The War Between the Walls #2
03/20/03 Josh Stein
Many perceptions about teams can be had after they’ve played one game of football. Some teams have been given a “championship contender” tag (Billings, Rapid City). Some have been given a “maybe next year” tag (Bismarck, Tupelo). Some, we just don’t know about (LaCrosse, Sioux City, Beaumont, Wyoming). However, that’s probably not a very good assessment of the talent level in the NIFL. Each team has 14 games to play throughout the season. No one has played more than one. It’s too early to tell.
For the NIFL’s second week of games, there are 18 teams playing in 9 games. Four of those teams (Beaumont, Billings, Tupelo and Rapid City) have already played a game. Fourteen of them have not. With the high turnover rate of players and the differences of the indoor game, those four teams have a distinctive advantage over the others. But, will it be enough?
Lincoln Capitols @ Show Me Believers
Both teams have retooled their rosters dramatically, and for different reasons. The Believers because their former River City Renegades have gone 3-24 in two seasons. The Capitols because they have lost five divisional all stars from a year ago (Josh Luedtke, Damon Benning, Rayshawn Askew, Chace Long and Darrell Jack) for various reasons. The Believers reportedly had over 400 players try out to play for former University of Missouri head coach Warren Powers this season. The Capitols got some substance in former Tri-City Diesel QB Justin Coleman (32 TDs last year). Also, the Caps bring back some of the talent from last year’s division championship team. Even though the Believers will have up in the range of 7,000 fans for their first game, the Capitols have some winning experience coming back. That’s why I pick the Caps to win by about 14.
Tri-City Diesel @ Oklahoma Crude
The Diesel bring in a number of experienced players, including new QB Brian Villanueva (from the Louisiana Rangers last year). They are a traditionally strong defensive team, and they did beat Omaha, Lincoln and Sioux City in 2002. However, they are historically a very weak road team. After going 1-13 last year, the Crude promised upgrades, and have at least delivered with DB Monte Spiller (Tennessee, 2002). They have a fight for the quarterback position, and a few veterans returning from last year, but there are too many unknowns there for me to bet against the experienced Diesel. Tri City by 10.
Austin Rockers @ Beaumont Drillers
Austin v4.0 comes into this game as a favorite. Problem is, we don’t know much about the team. We do know the Knights (Austin v3.0) went 9-5 and missed a playoff spot by a game. We know that team had a good pass-and-catch combination in QB Joshua Barnes and WR Lee McCormick. Beaumont had a good defensive game, smacking Tupelo around 33-10. QB Derrick Taite had all day to throw on a defense that apparently has not improved too much. The key to this game is if Austin can get to Taite. If so, can he respond? One of the other advantages is that this team has had the tutelage of head coach Steven Reap for a full week of practice. The in-game experience will give Beaumont a close win.
Billings Outlaws @ Utah Warriors
This game is probably considered the game of the week by most Pacific Conference supporters, mainly because of all the storylines. Utah WR Cory Grow was in Billings last year. Rival QB Danny Ragsdale (from Bismarck) is in Utah this year. Utah whooped Rapid City 70-16 in a preseason game at home. Billings whacked Bismarck 61-18 in Billings in Week 1. This is the same Outlaws team that played a long string of road games to end the season, winning all but the last one (which they lost by 3 in the championship to Ohio Valley). Then, they went out and completely rebuilt their defense and just for good measure, added quality RB Yo’Hance Humphery from the University of Montana (who caught 3 touchdowns last week…Cory who?!). Utah lost two of their starting defensive backs to injury in the preseason game. You don’t want to lose defensive backs when your opponent is Albert Higgs and the Outlaws’ aerial assault. The Higgs touchdown watch starts this week…he has 6. How many will he add to that number as the Outlaws cruise in Utah by 14?
Evansville Bluecats @ Fort Wayne Freedom
Who? What? What’s this? Yeah, these are teams. They have rosters! But who? The Freedom have a full complement of players, being led by indoor football veteran WR Jeremy Dutcher and rookie QB Antoine Taylor. We know little about what the remaining players can do in indoor ball. The Bluecats are led onto the field by veteran head coach Avery Atadero, who took over in Tennessee midway through the 2002 season and led them to a first-round playoff upset in Lake Charles (Atadero led the only team to post losses on Lake Charles or Ohio Valley in 2002). Evansville has former Indiana University RB Levron Williams. They are rumored to have former ThunderCats QB Akili Roberson and one of the league’s better RBs in Michael Cosey. This experience should lead the Bluecats to victory in front of what looks to be a very rowdy Freedom crowd. Don’t be surprised if the home team feeds off the crowd support and smacks Evansville. I’m not expecting that, so Bluecats by 7.
Myrtle Beach Stingrays @ Houma BayouBucks
Okay, so maybe the who/what would have been better applied here. I thought Myrtle Beach had QB Oscar Davenport, but he hasn’t reported to anything. They claim to have players with AF2 experience, which may or may not help in the indoor game (it will help the WRs and QBs, but not too much elsewere). Houma has played a preseason game in potentially the worst place to be a visitor (Omaha) and only lost by 16 points (29-13). They are a better team now, with the addition of kick return extraordinaire Tyrone Hughes (5 years NFL experience), and they have one of the more unheralded receivers in the NIFL in Kenny Causey. If Hughes gets used to the indoor game quickly and Causey keeps his pace (he caught both Houma touchdowns in the exhibition game), the Bucks will steamroll Myrtle Beach. To stay in the NFL for five years as an exclusive kick return man, Hughes knows the game. He’ll be fine. Causey can catch balls from almost anything close to him. I can’t see Myrtle Beach coming within 28 in this one.
Tupelo FireAnts @ Lake Charles Landsharks
Okay, what’s with teams and not having rosters? We know this. Lake Charles acquired RB/KR Jacobe Austin from Beaumont in a trade for Derrick Taite. Austin is the best player in the NIFL that you’ve never heard of. He was the offense in the Rangers playoff loss to Ohio Valley, scoring two kick return touchdowns in the second half. Tupelo comes in after getting whipped 33-10 in Beaumont, and it doesn’t look better. But, the Fire Ants do have in-game experience, and that is something that cannot be taught in practice. It is a distinct advantage. But, the Landsharks are 24-4 in the regular season in their history, including a season opening win in 2001 at Ohio Valley. They won’t have any problems being ready for the season, and will give Tupelo another beat-down by at least 21.
Sioux Falls Storm @ Rapid City Red Dogs
Another good game here, as the Civil War of South Dakota kicks off Sioux Falls’ season. The Storm start strong every year, and everyone’s expecting the same. But Rapid City has a game under their belts. A game in which they scored 81 points. If Terrance Bryant gave doubts in the preseason game, they’re all gone now. The Red Dogs can score points. Sioux Falls’ goal is to have a strong defensive performance (something they’re very good at) and giving an opportunity for a new young quarterback to learn the indoor game. Luckily, the Storm signed veteran indoor RB Justin Bivins to take some of the pressure off. And, the Storm signed former QB Kurtiss Riggs to be their head coach, giving them even more experience to help the young guys out. But, it won’t be enough, not with the Red Dogs offense. Rapid City by 10.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Ohio Valley Greyhounds @ Tennessee Riverhawks
Not to sound like a homer (I am a Greyhounds fan), but this is the game I see as game of the week. Why? Atlantic Conference Championship Rematch, for all intents and purposes. Sure, the Riverhawks are technically a new team, but I don’t buy into that. They bring back RB Brandon Walker. They bring back DL James Beavers and a lot of their experienced defense that went 11-5 last year and lost in Wheeling. And, they add a new dimension just for fun. 1,603 rushing yards. From one person. RB Baron “Birdie” Dockery is a Riverhawk, fresh from Ohio Valley and a championship last year. Think he won’t be ready to impress the new team? However, he’s missing three very important elements from his game. Jason Whitfield, Mike Blackburn, and Jason Hupp…the best offensive line in the NIFL. They’re in Wheeling again, and they have two new RBs to block for in Jason Corle and Rahshon Spikes. These guys are eager to take the pressure off of incumbent backup QB Shane Franzer, who replaces Jose Davis (but for how long). Franzer is a strong-armed quarterback that can run himself, so the Riverhawks will have to be able to get through the Big Uglies (Whitfield, Blackburn, Hupp) to stop someone. That’s not something you want to bet on very often. Just to add to the fun, the Greyhounds have retooled their receiving corps, bringing in WR Willie Austin amongst others to catch passes. But, there’s no doubting this team lives and dies by the running game. The defense is strong again, with the signings of a few promising rookies and the full-season return of LB Chris Schneider. All of this adds up to a long day for the Riverhawks players and fans, as the defending champions will beat them by 10.
Just as last week, there are many different games that will have many different outcomes. Some of these teams have games under their belts, some of them have exhibition action. It should add up to a good week of high scoring NIFL action in Week 2. Week 3 brings more fun, as Utah goes right back to Billings, expansion Lexington starts their journey at home against Lake Charles, and Bismarck tries to get a win in Casper against the Wyoming Cavalry. All of this adds to the NIFL’s lore as the War Between the Walls. Don’t miss a single snap.
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