Rage use second-half blitz to slam Stars
"I didn't want Anthony to try to win the game on his own. With his first start, he needed to utilize the skills of the players around him, and that's what he did. We converted first downs, scored in the Red- Zone, put 62 points on the board in the second half, and after the middle of the third quarter, had worn down the Arkansas Stars. It was a team effort, a good way to pick up a win."
That was the game plan, according to Rage Head Football Coach Mike Wyatt. It worked to near perfection in the team's 76-46 victory over the Arkansas Stars (2-4) on Friday night at Savvis Center. And in the process, the Rage may have found a few new stars of it's own.
Starting slow, relying mostly on the running game, and leading by just 14-12 at the half, the Rage loaded up on the Star's defense in the third quarter, then used the forth to showcase some newfound talent that Wyatt says "will round out this football team and put us in a position to finish strong in the second half of the season. That's why we always evaluate talent. You never know who will step up and take charge in the league."
For the Rage, let's start with wide receiver Danny Donaldson. Not even on the official 22 man game-day roster until two weeks ago, Donaldson on Friday rushed two times for 21 yards and a touchdown, caught two passes for 18 yards and another score, and shot a spark in the kick return game, taking 6 kick-off 158 yards on the night, one a return of 45 yards and he had one TD return called back by a holding penalty.
Fast forward to defensive lineman Mike Matranga, like Donaldson, inactive until the Cincinnati game last weekend, Matranga tipped 4 passes at the line, intercepted one, and forced a fumble as the Rage forced 5 Arkansas turnovers on the night, thwarting an offense Wyatt says, "showed talent and will improve in time, they just came up short against an experienced defense."
But it was Fisher getting the jump on the Arkansas defense keyed for the run, when at 10:31 of the first period, he found Moses Regular wide open in the end zone for a quick TD toss and the first 6 points of the game. The Rage led 14-12 at the half, then opened up in the third quarter with two Sha-Ron Edwards touchdown runs (3 and 4 yards), a 7 yard TD strike from Fisher to Donaldson and a Joe Bevis 2 yard slam into the end zone as time expired in the third. Arkansas got a boost from two TD runs by former Razorback star Chrys Chukwuma, both coming in the third quarter.
A 5 yard run by Edwards for his third score of the game early in the fourth, was countered by an Arkansas touchdown pass of 24 yards from quarterback Forrest Mazey to wide receiver Taron Mahone with 9:45to play in the game. The Rage led at that point 52-32, and the two teams traded touchdowns the rest of the way. One surprise for the Rage in the fourth quarter proved to be Kasey Young, who used his 271 pounds to grind out 25 yards on 4 carries and slam into the end zone from 3 yards out to bring both the crowd and the Rage bench to their feet.
Equally impressive was the play of reserve quarterback Justin Peery, back with Wyatt after retirement following an All-Star career in the NIFL. Peery, returning to provide a back-up for Fisher in the wake of the injury to starter Clay Groefsema, fired TD strikes to Moses Regular (14 yards) and Corey Bethany (3 yards) late in the game and gave Rage fans another reason to be optimistic about this team's chance for an NIFL crown in 2006.
Wyatt says it all adds up to more than meets the eye of the average fan. "With Danny Donaldson, we get a wide receiver, a kicker, and a return man in one player. Because he can do that, it provides us with a roster that can dress 9 offensive or defensive linemen if we choose, which we did for this game. It proved to be a huge assist, because we could keep putting in fresh players at those positions, and our pass protection and pass rush was 'up' all night. In Kasey Young, we get a linebacker, plus a guy who can play the Nose-Tackle position, and in this game, he proved he could run.' With a smile, Wyatt added, "maybe like a runaway freight train, or mad bull, but he got the job done and that's what counts."
Sha-Ron Edwards led the way on offense, rushing 17 times for 114 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also caught at pass for a third score.
In his first start of the season, Anthony Fisher was 8 of 15 for 79 yards, throwing 3 touchdown passes. But more importantly, says Wyatt, if the fact that "he kept the chains moving downfield. We converted our first down opportunities and were a perfect ten for ten in the Red-Zone. THAT'S what we wanted from Anthony Fisher."
The Rage, defensively were led by linebacker Terrell Washington, who recorded 6 solo tackles, 3 assists and 1 interception. His University of Illinois counterpart at linebacker, Joe Bevis, had 6 solo tackles and 1 assist. Defensive back Jabari Smith went high for two interceptions, and defensive lineman Marquis Hayes forced a fumble.
QUOTES FROM RAGE HEAD FOOTBALL COACH MIKE WAYTT
On the Arkansas Stars as a team
"They displayed some talent, and at times looked good on offense, and they will be a good team. But expansion is tough sometimes, harder on some teams that jump in than it is on others .I know coach Foreman and coach House will be working all season to improve the team, improve the timing, and as players get more comfortable with the indoor game and the system, they will improve. To have a indoor football team in a city like Fayetteville with the rich tradition of the Arkansas Razorbacks is a big plus for them and for the NIFL Everyone in the Rage organization is rooting for them to succeed."
On what impressed him in the victory Friday night
Well, we had a rookie wide receiver making his first start (Donaldson) and a veteran quarterback getting his first starting action. We had three prominent players out with injury, yet we put 76 points on the scoreboard, got great effort from role players, new starters and special teams got the win. Beaumont will come in tough and we've got to be ready, but this game was a good indication of the type of football the Rage can and wants to play week after week. I was proud of our effort."
The RiverCity Rage is part of the 24 team National Indoor Football League, now in the seventh season of play in 2006. Tickets for all Rage home games can be purchased on-line at www.ticketmaster.com or at Savvis Center box office. For all information on the RiverCity Rage of the NIFL, visit the team website at www.Ragefootball.com.
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