL playoffs Friday night at home against the Billings Outlaws, who clinched a wild-card berth with a 10-4 mark.

Lincoln captured the division crown Saturday night, downing Tri-City 61-48 at the Pershing Center. Lincoln jetted to a 14-0 lead on three snaps on offense. The Capitols scored on an 18-yard pass from Josh Luedtke to Ryan Hinske, and, following a Darrin Tankersley field goal miss, tallied another as Derrick Smith, Jr. caught the longest TD pass of the season for Lincoln, a 45-yarder with 10:48 remaining in the first period.

The Capitols would not score another touchdown until the 2:54 mark of the 2nd quarter, but got a pair of Chace Long field goals to cling to a lead. Tri-City capitalized on a pair of Lincoln turnovers to get scores and took a brief 21-20 lead when Justin Coleman found Mitch Ables for a 10-yard TD reception.

Lincoln answered, however, one play later as Luedtke found Tyrone Tyler for a 29-yard scoring strike, and then used a Jathi Green interception to set up another score before halftime. Lincoln marched from the five in 10 plays, scoring on a 2-yard reception by Rayshawn Askew with seven seconds remaining in the first half.

Tri-City would get the final points of the first half as Tankersley made up for a pair of misses by knocking home a 35-yarder to trim the Diesel deficit to 34-24 at the break. The Diesel then opened the second half with the football, but nearly lost the chance at scoring as running back Sherman Jones lost the football but recovered his own fumble in the end zone with 10:22 to play in the 3rd. Following Tankersley's PAT, Lincoln's lead was again down to three, 34-31.

The teams traded touchdowns for the remainder of the third quarter, with Lincoln holding a 10-point lead to open the fourth. Tri-City cut the lead to seven on a Tankersley 22-yard field goal. That would be the closest the Diesel would get, as Lincoln tallied Derrick Smith's third TD reception of the night, a 30-yarder with 10:46 to play, recovered a Diesel fumble, and scored one play later when Tyler caught his second of the night, a 32-yarder from Luedtke. The Capitols lead with 9:03 to play was 20, and Tri-City would get no closer down the stretch until they scored on a 6-yard run by Andre Hatcher with 1:00 to play.

Luedtke threw a season-high seven touchdowns on a night that saw him go 19-of-27 for 269 yards and one interception. Smith had his best receiving night of the season, making six catches for 120 yards and three touchdowns. Askew added six grabs for 46 yards and ran for another 52 on 16 carries. Tyler made four catches for 70 yards and 2 scores, and Ryan Hinske finished with three catches for 33 yards and a touchdown.

The Capitol defense limited Tri-City to 174 yards of total offense, and forced four turnovers-Green picking off Coleman twice, and a pair of fumbles. Ben Jones and Travis Kopf led the Capitols with 10 tackles apiece. The pass-happy Outlaws wrapped up the regular season with a 72-30 win at LaCrosse, rolling to over 300 yards of offense. The runners-up to Bismarck in the Pacific West forced five Night Train turnovers and quarterback Albert Higgs misfired on only 6 passes in 26 attempts as the Outlaws ran their mark to 10-4. Billings never trailed, jumping out to a 17-0 lead and eclipsed the 70-point mark for the second time in their last three regular season games.

The Outlaws recovered from a season-opening defeat at Sioux Falls to run to a 5-1 mark. After falling to Bismarck on May 11th, the Outlaws went 5-3, including splitting their final four games of the regular season, all road contests. The Capitols, meanwhile, jetted to a 3-0 start before scuffling to a 4-3 mark following a loss at Sioux Falls May 11th. Lincoln then ran off a pair of three-game winning streaks sandwiched around a road loss to Tri-City.

Friday night's contest is a showdown between two of the top offenses in the NIFL. Lincoln's 53.6 points per game average trails only Ohio Valley, and the Outlaws rank fourth in the league, averaging 51.3 points a game...Billings leads the NIFL with an average of just over 264 yards of offense through 14 games...The Outlaws are the league's best passing offense, led by Albert Higgs. Billings is averaging over 222 yards of passing offense per game. Higgs has thrown for a league-best 2,968 yards, 65 touchdowns and 25 interceptions and is the NIFL's total offense leader...Friday's game is a showdown between quarterbacks who have been big keys to their team's success this season. Lincoln's Josh Luedtke is the fourth-rated passer in the league (104.8), Higgs seventh (102.3) among quarterbacks having thrown more than 100 passes this season...Lincoln running back Rayshawn Askew's season total of 846 yards ranks second in the league behind Ohio Valley's Birdie Dockery, who is the league's only one-thousand yard rusher this season...Despite having missed the past two-and-a-half games for the Capitols, wide receiver Damon Benning remains one of the NIFL leaders in receptions with 57, good for sixth. Billings' receiver Cory Grow ranks eighth with 55 catches in 10 games...Grow is fifth in the league with 802 receiving yards this season.

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