By JED BARTON
For The Outpost
The Billings Outlaws survived a late rally by the River City Rage to hold on for a 71-62 win in the inaugural Indoor Football League United Bowl before a crowd of 8,351 at Rimrock Auto Arena Saturday.
“We felt all along that we had the possibility to be the best team, and today we proved it,” said wide receiver James Walton.
The win was Billings’ second league championship under coach Heron O’Neal, and the coach was not shy about his feelings about reaching the top for a second time.
“I am going to really cherish this one,” he said. “The first one was great but this year was special. We began the year with a roster about 60 percent full of guys who had never played indoor football. It is a real testament to the hours the players and my coaching staff put in both on the field and in the film room that we are here today accepting the trophy.”
As it turned out the difference in the game may have come on the opening two possessions. O’Neal took the unusual gamble of having his team attempt an onside kick on the opening kickoff. The gamble worked as Walton recovered the kick and on the first play from scrimmage quarterback Chris Dixon hit receiver Robert Redd for a 31-yard touchdown, Nate Parasigian missed the extra point, giving Billings an early 6-0 lead.
“I knew that we could wind up in a shootout and that to win we would need an extra possession or two,” said O’Neal. “We had practiced the onside kick this week and I told the guys that if we were given the chance to kick off we would start the game with it. We got the chance, and the team took advantage with a perfect execution.”
The Outlaws defense then took the field for the first time, holding River City to a long field goal attempt, which was no good. On the ensuing possession, Dixon drove his team 49 yards in 10 plays capped off by another touchdown pass, this time to Eric McCain. Parasigian’s kick was good and Billings went ahead 13-0.
The Rage got on the board in on their next possession as quarterback Ben Sankey threw a 23-yard strike to Luke McCardle to cut the Outlaws’ lead to 13-7. The two teams would trade touchdowns for the remainder of the first half, with Billings ending the half with a 10-play, 44-yard, four-plus minute scoring drive to take a 34-20 lead into the locker room.
In the early part of the third quarter The Outlaws built a 21-point lead and seemed to be getting ready to put things on cruise control. That was until River City found its way back into the game by scoring two consecutive touchdowns to pull within eight points.
The first came with 8:49 left in the third as The Rage’s Cornelius “Pig” Brown took advantage of a short kickoff by Parasigian, taking it 28 yards back to the house.
Then on the ensuing Billings possession River City defensive back Darnell Terrell intercepted a pass from Dixon, taking the ball down to the Billings 12-yard line. On the next play Sankey found Tyrone Timmons in the end zone to cut the Outlaws lead to 48-40.
The Outlaws would jump out to a two score lead two more times with River City answering each time to pull within eight. Finally with about 10 minutes left in the game The Rage had a chance to tie the game when the Outlaws defense stepped up, holding River City to a three and out for just the second time all afternoon. The key stop on the series was a seven-yard tackle for loss by defensive lineman Mike Bazemore. That stop allowed the Outlaws to hold on for the nine point victory.
“We made some mistakes in the second half,” said Dixon. “But we didn’t let it get us down. We kept going and made the plays we needed to win.”
Dixon completed 14 of 26 passes for 162 yards and five touchdowns. He was sacked once and threw an interception. Redd caught five passes for 31 yards and two touchdowns, Walton four passes for 45 yards and two touchdowns, McCain three passes for 25 yards and a touchdown, Anthony one pass for six yards and Tim Brown one pass for five yards.
On the ground Billings ran for 182 yards and five touchdowns, Anthony had 85 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries, Brown seven carries for 50 yards and two touchdowns, Dixon nine carries for 45 yards and a touchdown and Redd one carry for two yards.
On special teams Parasigian was 1-1 on field goal attempts, hitting one from 26 yards in the fourth quarter. He also was 8 for 10 on point-after attempts.
The Outlaws’ defense allowed River City nine touchdowns on 280 yards of total offense Kelly Rouse had five tackles, Cecil Ellis four tackles, Javon Jackson three tackles, and Trice Crump, Kadafi Tunsil, Muhammad Shamsid-Deen and Bazemore had two tackles each.