West Michigan Hit by Unexpected Blizzard
Grand Rapids, Michigan - Football is a game of inches. And seconds. Late in Saturday's Indoor Football League contest, the West Michigan ThunderHawks were just inches from the Green Bay Blizzard goal line, looking to break a 62-62 tie. The fourth-and-goal play, with just over a minute remaining in the game, turned disastrous for the hosts as quarterback Brad Iciek's (Grand Valley State) fumble was scooped up by the Blizzard's Tommy Phelps (Memphis) who promptly raced the length of the field for the go-ahead score.
Two plays later, Iciek zipped a 26-yard scoring toss to Bryan Pray (Pittsburgh State) to knot the score at 69-69 with 47 seconds left. Each of those 47 ticks seemed to take minutes to elapse, as the 2,100 in attendance at DeltaPlex Arena could not bear to watch as the Blizzard moved into position for a game-winning field goal attempt.
Green Bay, well within range for kicker Tino Amancio (Idaho), but out of timeouts, took a huge risk in throwing a short pass over the middle with 10 seconds remaining. Although the play was stopped shy of a first down, the clock stopped momentarily as the guests scrambled to the line of scrimmage to stop the clock. The delay allowed Blizzard quarterback Jake Phillips (William & Mary) to spike the ball with four seconds left. Amancio then converted a 30-yard field goal for a 72-69 lead with just one second left.
Robert Height III (Northwood) took the ensuing kickoff from his own 2-yard line and weaved his way all the way to the Green Bay 10 before he was hemmed in along the wall. Height then tried a desperation lateral that bounced on the turf and was eventually recovered by Green Bay's Kendale Rayford (Louisiana College) to end the exciting contest.
It looked as if the visitors would never be in position to win the game when they trailed 55-33 with less than eleven minutes left in the fourth quarter. But Phillips ran for one score and threw for three others down the stretch to help pull off the incredible comeback. Phillips ended the night 21-of-33 for 238 yards and six touchdowns with one interception and added 38 rushing yards on 10 rushes.
Both teams scored on their opening drives of the game as Iciek hit Nathan Fricke (Ferris State) with a 43-yard bomb and Phillips connected with Scott Burnoski (UW-La Crosse) from 22-yards out to tie the game 7-7 less than five minutes after the opening kickoff.
The two United Conference foes then traded a trio of three-pointers. An interception by Green Bay's Darius Jones (Wisconsin) set up an Amancio 29-yard field goal, which was quickly answered by West Michigan's David Hendrix (Grand Valley State), who booted a 25-yarder through the uprights. Amancio closed out the first quarter scoring with a 22-yard make that gave the Blizzard a 13-10 lead.
West Michigan (3-2) went back to the air as Iciek, leading the IFL in passing yards per game, found Emmanuel Spann (Marshall) behind the defense for a 39-yard score on the first play of the second quarter as the hosts went back in front, 17-13.
Green Bay (6-1) drove deep into enemy territory again on their next drive, but again stalled as Amancio was summoned for another try. This time, however, ThunderHawks defensive lineman Anthony Adams (Grand Valley State) blocked the kick, sparking a West Michigan scoring spree.
It didn't take long for Iciek to capitalize on the momentum swing as he hit Pray for a 31-yard scoring strike two plays later, increasing the advantage to 24-13. The fireworks continued as James Skodak (Ferris State) picked off a Phillips pass and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown less than a minute later and the lead had ballooned to 31-13 at the 7:37 mark.
Phillips then led the Blizzard on a 4-play, 28-yard drive that ended in an 11-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Robinson (UTEP). That score was answered by another Iciek-to-Pray (17 yards) pass play 2:31 before halftime.
Green Bay, still showing plenty of fight, marched methodically down the field as intermission approached. Daniel Robinson again worked himself open as Phillips fired him the ball for a 21-yard touchdown, pulling the Blizzard to within 38-27. The only problem was the visitors left way too much time on the clock (36 seconds) for the potent ThunderHawks attack.
After a short completion to Pray and a spike to stop the clock, Iciek went vertical with a 34-yard heave that Spann caught against the end zone wall as West Michigan headed to the locker room with an impressive 45-27 lead. The hosts had a 233-127 advantage in total offense despite 6 fewer snaps in the opening 30 minutes of play.
The home team was not content with the lead and head coach Terry Foster called for an onside kick to begin the second half. The ThunderHawks recovered, but a botched snap killed the drive as the Blizzard dodged a bullet.
Green Bay came back with a smash-mouth drive that would have made Vince Lombardi proud. Phillips and running back Randy Bell (Carson Newman) alternated rushing attempts with Bell finishing off the possession with a 2-yard burst. The 6-play, run-only drive covered 29 yards and took 4:50 off the clock as the Blizzard pulled within 45-33 after a missed P.A.T.
West Michigan needed only two snaps to respond as Iciek made an option pitch out to Spann who crossed the goal line from 2-yards out. The quick-strike offense, raising the lead to 52-33, pleased the home crowd, but meant the ThunderHawks defense was spending more and more time on the field and getting less and less rest between drives.
The next Green Bay possession put more pressure on their defensive opponents. They held the ball for another four minutes, but the drive ended when Phillips, trying to stretch for a first down, was stripped of the ball by West Michigan's Amp Boone (Arkansas-Pine Bluff). That turnover led to a Hendrix 26-yard field goal as the ThunderHawks had their biggest lead of the night, 55-33, through three quarters of play.
The Blizzard was about to hit town. Green Bay unleashed a 39-point barrage over the final 15 minutes that left the ThunderHawks, and their supporters, looking skyward for answers.
Phillips started the rally with a 1-yard keeper, cutting the deficit to 55-41 after Rayford, holding for Amancio, took a low, hard-to-handle snap and scampered in for a two-point conversion. The Blizzard then recovered their own onside kickoff, and eventually got another Phillips-to-Robinson hook up (15 yards), and suddenly it was a one-possession game at 55-48 with 8:30 remaining.
Iciek tried to rally the troops, but his off-balance throw under pressure was intercepted by linebacker Maurice Simpkins (Coastal Carolina). Simpkins, the leading tackler in the IFL, single-handedly made big plays all night. Literally. He played the game with a large, club-like cast on his left hand and finished with a team-high nine stops.
Phillips found Robinson yet again for a game-tying touchdown pass covering 22 yards with 6:09 left in regulation.
West Michigan then went to their do-it-all threat Height, who entered the night ranked second in the league in all-purpose yardage. Iciek's 22-yard toss to Height temporarily put the ThunderHawks back in front, 62-55. Just over a minute later, Phillips hit Patrick Rouzard (Northern Michigan) for a 6-yard score and it was tied for the fourth time at 62-62, setting up the big defensive play from Phelps and the nail-biting finish.
The two teams combined for 660 yards of offense with West Michigan totaling 337 (only 3 rushing), and Green Bay gaining 323 (85 rushing). The Blizzard's take-what-they-give-us' offense ran 15 more plays (55-40) from scrimmage.
Iciek finished with seven touchdown passes, giving him 21 in four starts. He hit 16-of-26 for 338 yards and had two interceptions. Pray led all receivers with six grabs for 104 yards and three scores. Spann (4-104-2), Fricke (3-94-1) and Height (3-36-1) also contributed to the big offensive output.
ThunderHawks linebacker Doug Emery (Ferris State) added to his team-leading tackle total with a whopping 20 involvements on the evening, including 1.5 for loss and a pass break up. Boone made 10 stops while Skodak and Corey Edwards (Grand Valley State) each chipped in 5 tackles apiece. Hendrix posted 15 points (55 on the season), hitting all 9 point-after kicks and two field goals.
Green Bay's offense was buoyed by Robinson's big receiving night (5-92-4) along with Rouzard (5-45-1) and Burnoski (3-34-1). Bell added 112 all-purpose yards with 50 receiving (5 catches), 47 rushing (12 attempts) and 15 on one kick return. B.J. Hill (Ball State) gave the Blizzard good field position all night with 167 return yards on 9 runbacks.
Along with Simpkins, David Jones (Kentucky) and Roger Brown (Delaware) paced the defense with 6 tackles each. Amancio's memorable night was good for 16 points as he connected on 7-of-8 P.A.T.'s and 3-of-5 field goals.
Green Bay, winners of five straight, now head home after three straight road games. They will host Omaha (2-3) at the Resch Center on Saturday, April 24th. After suffering their first home loss of the season, West Michigan will travel to La Crosse (0-6) to take on the Spartans on Friday, April 23rd.
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Indoor Football League Stories from April 18, 2010
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- West Michigan Hit by Unexpected Blizzard - West Michigan Thunderhawks
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