By Dave Hart
But Muskegon’s newest professional sports team is already eyeing a bigger prize – an American Indoor Football league championship.
Coach Lynk believes his team has a shot at going all the way because of its great chemistry.
“I am surprised and very happy about how quickly we have come together as a team,” Lynk said. “I have never seen a team build strong chemistry this quickly.”
The Ironmen, after starting the season with a disappointing loss on the road to the River City Raiders, have won three straight games.
They are currently 3-1 on the season, good for a first-place tie in AIF’s Mid-Western Division with the Raiders.
West Michigan defeated the Northern Kentucky Nightmare in its home opener, used a strong defensive performance to get past the Chicago Blitz in Game 3, then avenged its lone loss with a win against the Raiders on April 9.
Following a week off, they will resume play Saturday against the Cincinnati Bulldogs at 7:05 p.m. at L.C. Walker Arena.
With four games remaining, including the next three at home, the Ironmen are in a great position to qualify for a postseason appearance.
American Indoor Football recently announced that the two division champions and one wildcard team from each of the two conferences will qualify for the playoffs.
West Michigan is a part of the Northern Conference, which has two divisions – the Mid-Western and Northern.
Currently the Northern Division has two unbeaten teams, the Philadelphia Yellow Jackets and Lehigh Valley Steelhawks. As of now they are in a position to claim two of the three Northern Conference playoff spots.
The Ironmen would get the third spot as of now, even though they have the same record as River City, and are only a half-game ahead of Chicago, which is 2-1.
The tiebreaker system favors West Michigan over River City, due to the point differential between the two teams in head-to-head matchups. The Ironmen lost to River City by seven points in Week 1, then won by 20 points in Week 4.
The Ironmen also have the tie-breaker advantage over Chicago at the moment, because they beat the Blitz in their only matchup, but the two teams play again in the last week of the regular season.
The Ironmen can clinch a division title and playoff berth by winning all four of their remaining games. A loss would probably make it a tight race to the end.
The top seeds in both the Northern and Southern conferences will get first-round playoff bye. The second and third seeds will meet in the first round, then play the top seeds in the conference championship games.
The two conference champions will meet in the league championship game, which will be a home game for the team with the best record.
The Ironmen’s early success is a tribute to their effectiveness on both sides of the ball.
Quarterback Alex Carder has led the offense with 57 completions for 807 yards passing and 24 touchdowns.
“Carder is the biggest part of our team,” said Lynk about former Western Michigan University star quarterback. “He is like another coach on the field, he makes good decision and makes everyone around him a better player.”
Carder has had a strong corps of receivers to throw to, led by Donovan Campbell with nine touchdown receptions and Corey Johnson with seven.
“We have a potent group of wide receivers,” said Lynk. “Opponents put so much effort in defending (former Muskegon High School and USC star Ronald Johnson) that our other receivers get freed up.”
In a pass-happy, short-field sport where offense dominates and defense is a matter of damage control, the Ironmen have been remarkably successful at stopping opponents from scoring.
The defense is led by linemen Rony Nelson (who leads the team in sacks), Ryan Armstrong and Luther Robinson, who specialize in terrorizing opposing quarterbacks.
The defensive secondary has also been a strength, led by Erik Thompson and Corey Edwards, who each have multiple interceptions on the season.
Thompson has also shined in special teams, scoring on two kickoffs and one punt return.
“Our defense and special teams are a nightmare to other teams’ scouts,” said Lynk. “The growth of our defense has been a huge key to our success, we have made two to three stops per half in most of our games.”