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Wild tries to fill void left by Harper’s absence

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Friday, April 11, 2014, at 2:56 p.m.

Lincoln at Wild

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Hartman Arena, Park City

Records: Lincoln 2-3, Wild 3-1

Radio: KGSO, 1410-AM

One shift from the status quo led to the Wild’s first loss of the season.

Wichita, the defending Champions Professional Indoor Football League champion, fell to Sioux City last weekend the week after losing cornerback Kendrick Harper to the Arena Football League.

Harper a Butler Community College and Kansas product, still leads the league in interceptions, a position with which he had become familiar in his three-plus seasons in Wichita.

Without Harper, the Wild’s defensive backs were collectively unable to keep up with the league’s highest scoring offense, and Wichita couldn’t finish late-game drives that could have swayed the outcome.

“Our corners were just not 100 percent ready to play,” Wild coach Paco Martinez said. “The other team made some big plays over them is all that happened. We score 45, we should win every game, unfortunately we just came up a bit short.”

The only potential worry for the Wild is that their league-leading defense, which had averaged 20.3 points allowed in the first three games, was toppled by the CPIFL’s most efficient offense in a matchup that could be revisited in the postseason. Both teams are involved in a three-way tie atop the standings at 3-1.

Martinez called playing without Harper an adjustment that Martinez believes the Wild can overcome. Rookies Justin Phinisee and T.J. Shine started at cornerback Saturday, and Martinez is already looking at reinforcements.

“He was a special talent,” Martinez said of Harper. “He understands the game of football really well for a defensive back. He understands what offenses try to do, and that’s why he was able to get so many (interceptions). He would bait quarterbacks, and that’s not something that you can coach. That’s something that a player has or doesn’t have.

“That’s the piece that we’re missing, but as we get more reps with the guys that we have, I’m confidence that they can pick it up.”

Other than Harper’s absence, though, not much has changed for the Wild. Wichita has four players in the CPIFL’s top six in tackles for loss, Tywon Hubbard leads in rushing yards and quarterback Rocky Hinds is second in total touchdowns.

“There’s no panic,” Martinez said. “Our offense is still rolling pretty well. Our defense, we’ll correct the issues we had last week. Going forward, I’m excited about what we’re going to do and the run we’re about to go on.”

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