By Dave Hart

The West Michigan Ironmen showed last weekend that they can win a close game in comeback fashion.

The Ironmen, who had not faced a tough challenge in two months, overcame a late eight-point deficit to beat LehighLSJ Logo incert Valley 42-35 in an American Indoor Football playoff game at home last Saturday.

The victory put the first-year Ironmen (9-1) in the league title game – the AIF Championship Bowl XI – in Columbus, Georgia on Saturday against the Columbus Lions.ironmen_logoTransparency

The way the Ironmen finished the semifinal game pleased Coach Ty Lynk.

West Michigan, down 35-27, tied the game 35-35 on a fourth down touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Carder to Donavan Campbell with 4:33 remaining, followed by a two-point conversion pass between the same teammates.

The Ironmen regained possession with 2:21 left in regulation on an interception by Deonte Hurst.

West Michigan scored the game-winning touchdown on a 40-yard connection between Carder and Justin Mott with 1:04 remaining. Hurst sealed the win with his second interception with under 24 seconds left.

“We were ahead most of the game, then fell behind all of a sudden in the final four minutes of the game,” said Lynk. “The players showed me they can play with adversity, and what impressed me the most is that they did it on their own without asking for my direction. They took charge on their own to get the win.”

The Ironmen are now just one win away from collecting a championship as an expansion team – which Lynk said he knew was possible early this season.

“We had no doubt from the beginning that we had a chance,” Lynk said. “We felt it was possible after our (opening game) loss in River City. We showed lots of energy in practice after that loss, and it ended up propelling us to success the rest of the way.

“Our only concern was becoming our own worst enemy.”

The only team standing in the Ironmen’s way of a title will be Columbus – which poses a very tough challenge.

The Lions, who were champions of a different league – the Professional Indoor Football League – last season, are unbeaten and have outscored their opponents by a 727-277 margin. They are led by 6-8 wide receiver Michael Reeve out of Western Oregon.

“We have had the opportunity to watch film on them (Columbus),” said Lynk. “They have a quarterback that is poised and hardly makes mistakes, a very tall wide receiver and a good defensive line.

“They are a mirror image of our team and have a lot of Division 1 college players.”

The Ironmen will also face the challenge of playing on the road, in front of a hostile crowd, for only the second time this season.

The Ironmen opened the season in St. Charles, Missouri where they saw an 11-point halftime lead disappear in a 75-68 loss on opening night.

West Michigan has hosted six straight games at the L.C. Walker Arena since then, winning all of them all by an average of 42 points.

The Ironmen were scheduled to close the regular season in Chicago for the Northern Division title. But the Blitz forfeited the game, so West Michigan won the division title without playing a down.

Despite the team’s lack of experience on the road, Lynk says the Ironmen can handle the high-pressure challenge.

“Most of our players have played in a hostile environment in college in front of over 30,000 fans,” said Lynk. “I have simply asked the players to reflect on their past experiences. We are also practicing with loud music on to help prepare us for the noise.

“Our adrenaline is at a high level and the players understand there is still a lot of work ahead of them.”