Thunderhawks Stay Unbeaten With Second Half Surge
Grand Rapids, Michigan - At halftime of Sunday's Indoor Football League tilt with division rival Rochester, West Michigan's high-flying offense had still not been cleared for takeoff. The visiting Raiders had a 24-13 lead and looked determined to avenge last week's 59-55 loss to the ThunderHawks.
Over the next thirty minutes the hosts not only got off the ground, but launched a rapid-fire offensive assault that produced 44 points. The shock-and-awe campaign torched the Raiders defense and the DeltaPlex Arena scoreboard as West Michigan (3-0) shrugged off the sluggish start to earn the 57-51 victory.
'Hawks quarterback Brad Iciek (Grand Valley State), last week's IFL Offensive Player of the Week, exploded for five touchdown tosses after the intermission as receivers Bryan Pray (Pittsburgh State) and Emmanuel Spann (Marshall) repeatedly got behind enemy lines. On the night, the dynamic duo each scored three times and combined for 240 yards receiving on 12 receptions.
It was Rochester (1-2) who looked like the fresher team as the contest began grabbing a quick 10-0 lead after quarterback Perry Patterson's (Syracuse) one-yard plunge and Adam Lanctot's (SUNY Brockport) 29-yard field goal 11:02 into the opening quarter. Patterson's run came shortly after a 35-yard kick return to start the game by Chris Carter (Elizabeth City College) and Lanctot's kick was set up by a Chris Johnson (Erie CC) interception of Iciek as the Raiders needed only 25 yards of offense to build the early cushion.
Iciek then bounced back with a 30-yard strike to Pray on third-and-10 to cut the lead to 10-7 with less than a minute remaining in the first quarter. The 42-yard drive would be the first of many long distance marches for West Michigan.
On the second play of the second quarter, 'Hawks cornerback Amp Boone (Arkansas-Pine Bluff) intercepted Patterson and returned it to the Raiders' 8-yard line. The momentum quickly swung back to the visitors though as running back Robert Height III (Northwood) was stripped of the ball by Mark Wilson (Clark Atlanta) and Brenton Brady (Alfred State) recovered the ball on the 3.
The Raiders, making their second trek from New York to Michigan in as many weekends, kept the pressure on in the second frame as Patterson hit Jamil Porter (Temple) from 10 yards out and Kevin Concepcion (Buffalo) on a 25-yard toss from the midfield stripe. Sandwiched between the two scores was a career-best 50-yard field goal from West Michigan kicker David Hendrix (Grand Valley State) leaving the guests with a 24-10 advantage.
Hendrix split the uprights again from 25 yards out to narrow the deficit to 24-13 late in the half. He got yet another chance after the 'Hawks defense held, but missed a 30-yard try to the left as the teams headed to their respective locker rooms.
The next fifteen minutes saw an incredible 21-point swing as West Michigan awoke from their mid-afternoon nap. First was a 35-yard bomb from Iciek to Pray on the initial play from scrimmage after the break. On the ensuing drive, Patterson added more fuel to the comeback fire when his quick slant pass was intercepted by defensive back Jason Jones (Arkansas-Pine Bluff).
Two plays later Iciek hit a streaking Spann with a 10-yard bullet pass and the hosts were suddenly in front 27-24 after just 2:32 had elapsed off the third quarter clock.
The Raiders tailspin continued as they lost two yards on their next possession. With the game unraveling, Rochester then turned to its all-star kicker Lanctot, who quieted the 'Hawks faithful with a much-needed 42-yard field goal that momentarily stopped the bleeding and knotted the score at 27-27 at the 9:29 mark.
Iciek was just getting warmed up, however, as he led West Michigan on a 5-play, 45-yard drive that culminated in a 37-yard pitch-and-catch with Pray.
A holding penalty on the Riaders next series stalled a promising drive and Rochester settled for a 41-yard field goal from Lanctot to pull within 34-30. For the game, the Raiders drew 7 penalties for 65 yards while West Michigan was ticketed for 6 infractions totaling 47 yards.
Iciek needed only one play to give his team a little breathing room as he again found Spann behind the defense for a 25-yard touchdown pass with 35 seconds left in the third stanza. A missed point-after-try was about the only thing that went wrong for the ThunderHawks in the period as they outscored Rochester 27-6 and outgained them 127-12 in total offense.
Leading 40-30 entering the fourth quarter, the hosts threatened to really sieze control of the game when linebacker Doug Emery (Ferris State) sacked Patterson and Lanctot missed a 28-yard field goal attempt. Rochester's battered defense then got a big lift as Brady jarred the ball loose from Iciek on a sack and Jason Coley (Buffalo) recovered it in the 'Hawks end zone for a touchdown and it was a three point game.
West Michigan managed to up the lead to 43-37 on Hendrix's third and final field goal of the game with 8:42 left in regulation. His 31-yard boot capped a 6-play drive that took nearly four minutes off the clock, but the Raiders still had visions of reversing the previous week's setback.
Those hopes were short-lived, however, as Terrel Smith (Arkansas-Pine Bluff) threw Patterson for a 7-yard loss back to the Raiders' 3-yard line meaning Lanctot would be kicking from deep in his own end zone on 4th-and-17. The line drive kick was blocked at the line of scrimmage as Rondell Biggs (Michigan) and Emery crashed through the middle of the line. The bouncing ball was scooped up by West Michigan's James Skodak (Ferris State) who raced 10 yards for the touchdown and a 50-37 lead with just under five minutes remaining.
But the resilient Raiders were not about to go quietly into the night and onto their bus. Patterson hit Concepcion for a 6-yard score to pull back within 50-44 at the 2:23 mark. After Iciek quickly found Spann one final time in the back of the end zone on a 33-yard heave, Rochester had yet another reply as Patterson and Carter beat West Michigan's prevent defense for a 35-yard scoring toss.
Trailing 57-51, the Raiders failed to recover the ensuing onside kickoff and the ThunderHawks were able to run out the final 16 seconds for the victory.
Iciek finished 18-of-29 for 269 yards and six scores with one interception. In two starts the former Grandville prep star has thrown for 595 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Spann, originally from Atlanta, hauled in 7 catches for 113 yards while Pray, an Alexandria, Louisiana native, gained 127 yards on 5 receptions.
Height, who entered the weekend ranked second in the IFL in all-purpose yards, tacked on another 143 total yards on 14 touches, but failed to score after reaching the end zone 7 times in the first two games this season.
Defensively, the 'Hawks got 8 tackles from Emery and 6 (1 sack) from Greg Marshall (Western Michigan) who constantly harassed Patterson with his edge rushing from the defensive line. The interceptions from Jones and Boone give West Michigan 9 thefts in just three games.
The ThunderHawks outgained Rochester 282-197 in total yards. Rushing yards were hard to come by for either team as the Raiders had a slight edge, 20-13. The visitors actually did more damage on special teams as they accumulated a 222-144 advantage in kick return yards.
Patterson hit on 16-of-33 passes for 194 yards with 4 scores and 2 picks. Concepcion tallied 5 catches for 72 yards and a pair of scores while Carter also added 5 catches, good for 67 yards. Porter chipped in with 44 yards on 4 grabs.
The Raiders got seven tackles apiece from Coley and Makis Whitaker (Alfred State) and five stops each from Chris Johnson and PJ Piskorek (Buffalo).
After opening the season with three straight road games, the Raiders will host Atlantic East Division leader Richmond (3-0) on Saturday, April 3rd.
The ThunderHawks, off to their best start in franchise history, will have a bye week before traveling to Richmond on Saturday, April 10th.
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