By JED BARTON
For The Outpost
The Billings Outlaws are set to begin their quest to bring a second indoor football title to the Magic City.
The Outlaws face the Fairbanks Grizzlies in the Indoor Football League divisional round playoff game at 7 p.m. Saturday at MetraPark.
Billings’ first title came in 2006 when the Outlaws defeated the Fayetteville (N.C.) Guard in the championship of the National Indoor Football League.
The Outlaws enter the playoffs with a league best record of 12-2, which earned them a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Fairbanks comes into the game with an 8-7 record after defeating the Colorado Ice 42-14 in a first-round playoff game on July 19.
Billings is ranked at or near the top of the IFL in most major offensive categories, having gained 3,944 yards of total offense and scored 833 points on the year. Headlining the Outlaws’ potent attack are two first- team all-IFL offensive selections: quarterback Chris Dixon and wide receiver James Walton.
Dixon, selected as the IFL’s offensive player of the year and overall Most Valuable Player, completed 209 of 271 passes for 2,509 yards, throwing for 69 touchdowns and just seven interceptions to post a QB rating of 127.1.
The veteran signal caller also proved a threat on his feet, finishing second on the team in rushing yards with 452 and first in rushing touchdowns with 12.
Walton, in his first year with Billings after coming over from the Bloomington (Ill.) Extreme, has quickly become Dixon’s favorite target. He caught 67 passes for 911 yards and a league-leading 34 touchdowns
The Outlaws defense has also done its job this year, allowing just 460 points on 210 yards per game while forcing an IFL best 46 turnovers. Anchoring the defense are a trio of Mikes: linemen Michael Landry and Mike Bazemore and defensive back/linebacker Michael Eby.
Landry, the IFL’s defensive player of the year and a first-team all-league selection, had 48 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, two fumble recoveries and a safety despite missing three games due to injury.
Eby’s 10 interceptions and 73 tackles were good enough to garner him the former Eastern Oregon standout defensive rookie of the year honors.
Bazemore earned second-team all-IFL honors appearing in all 14 games racking up 51 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, four fumble recoveries, two interceptions and three blocked kicks.
Also of note for the Outlaws is kicker Nick Parasigian, who since joining the team on May 23, has been a near perfect 49 of 50 on point-after attempts.
Saturday’s game will be the fourth of the season between Billings and Fairbanks. Billings has won all three previous meetings.
On April 11 at Rimrock Auto Arena, Dixon threw for seven touchdowns and the Outlaws defense held the grizzlies to 80 total yards and six first downs while forcing four turnovers in a 72-3 rout.
On May 2 at Fairbanks’ Carlson Center, Dixon again threw for seven touchdowns while Charles Anthony and Timothy Brown each had a rushing touchdown in Billings’ 72-35 win.
The Grizzlies again played host on May 23. The game was even throughout as the Outlaws needed three fourth-quarter touchdowns and a late onside kick recovery to hold on for a 59-55 victory.
If the Outlaws win Saturday, they will host the Intense Conference Championship game on Aug. 1 against either the San Angelo Stampede or El Paso Generals. The Generals and Stampede meet Saturday night in El Paso.