PARK CITY — Wichita Wild coach Morris Lolar prepared his defense to face Omaha Beef quarterback James McNear, the league’s leader in total offense. When McNear didn’t show up in Wichita for Saturday’s game, Lolar’s defense was forced to adjust.
“We game-planned to stop McNear,” Lolar said, “then when he’s not on the bus and he’s not playing you have two things that happen: One, a lot of those things that you practiced go out the window because you don’t have his tendencies. The second thing is that guys will have a small letdown, and I think that contributed to our sluggish first half.”
After halftime, Wichita’s defense came to life, holding the Beef scoreless and carrying the Wild to its 29-17 win over first-place Omaha.
A family emergency caused McNear to miss the game. In his absence, Omaha found success early.
After the Beef moved the ball to Wichita’s 2-yard line on its first possession, defensive back Dan Kontz intercepted a pass and ran for 24 yards sparking Wichita’s first scoring drive.
“That’s huge,” Lolar said. “We had two guys in the same spot, so we got great pressure on the quarterback, and anytime we get pressure on the quarterback we’ll be successful. That was the first thing the quarterback said to me after the game, he said ‘Your defensive line is really, really good.’ ”
Omaha and Wichita each scored another touchdown in the first quarter, and Wichita led 13-7.
On Omaha’s first drive of the second quarter, Wichita’s James McCartney sacked quarterback Chuck Wright, forcing a 36-yard field goal. Omaha’s defense answered after Wichita’s Rocky Hinds completed a 30-yard pass to Joe Kassanavoid to Omaha’s 1-yard line, holding the Wild to a field goal.
Omaha scored another touchdown to lead the Wild 17-16 at halftime.
“Our offense came out with a sluggish start,” Kassanavoid said. “We went into halftime and in the second half we picked it up. We played a lot more physical, and it paid off.”
“We didn’t match their intensity,” Lolar said. “In the second half we decided to come out and play football, and it’s night and day … , and we can be right there with anybody in this league.”
In the third quarter, Wichita’s defense stopped a 33-yard field goal attempt, and Kendrick Harper intercepted Wright on Wichita’s 10-yard line.
When Omaha got the ball in the fourth quarter, McCartney stopped the running game, while Kiaree Daniels and Harper shut down the passing game. Wichita scored a quick touchdown, then locked Omaha in on its next possession. Three incomplete passes later, the Beef attempted a 57-yard field goal that missed. On Omaha’s last possession, Matt Moss sacked Wright forcing a fumble that Wichita’s Anthony Smith recovered.
Omaha did not reach Wichita territory in the fourth quarter.
“Defense is key to everything,” McCartney said. “We needed a momentum-starter, we talked about it at halftime. It’s huge, we kept them scoreless in the second half and offense turned it up. The biggest thing coach told us was that we need to fix our mistakes. When we fix our mistakes, good things happen.”
W—Simmons 2 pass from Hinds (Fambrough kick)
O—Rivers 14 pass from Wright (Stillmock kick)
W—Kassanavoid 4 pass from Hinds (kick failed)
O—Stillmock 36 field goal
W—Fambrough 21 field goal
O—Rollins 4 run (Stillmock kick)
W—Fambrough 41 field goal
W—Fambrough 22 field goal
W—Hinds 1 run (Fambrough kick)
Rushing—Omaha, Rollins 5-47, Holland 1-(-1), Wright 1-(-3). Wichita, Hinds 5-22, Hubbard 18-16, Ribbing 1-(-3).
Passing—Omaha, Wright 12-25-3-76. Wichita, Hinds 17-31-1-189.
Receiving—Omaha, Harrold 5-65, Rivers 2-25, Kildow, 2-18, Stevens 1-7, Holland 1-4, Rollins 1-(-43). Wichita, Kassanavoid 7-79, Simmons 6-40, Kelley 2-46, Daniels 1-13, Murph 1-11.