Austin clinches first playoff berth in franchise history with 57-38 victory over Grand Rapids
How sweet it is for the Austin Wranglers.
Austin clinched its first playoff berth in franchise history, jumping out to an 18-point halftime lead and never trailing in a 57-38 victory over Grand Rapids in front of 10,178 fans at the Frank Erwin Center on Sunday.
Frustration and stress from a late-season losing streak were swept away by the euphoria of the blowout victory and upcoming playoff run.
"We are excited about this opportunity to get into the playoffs," Austin Head Coach Skip Foster said. "Our guys were really locked in on this game. It was a must win."
The Wranglers (9-6) rushed for 51 yards and five touchdowns against the Rampage (5-10), and Austin dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Austin's offense scored on every possession.
A strong Wrangler pass rush and tight coverage in the secondary limited Rampage quarterback Chad Salisbury to only nine completions on 20 attempts in the first half and a 29-of-41 performance in the game. Austin seized complete control in the first 30 minutes with its best defensive performance of the season, surrendering only six points.
The Wranglers shut out the Rampage offense in the first quarter, and Austin fullback/linebacker Torrance Marshall blocked a field goal attempt. The Wranglers made four possession stops on the afternoon behind several timely breakups by the Austin secondary.
Defensive specialist Damon Mason was named ADT Defensive Player of the Game after making 10 solo tackles and two pass breakups.
Grand Rapids drew within four points early in the third quarter, but the Wranglers responded with a 45-yard touchdown catch by Kevin Nickerson to ignite the party at Ambush Arena.
Dane Krager led the Wrangler rushing attack, gaining 25 yards and a touchdown on five carries. Krager added 1.5 tackles and a quarterback hit, and received Ironman of the Game honors.
Austin Head Coach Skip Foster brought in backup quarterback Chance Mock as a running threat on the goalline, and Mock didn't disappoint, scoring two touchdowns on the ground. Darrin Chiaverini and Henry Bryant also barreled in for first-half scores.
"We talked about doing this two weeks ago with Chance," Foster said. "It really worked out for us today. We didn't miss a beat by putting him in."
Offensive specialist Derrick Lewis continued his strong rookie season with seven catches for 105 yards and a touchdown for the Wranglers. Lewis, who earned Offensive Player of the Game honors Sunday, needs nine more yards in Austin's season finale Friday at Orlando to break the Arena Football League single-season rookie receiving yardage record.
The Wranglers travel to "The Jungle" next week to play the Orlando Predators, who clinched the Southern Division on Saturday by beating the Kansas City Brigade. With a win next Friday over Orlando, Austin guarantees a home playoff game during the first round.
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