By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart
MUSKEGON – A sputtering offense usually spells doom in indoor football, and the West Michigan Ironmen didn’t score very much on Saturday.
Thompson, a defensive back out of Grand Valley State University, had two kick returns for touchdowns, leading the Ironmen to an exciting 34-30 victory over the Chicago Blitz in front of about 2,800 fans at L.C. Walker Arena.
His biggest moment came with 29 seconds left in the game and the Ironmen trailing by two points, following a Chicago touchdown.
Thompson fielded the ensuing kickoff at the West Michigan 2-yard-line, fought off two or three would-be tacklers near the 15, then broke loose and weaved through traffic for the winning touchdown.
Ironmen defensive back Corey Edwards put the finishing touches on the victory, intercepting a long Chicago pass at the West Michigan 1-yard-line with 14 seconds remaining.
“I just wanted to show how much heart we have,” Thompson said following the game. “The ending of the game showed every bit of heart that we have.
“I think I broke one or two tackles because one guy had my leg and another flew at me,” he added about the winning kick return. “I missed one guy and the other guy let go, he thought he had me. We showed grit today.”
Ironmen Coach Ty Lynk said he’s never surprised when Thompson produces big plays.
“Erik is the one guy who never gets tired or tight,” said Lynk, whose team is now 2-1 on the season. “He plays loose all the time, that’s why that play was no big deal to him.”
The Ironmen offense had trouble getting untracked all night, producing only two of the team’s five touchdowns. The problem was particularly noticeable in the second half.
The Ironmen scored on the opening possession of the third quarter, on a 3-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Carder to wide receiver Ronald Johnson, but the offense went quiet after that.
Chicago followed Johnson’s score with three touchdowns to take the lead in the final minute.
Carder had his worst game of the season following two strong performances, completing 7 of 20 passes for 79 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
But the Ironmen made up for it with defense and special teams.
The Ironmen grabbed a 7-0 lead in the early minutes of the game when linebacker Derek VandenBosch recovered a fumble at the Chicago 3-yard line and ran it in for a touchdown.
Thompson gave West Michigan a 21-12 halftime lead with a 51-yard punt return touchdown late in the second quarter.
The defense came up with seven huge quarterback sacks, including three by Luther Robinson, two by Ryan Armstrong and one apiece by Rony Nelson and Kyle Connors.
Nelson knocked Chicago starting quarterback Demetrious Jones out of the game with a bruising sack in the second quarter.
Ben Hutchins added an interception for the Ironmen.
“Our defense has owed this one to our offense, the offense has played outstanding lately,” Lynk said. “We have some players (on the defensive line) who are hard to stop.”
The Ironmen led 16-6 after one quarter, following VandenBosch’s fumble recovery touchdown and a 15-yard scoring pass from Carder to Derrick Eshelman.
They led 21-12 at halftime, thanks to Thompson’s first kick return, and 28-18 after three quarters, following Johnson’s touchdown reception.
But Chicago scored twice in the fourth quarter to grab a 28-24 lead with 45 seconds left. That’s when Thompson took the kickoff in the end zone and raced all the way for the final touchdown, putting the Ironmen up for good.
WM 13:23-Derek Vandenbosch 3 yard fumble recovery (Jose Diaz kick) WM-7 CHI-0
CHI 7:02- James Walton 29 yard catch from Demetrious Jones (kick failed) WM-7 CHI-6
WM 2:36- Derrick Eshelman 15 yard catch from Alex Carder (Jose Diaz kick) WM-14 CHI-6
CHI 10:06- Brian “Booby” Miles 7 yard catch from Demetrious Jones (2-pt failed) WM-14 CHI-12
WM 46.1- Erik Thompson 51 yard punt return (Jose Diaz kick) WM-21 CHI-12
WM 10:55- Ronald Johnson 4 yard catch from Alex Carder (Jose Diaz kick) WM-28 CHI-12
CHI 7:22- Bryant Pascascio 3 yard catch from Tony Powell (2-pt failed) WM-28 CHI-18
CHI 12:21 – James Walton 1 yard catch from Tony Powell (kick failed) WM-28 CHI-24
CHI 45.1– Keenan Miller 4 yard catch from Tony Powell (kick failed) CHI-30 WM-28
WM 28.1- Erik Thompson 48 yard kick return (2-pt failed) WM-34 CHI-30