By JED BARTON
For The Outpost
The Indoor Football League championship will be on the line Saturday afternoon as the Billings Outlaws host the River City Rage in the first ever IFL United Bowl at Rimrock Auto Arena. Kickoff is set for 2:15 p.m.
A win over the Rage would give Billings its second league championship. In 2006, the Outlaws defeated the Fayetteville (N.C.) Guard in the championship of the National Indoor Football League.
Among the last teams into the playoffs with an 8-6 regular season record, River City needed three wins, including two on the road, to reach the United Bowl. The Rage opened the playoffs with a 45-42 victory at Rochester (N.Y.), followed by a 55-31 home win against Maryland and a 43-30 win at Wichita in the United Conference Championship.
In those three playoff wins, The Rage are averaging 48 points and 199 total yards of offense per game while giving up 34 points and 235 yards/game. River City has forced opponents to turn over the ball nine times while only coughing it up twice.
“River City is a good team with lots of speed and talent at the skill positions,” said Billings head coach Heron O’Neal. “With that said, I am confident we can come out with a game plan that will bring us a second championship not only for the coaches, players and front office but especially for our great fans.”
For Billings, whose 12-2 regular season record earned a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, the path to the championship game has included two consecutive wins: a 50-7 victory over Fairbanks in the divisional round and a 66-35 defeat of El Paso in the Intense Conference Championship.
“We have done what we know we have to do to win in playoffs,” said Outlaws quarterback Chris Dixon. “The championship game will be no different.”
In the conference championship win over El Paso, Billings got things started in a hurry. On the second play from scrimmage defensive back Jevon Jackson intercepted a pass by El Paso quarterback Tommy Jones. The pick was followed on the ensuing Outlaws drive by a 23-yard touchdown run by Charles Anthony to put Billings on top 7-0.
A moment of concern for Billings came during the next Generals possession. Defensive back Michael Eby suffered an abdominal injury while attempting to make a tackle. Eby, the IFL defensive rookie of the year, was able to walk off the field under his own power. He was taken to a Billings hospital where he was treated and released Sunday. Eby’s status for the United Bowl was to be determined early this week.
The Outlaws held El Paso to just a field goal on the drive and on their next possession Dixon connected with receiver James Walton on a 22-yard touchdown pass to put Billings ahead 14-3 at the end of one quarter.
Kadafi Tunsil had an interception while Dixon remained hot in the second quarter, finding Robert Redd for all three Billings touchdowns in the period. Redd’s touchdowns came from 16 yards, 11 yards and seven yards out. The Generals also found the end zone three times in the second quarter, sending the teams into the locker room with the Outlaws maintaining an 11-point lead, 34-23.
In the third quarter, Billings effectively closed the door on the game. On the opening drive of the second half, Dixon called his own number and ran 40 yards for a score to make it 40-22. El Paso then drove to the Outlaws’ six-yard line before a goal-line stand ended the drive with Jones, under heavy pressure, just throwing the ball away on fourth down.
The Outlaws followed that with a two-play scoring drive. Anthony rushed for 18 yards on the first play and 26 yards on the second for his second touchdown of the game, putting the score at Billings 46 El Paso 23.
The Billings defense came up with another big stop on the next Generals possession. With El Paso looking to punch it in from the one-yard line, defensive lineman Kelly Rouse stuffed a quarterback sneak sending Jones backwards for the loss of two yards.
“Those two fourth down plays by our defense in the third quarter were huge. We have the best red zone defense in this league and tonight they really gave us the momentum we needed to put the game away,” said O’Neal.
Following the Rouse stop, Dixon needed just three plays to find Walton for yet another touchdown, this one from 45 yards to give Billings a 53-23 lead with just 15 minutes separating the Outlaws from the United Bowl.
In the fourth quarter, El Paso managed to score two touchdowns, followed by a failed two-point conversion. For Billings, Nathan Parasigian hit field goals from 36 and 31 yards and an interception by Muhammad Shamsid-Deen set up a four-yard touchdown run by Timothy Brown to give the game its 66-35 final score.
The Outlaws ran for 182 yards and four touchdowns. Anthony ran for 77 yards and two touchdowns on five carries, Dixon 88 yards and one touchdown on five carries and Brown for 21 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.
Dixon completed 11 of 19 passes for 131 yards and five touchdowns. He was sacked twice. Redd caught four passes for 43 yards and three touchdowns, Walton five passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns and Eric McCain one pass for four yards.
The Billings defense allowed five touchdowns, a field goal and 277 yards while intercepting three passes and making four stops in the red zone including two on fourth and goal. Rouse had nine tackles, Cedrick Ellis eight tackles, Tunsil seven tackles and an interception, Jackson three tackles and an interception, Mike Bazemore three tackles and Shamsid-Deen three tackles and an interception.