On the game's opening drive, Wichita Wild kicker Dylan Pohlman missed a short field goal — a miscue that prompted Mike McCoy, general manager and assistant coach for the Nebraska Danger, to pump his fist and jump up and down a couple times.
Local football fans probably weren't surprised by the reaction. McCoy was involved with Wichita indoor football for 11 years, including three years as GM for the Wild, and everyone knows he is an excitable sort.
But that tiny celebration, so very early in the game, was nearly all the fun McCoy had on Saturday night. The Wild made certain he headed back to Grand Island in a gloomy mood.
Playing perhaps its best overall game of the season, the Wild dominated expansion Nebraska 65-22 in front of 2,861 fans in Hartman Arena.
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Already out of the Indoor Football League playoffs, the Wild nonetheless played inspired football, controlling every aspect of the game. After an 0-5 start, the Wild has steadied itself to go 5-3 with only next week's season finale remaining.
"We've still got improvements to make," interim coach Morris Lolar said. "I wish we would have played a better first half, but it's a W."
Meanwhile, Nebraska continued its free fall, losing its seventh straight to drop to 3-10.
It was an awful homecoming for McCoy and, likewise, quarterback Dixie Wooten, who led the Wild to two conference title games before following McCoy to Nebraska.
Two Wooten mistakes helped the Wild blow the game open.
Trailing 29-13 at the halftime, Nebraska was threatening to get back in the game with a drive into Wichita territory to start the third quarter. But defensive back Randy Kelly stepped in front of a Wooten pass two yards in the end zone and zig-zagged his way for a spectacular touchdown that all but put the game away.
Lolar described the play as "huge."
Kelly, last season's IFL special teams player of the year, has been quieter this season, but the pick showed off his play-making ability.
"Once I got it, I saw a lot of lanes and holes in front of me, so I just followed my blockers and took it to the house," Kelly said. "I want to thank my teammates for that."
On Nebraska's next drive, Xavier Jordan picked off Wooten and returned it nine yards for a touchdown and a 30-point Wild lead. Jordan's pick sent Wooten to the bench, where he stayed for most of the second half.
"Dixie's a smart quarterback _ you're not gonna fool him," Lolar said. "But we wanted to get as much pressure on him as we could and make him rush his throws. For the most part, we did that."
Wooten's counterpart, Phil Staback, recovered from a three-game slump (four TD passes, nine interceptions) to have a solid game. He threw two touchdown passes and ran for two more.
Staback said that he felt like the offense was "clicking" well, but he stressed that the defense deserved much of the credit for the victory.
"The defense," he said, shaking his head. "I don't know if I've ever seen a defense play that hard. You could tell our defense was frustrating their quarterbacks."
Notes — Solomon nearly had one more touchdown catch, but the ball was knocked loose on a ferocious hit by at the goal line. Solomon, one of the Wild's best and toughest players, laid on his back for a minute or so before getting to his feet to cheers from the crowd. Several Nebraska players whooped it up after the hit, but Wichita's Donald Fusilier put a stop to that by pointing to the scoreboard.... Kendrick Harper had two interceptions.... Solomon had seven catches for 89 yards and a touchdown.... The Wild ends the season by hosting Bloomington next week.
Nebraska 7 6 3 6 — 22 Wichita 13 16 28 8 — 65
N—Mansfield 7 pass from Wooten (Trevino kick)
W—Murph 14 pass from Staback (Pohlman kick failed)
W—Solomon 17 pass from Staback (Pohlman kick)
N—Trevino 47 FG
W—Fudge 5 run (Pohlman kick)
N—Trevino 30 FG
W—Pohlman 32 FG
W—Staback 1 run (Pohlman kick failed)
W—Kelly 52 interception return (Pohlman kick)
W—Jordan 12 interception return (Pohlman kick)
N—Trevino 28 FG
W—Staback 1 run (Pohlman kick)
W—Rogers fumble recovered in end zone (Pohlman kick)
W—Fudge 3 run (Pohlman kick failed)
W—Fluellen tackled by Jordan in end zone for safety
N — Moore 45 pass from Wooten (Trevino kick failed)
Rushing—Nebraska, Endemann 4-10, Wooten 5-8, Chinn 1-0, Patton 2-(-10). Wichita, Wilson 2-7, Staback 4-5, Fudge 7-0.
Passing—Nebraska, Wooten 16-25-3-163; Fluellen 4-12-1-40. Wichita, Staback 19-32-1-193.
Receiving—Nebraska, Moore 9-116, Chinn 5-30, Williams 2-19, Mansfield 2-14. Wichita, Solomon 7-89, Fusilier 5-55, Murph 5-24, Fudge 1-24.