By Dave Hart and Andrew Johnson

St. CHARLES, Mo. – The West Michigan Ironmen learned the hard way on Sunday that no lead is safe in indoor football.

The Ironmen, playing the first regular season game of their inaugural season, led the host River City Raiders 21-0 early in the second quarter and 35-24 at halftime.lsj-fb-logo

But the Raiders fought back with a vengeance, the lead changed hands seven times in the second half, and in the end the Ironmen came out on the short end of a 75-68 score.

The wild game was decided in the final few minutes.

The Ironmen had a 60-58 lead with 5:10 left in the fourth quarter after an 18-yard touchdown reception by Corey Johnson from quarterback Alex Carder.

No. 22 Jamar Hibbits makes the hit for the Ironmen. Photo/Karl Lund

No. 22 Jamar Hibbits makes the hit for the Ironmen. Photo/Karl Lund

The Raiders responded with a 12-yard touchdown catch by DeAndre Jackson from quarterback Tearen Austin with 3:25 left to give River City a 65-60 lead.

The key moment of the game came on the ensuing kickoff when River City kicker Corey Adamson sent a line drive off the body of West Michigan’s Corey Edwards. The Raiders recovered the loose ball on their own one-yard line.

The Raider then drove all the way down the field – 49 yards – for a touchdown to take a 72-60 lead with 53 seconds left.

The Ironmen didn’t go quietly. They pulled to within 72-68 on a 20-yard touchdown connection from Carder to Justin Mott, followed by a two-point conversion on a catch by Donovan Campbell.

The Raiders then nailed a 28-yard field goal with 25 seconds remaining to take a seven-point lead.

The Ironmen received the ball with a chance to tie or win the game, but their final drive stalled at the Raider 14-yard line.

“I like how the guys fought at the very end and nobody quit,”’ said Ironmen Coach Ty Lynk. “We were in a position to win the game or at least tie it. I found out that some of our players really do have some good heart.

“I also learned this game can change in a heartbeat, you can be up 21 and then down 14, it’s not like 11- man where you feel really good with a 21-point lead.”

Justin Mott pulls in the catch for West Michigan. Photo/Karl Lund

Justin Mott pulls in the catch for West Michigan. Photo/Karl Lund

The Ironmen hurt themselves with some execution problems throughout the game.

Carder lost two fumbles – one in the first half and one in the second – that led to 14 River City points.

“It’s ball security,” said Carder, who still had a very big day by completing 20 of 36 passes for 326 yards and nine touchdowns. “I have to take care of that. It’s part of my job.”

West Michigan placekicker Jacob Hardy had a rough outing, missing four extra points  after touchdowns.

“I think some lessons are that we have to understand how to execute and hold our energy a little more,” Lynk said. “It’s a big part of it.

“The turnovers were one thing, but I think more of it was the execution on the special teams that hurt us the most. The fumbles also didn’t help us at all.

“We definitely have some scheme things we need to look at, and like any other time we have to make sure we’re putting people in the right spots.”

West Michigan led 35-24 at halftime.

The Ironmen’s first half-points came on touchdown passes from Carder to Ronald Johnson (2 yards), Campbell (8 yards), Mott (15 yards) and Corey Johnson (19yards).

They also scored on a 2-yard touchdown run by Korey Ringer.

River City’s first half points came on a 3-yard touchdown run by Austin, a 7-yard touchdown completion to Chris Headd, a 10-yard scoring pass from Austin to Jackson and a 35-yard field goal by Adamson.

The Raiders outscored West Michigan 28-13 during the third quarter and led 52-48 heading into the fourth.

River City scored on touchdown passes from Austin to Jackson of 27 and 32 yards, respectively, while Austin had touchdown runs of 19 and 1 yards.

Antwan Bruks fights for the extra yards. Photo/Karl Lund

Antwan Bruks fights for the extra yards. Photo/Karl Lund

The Ironmen had two TDs in the third, on a 40-yard toss from Carder to Campbell and a 13-yard throw from Carder to Ringer.

The teams traded scores during the first part of the fourth quarter. The Ironmen took a 54-52 lead on a 11-yard touchdown catch by Campbell. The Raiders went up 58-54 on a 4-yard touchdown run by Austin, then the Ironmen regained a 60-58 lead on an 18-yard touchdown reception by Corey Johnson.

That led to the crazy final five minutes and the loss for the Ironmen.

Campbell led West Michigan receivers with six catches for 109 yards and three touchdowns, while Corey Johnson had two touchdowns on five catches for 102 yards. Mott chipped in with four catches, 85 yards and two scores.

Rony Nelson led the Ironmen defense with two sacks.

The Ironmen will host their home opener against the Northern Kentucky Nightmare next Sunday at L.C. Walker Arena at 3:15 p.m.