By JED BARTON
For The Outpost
Heading into last Saturday night’s Indoor Football League divisional playoff game against the Billings Outlaws, Fairbanks Grizzlies head coach Sean Ponder was confident that after putting up 55 points in a four-point loss to Billings on May 23 his team had little to fear from the Outlaws defense.
“Now we just got to figure out how to stop their offense,” Ponder told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Billings coach Heron O’Neal responded by putting Ponder’s words up on the locker room bulletin board before Friday’s practice to “fire our guys up.”
The ploy worked as Billings crushed Fairbanks 50-7 to earn a spot in the Intense Conference Championship Game and take one more step toward a league championship.
“We played really well against Fairbanks,” O’Neal said. “I was really impressed by how our defense and running game stepped up.”
Fairbanks struck first, taking the opening drive 39 yards in five plays to take an early 7-0 lead.
After that, however, it was all Outlaws. On the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Chris Dixon hit receiver Eric McCain for a 32-yard touchdown strike to tie the game at seven.
On the ensuing Grizzlies’ possession, Billings defensive back Mu Shamsid-Deen forced the ball from the hands of Fairbanks running back Antwan Harris. Linebacker Kelly Rouse recovered the fumble and ran 27 yards into the end zone to make it 14-7 Outlaws after one quarter.
Billings added to its lead in the second quarter. Dixon ran in a one-yard touchdown, and Timothy Brown scored from 16 yards out to make it 28-7. An interception by defensive back Kafdafi Tunsil with 2.5 seconds left in the half set up a 27-yard field goal by Nate Parasigian to send the Outlaws into the locker room ahead 31-7.
The Billings defense struck again in the third quarter. Defensive lineman Mike Bazemore sacked Grizzlies quarterback Justin Rummell in his own end zone for a safety to put the Outlaws up 33-7.
Later in the quarter Dixon recorded his second one-yard rushing touchdown to make it 40-7.
The final quarter saw no letup by Billings. Brown scored his second rushing touchdown of the game, a one-yard effort, and a late fumble recovery by linebacker Beau Gates set up a second 27-yard Parasigian field goal to give the game its 50-7 final score.
Dixon completed five of 16 passes for a total of 69 yards and a touchdown. He was sacked twice. McCain had one catch for 32 yards and a touchdown, and James Watson caught two balls for 26 yards.
On the ground, Billings ran for 101 yards and four touchdowns. Brown, Dixon and Charles Anthony each had eight carries, Brown for 38 yards and two touchdowns, Dixon for 17 yards and two touchdowns and Anthony for 43 yards. McCain also contributed to the running attack with one carry for seven yards.
The Outlaws’ defense allowed Fairbanks one touchdown on 130 yards while scoring a touchdown, scoring a safety, forcing three turnovers and making five fourth-down stops. Bazemore recorded six tackles and two sacks and a safety. Rouse had five tackles and the fumble recovery for a touchdown.
Defensive back Michael Eby had four tackles. Tunsil had three tackles and an interception. Defensive lineman Christopher Turner had three tackles and three sacks, while Gates had two and a half tackles and a fumble recovery.
On special teams, Parasigian went two of three on field goal attempts. He hit two from 27 yards and missed one from 51 yards. He also went a perfect six for six on point-after attempts, improving his season mark to 55-56.
Billings will host the El Paso Generals in the Intense Conference Championship game 7 p.m. Saturday at MetraPark. At stake in the game for the Outlaws is chance to host either the Wichita Wild or River City Rage for the IFL championship on Aug. 15.
The Generals are led by the IFL’s leading passer in quarterback Tommy Jones. Jones has thrown for 72 touchdowns and just under 2400 yards so far this season.
“They like to throw the ball a lot and are very good at it,” said O’Neal. “But I am confident that our defense, particularly our secondary, will be up to the challenge.”