By Jason Goorman and Dave Hart
MUSKEGON – The West Michigan Ironmen were all set for the big game, a Saturday night showdown on the road against the Chicago Blitz, with the American Indoor Football Northern Division championship on the line.
But yesterday the Blitz decided to forfeit the game, so the Ironmen are division champions by default.
While the title is nice for the first-year West Michigan squad, the way it was won was definitely a disappointment.
Now the Ironmen will have to focus on preparing for their playoff opener at home on June 4, following a longer-than-expected layoff that will extend a full month.
West Michigan last played a game on May 7, when they pummeled the visiting Cincinnati Bulldogs by a lopsided 107-0 score. Saturday’s scheduled game in Chicago was supposed to be the last regular season contest, with the two teams tied for first place in the Northern Division with 7-1 records.
“As of yesterday they (Chicago) cancelled the game and forfeited to us,” said Ironmen Coach Ty Lynk. “They had some financial issues so they weren’t sure they could support the game.
“The conversation started midday yesterday. (Ironmen owner Terrance Williams) and the league tried to work it out. But it finally came to a conclusion around 6 p.m. last night.
“Part of it was Terrance was trying to find out what we could do to help to get Chicago to be able to have the game, but it was out of his control.”
For the team, the focus is now on the weeks ahead and trying to win an AIF championship, Lynk said.
“We spoke to our players and obviously they wanted to earn (the division title) on the field,” he said. “For the most part they have. But their main goal was to get into the playoffs and they’ve earned that. There might be some rust (after the layoff), but once these guys get going they will be playing at the high level they are used to.”
Lynk said the Ironmen are disappointed for their fans, particularly the ones who were planning to take a chartered bus to Chicago this weekend for the game.
“It’s really disappointing from a standpoint of the fans, who were showing support for this team and this league,” he said. “Now we have to figure out how can we show the fans how much we appreciate them, so we are putting together a plan for the playoff game.
“(Williams) is putting together a VIP party before (the June 4 playoff game) for the fans who were going to be on the bus and the season ticket holders. There is also going to be an after-game party for those folks.
“If someone wants to attend that isn’t a season ticket holder or wasn’t going to be on the bus, there will be a cost to attend that, and they can find out more on our social page later.”
The Ironmen’s experience with the AIF has included some curveballs along the way. For instance, most of the season the team was listed in the Mid-Western Division, at least on their own website. The league website listed two divisions – the Northern and Southern.
Now the 20-team AIF suddenly has three divisions listed on the league website – the Northern, Southern and Western. There are 10 teams listed in the Northern Division, seven in the Southern and just three in the Western.
The level of competition for the Ironmen has also been spotty at times.
West Michigan outscored the Cincinnati Bulldogs (in two different games) and the Northern Kentucky Nightmare by a whopping 235-33 margin. The Ironmen haven’t played a competitive contest since April 9 against the River City Raiders.
The scheduling has also been odd, with some teams in the league playing as few as two or three games.
The Ironmen’s first game against Chicago was very competitive, with the Ironmen rallying in the final minute to grab a 34-30 victory at L.C Walker Arena back on April 2.
But now, of course, the scheduled rematch won’t happen.