By Steve Gunn and Dave Hart
As it turned out, they were more than up to the challenge, breaking open a close game in the final three quarters and cruising to a stunning 76-35 upset victory over the Bandits at L. C. Walker Arena.
The victory improved West Michigan’s record to 3-4. They are tied with Bismarck for fourth place – the final playoff spot – in the Champions Indoor Football’s Northern Division, with five regular season games remaining.
After Saturday’s big win, the Ironmen’s playoff hopes are very much alive.
“This is a huge win in all aspects,” said Ironmen Coach Ty Lynk. “They are among the cream of the crop in the league, and now we’re in a position to just settle down and play some good football the rest of the way.”
The Ironmen gave up 21 points in the first quarter, then buckled down and held Sioux City to only 14 in the final three quarters, including none in the fourth.
“We had a strong game plan, but with (Sioux City) you have to actually see what they do, because they do it so well,” Lynk said. “Their first three series we couldn’t adjust, but then our defensive line and backs settled down and played a strong game across the board. It’s the first time I can say that in a long time.”
There were a lot of heroes on Saturday, but none bigger than defensive back Deonte Hurst, who intercepted four Sioux City passes, including a 45-yard pick-six.
“I am pleased with my performance,” said Hurst, who had two three-interception games last season. “With the best team in the division coming up I wanted to match myself up against the best in the league.
“We have been getting better every week and it shows. As a unit we are coming together, and we’re realizing we can compete with any team in this league.”
Quarterback Alex Carder also had a huge game, completing 14 of 21 passes for 201 yards and four touchdowns, plus one rushing TD. Receiver Corey Johnson had four catches for 74 yards and two touchdowns, while receiver Dontae Ingraham had two receptions for 46 yards and two touchdowns.
Running back Korey Ringer, who has been outstanding all season, had 18 carries for 110 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensively, Malcolm Howard led the team with 13 tackles, Derek VandenBosch had 11 and Aaron Doriot added nine.
The big win might be a strong sign that the Ironmen are finally starting to put it all together. While they entered the contest with four losses in six games, three of those losses were very close, by a combined 12 points.
“Last week I thought we played a really good game,” said Lynk, referring to the Ironmen’s heartbreaking 30-28 loss in Omaha. ‘Our offense just sputtered a little bit. But last week I think we were close. The guys knew that and this week put their heads down and played a great game.”
The first quarter was an offensive shootout. The Ironmen had the ball four times and scored a touchdown on each possession. Sioux City had the ball three times and did the same.
The Ironmen led 27-21 at the end of one quarter.
The second quarter was completely different, with neither team able to score for most of it. But the Ironmen used three big plays late in the second to take control of the game.
Nose tackle Terrance Taylor stuffed a Sioux City runner on fourth-and-one at the West Michigan 2-yard-line, keeping the Bandits from pulling even.
West Michigan’s Erik Thompson recovered a Sioux City fumble around midfield with 1:40 left in the half and returned it to the Bandits’ 15. Carder followed with a six-yard touchdown scamper 16 seconds later, and the extra point gave the Ironmen a 34-21 lead.
Hurst picked off a Sioux City pass with less than a minute left in the half and returned it to the Bandits’ 15.
Carder took advantage by hitting Anthony Bullock with a two-yard touchdown pass as time ran out in the half, and West Michigan went to the locker room with a stunning 41-21 lead.
The Ironmen outscored Sioux City 21-14 in the third quarter and led 62-35 headed into the fourth, then sealed the win with two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
GAME SUMMARY FIRST QUARTER
WM 11:43- Dontae Ingraham 13-yard catch from Alex Carder (Jose Diaz kick) WM-7 SC-0 SC 11:17- Drew Prohaska 8-yard run (Greg Conrey kick) WM-7 SC-7 WM 9:04- Corey Johnson 8-yard catch from Alex Carder (kick failed) WM-13 SC-7 SC 5:52- Jeffrey Mack 2-yard run (Greg Conrey kick) SC-14 WM-13 WM 5:08- Dontae Ingraham 33-yard catch from Alex Carder (Jose Diaz kick) WM-20 SC-14 SC 1:37- Fred Bruno 1-yard run (Greg Conrey kick) SC-21 WM-20 WM :49- Korey Ringer 17-yard run (Jose Diaz kick) WM-27 SC-21
WM 1:24- Alex Carder 6-yard run (Jose Diaz kick) WM-34 SC-21 WM :00- Anthony Bullock 2-yard catch from Alex Carder (Jose Diaz kick) WM-41 SC-21
SC- 9:42- Jeffrey Mack 1-yard run (Greg Conrey kick) WM-41 SC-28 WM 8:24- Corey Johnson 47-yard catch from Alex Carder (Jose Diaz kick) WM-48 SC-28 WM 6:27- Deonte Hurst 45-yard interception return (Jose Diaz kick) WM-55 SC-28 SC- 4:34- Dominque Carson 4-yard run (Greg Conrey kick) WM-55 SC-35 WM 3:53- Korey Ringer 14-yard run (Jose Diaz kick) WM-62 SC-35
WM 11:51- Korey Ringer 12-yard run (Jose Diaz kick) WM-69 SC-35 WM 9:56- Korey Ringer 16-yard run (Jose Diaz kick) WM-76 SC-35