The War Between the Walls
03/12/03 Josh Stein
The buildup has lasted months. People preparing to cheer,...to hit,...to run,...to pass,...to catch,...to block,...to blitz,...to kick,...preparing to watch every bit of the action unfold throughout a 17 week regular season. Yes, football fans, it's time for the NIFL's third season of exciting indoor football, and with that comes the first edition of "The War Between the Walls."
As the NIFL Season progresses through its 17 weeks of action, we will be better able to see who the haves and the have nots are. But for right now, in week 1, we are treated to four divisional matchups that should bring some good football to quench the thirst that started just after the Ohio Valley Greyhounds won NIFFLE Bowl II 55-52 over the Billings Outlaws.
Friday, March 14
Sioux City Bandits @ LaCrosse Night Train
This is the first game of the NIFL season, and it comes with plenty of storyline. Sioux City got beat in their preseason game 39-22 to rival Sioux Falls. But, they have plenty of the talent back from a 9-5 campaign a year ago, including strong-armed QB Jarrod DeGeorgia. The defense is pretty much the same, with the addition of DL Brad Otis and DB Philip Wilson. They were the NIFL's #1 rushing defense a year ago, and it will probably not change too much. LaCrosse has the questions an expansion team would have, with just a select few players back from last year (DL Derric Coakley, QB Marrial Shields, and OL Garnet Asmundson). Shields lost a hard-fought QB derby with former Peoria Pirate QB Johnny Johnson (1999, IFL). They also add former NFL fullback Chris Floyd to be the feature running back. But the most intriguing part of this is the status of RB Doby Howard, LaCrosse's leading rusher from a year ago. He has asked for his release, so that he can join the Sioux City Bandits. Night Train head coach Mike Brown has said he will grant that release...a couple of days after this week's game with...the Sioux City Bandits. All soap operas aside, this is for all intents and purposes a 9-5 Bandits squad. LaCrosse needs game action to get together. While they might find everything quickly and beat the Bandits, I can't see it happening the first game of the season. The Bandits will win a well-fought game by about 10 points.
Saturday, March 15
Tupelo FireAnts @ Beaumont Drillers
If there was a match up known to man where everything was unknown, this would be it. Beaumont is the reincarnation of last year's Louisiana Rangers. They won a division title last year. They're in a tougher division, but they get to start off with last year's divisional rival, Tupelo. We know this. Beaumont has WR Troy Esprit and DL Ted Coleman, two local guys. Tupelo? They'll have a 25 man roster...probably. We know no players. Last year, they finished 4-10. They went 0-9 when they gave up more than 35 points. With a higher scoring league like the NIFL, a stat like that spells doom. But, they did have the NIFL's #1 passing defense last year. With that said, they had the NIFL's #21 rushing defense, last in the league. A quote from the Beaumont Enterprise: > I think that's enough convincing for me. Beaumont wins by at least a pair of touchdowns.
Sunday, March 16
Wyoming Cavalry @ Rapid City Red Dogs
70-16. 70-16. 70-16. Think they've heard about it? Think it bothers them? Maybe a little, but I don't think you'll be seeing it. Rapid City was without the heart of their receiving corps (Ryan Speed and Brian Mills). That's 1,100 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns last year that were missing. QB Terrance Bryant hasn't played since a playoff loss (and corresponding 13-2 record) in 2001. Rusty, maybe? With plenty of time to practice with two good receivers, the rust should be shaken off. Add a quality running back in Verna Owens from Bismarck last year, and you have a very good offense. Rocky and Bob will have a lot to cheer for when they take the field. Now, the defense. Yes, there are questions after giving up 70 points. But, Utah played their starters a long time against Rapid City's backups. 70 points will happen that way. The Red Dogs have improved many positions on the defense, and they will come around. With that said, they better do it quickly. Wyoming has the NIFL's #5 quarterback from a year ago in Matt Strand, who threw 31 touchdown passes. Just to add more pain to the gameplan, he ran for 10 more. RB Anthony Simmons and his #1 target, WR Norm Thomas are both back as well, as is the blocking group. But, offense wasn't Wyoming's problem. They were #20 in the 21 team NIFL in scoring defense, total defense and pass defense. They were #14 in run defense. They brought in a new defensive coordinator and many many new cogs. But as with all other players, it takes time to develop in the indoor game. Wyoming's defense will not be as porous as swiss cheese, but Rapid City should have their way at home in the first game of the year. Red Dogs by 10
NIFL GAME OF THE WEEK
Saturday, March 15
Bismarck Roughriders @ Billings Outlaws
Every week, there will be a longer section of The War Between the Walls dedicated to a matchup that goes above and beyond other games to bring excitement to the NIFL fans. For the NIFL's inaugural week, there was no other matchup that could possibly outdo this great rivalry. It's no secret. Billings and Bismarck, they don't like each other. These two teams met five times in 2002, with Bismarck winning three of them. They didn't win the one that matters. Billings won the NIFL's Pacific Conference Championship game 59-56 after Bismarck failed a last second touchdown pass (as opposed to a game-tying field goal). It's payback time in Billings this week, or is it? Many questions must be answered for both teams.
The Roughriders have a brand new quarterback in the game to replace 51 TD-4 INT Danny Ragsdale, who moved on to Utah. John Welsh's job is to keep the Roughrider scoring machine rolling. He has some of the normal culprits back for a third run. RB Quentin Cradle (Bismarck's leading rusher and receiver last year) is back, and WR/KR AJ Street (the NIFL's leading kick returner, and a guy who caught 23 TD passes) is back for more. For the Riders to have any semblance of success in Billings, Cradle must have a great day running the ball, and AJ Street can't drop any touchdowns. They're going to need every point they can get. Bismarck has a revamped defensive corps from a year ago. They have 10-sack man Nikia Parsons back, and that's about it. His role will be to anchor a brand new defense. With any new group of people to the indoor game, it takes time to untrack. Bismarck isn't going to have any time to untrack. Billings comes to the game with one of the best quarterbacks in the history of indoor football. Albert Higgs had stats reminiscent of top-flight AFL quarterbacks (a league based on the pass) with 3948 yards and 84 touchdown passes. 53 of those touchdowns return in the form of Robert Hampton, James Owens, Bryan Meier and Jaquwan Brackenridge. And, the Outlaws bring in YoHance Humphery from the University of Montana, who ran for over 1700 yards last year. To say the Outlaws have a good offense is an understatement. Where does the defense lie? It was the 17th best pass defense in the NIFL, not exactly a number of great accomplishment. It was 19th best in total defense in the NIFL, definetly not good. But it has a huge advantage over John Welsh's Roughriders offense. Experience. Keyon Kemp, Shon Flores, Jaquwan Brackenridge and Jermaine Washington return, and with them come 19 interceptions from a year ago. Luke Twibell and his 10 sacks are back. Fou Mamea, the best lineman pound-for-pound in the NIFL (225 pounds, and a royal pain to opposing offenses everywhere) returns. That's the key to this game. The experience factor weighs in heavily, especially at the field general position of quarterback. Albert Higgs has played in Boise for the Idaho Stallions. He has played in Utah for the 2001 Utah Rattlers. He's played in Billings. This is his fourth year of indoor football service. He is off his best year. Even with a revamped defense, one of the top three running backs in the NIFL and the top return men, Bismarck will not be able to keep up with the Outlaws. Billings by 17.
Nothing special in Week 1, you say? Good! There are plans for this article to take it above and beyond just game previews. And no, a fan poll is not one of them. Rocky Larson already has a well-established and very good article that includes the famous NIFL Fan Poll. Next week brings some more exciting matchups, including the Outlaws visiting old friend Cory Grow and his new Utah Warriors, and the champion Ohio Valley Greyhounds visiting old friend Birdie Dockery and his new Tennessee Riverhawks. But for now, there's four games. Four stories. Four outcomes. And there's only one way to see the whole show. Buy a ticket. Support your local indoor football team. It's a 17-week ride on the NIFL's train. The War Between the Walls. Don't miss a single snap.
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