Wild enters homestretch with realistic shot at playoffs
06/01/2012 5:00 AM
06/01/2012 4:42 PM
When the Wild was 0-4 to start the Indoor Football League season, coach Morris Lolar’s job actually got easier.
Lolar didn’t have to inspire his team. He didn’t have to motivate them with emotional speeches in an effort to reverse its complacency. That job was already taken care of by players who were sure they would emerge from the slump.
That meant Lolar could concentrate on improving the scheme and on making adjustments, which he has done successfully over Wichita’s last seven games. The Wild has won six in that stretch, giving it a chance to reach the playoffs after missing them last year.
The Wild can clinch a playoff spot with a win against visiting Bloomington tonight, coupled with a Nebraska loss to Allen. Wichita could get to second place in the Intense Conference by winning its final three games, which would allow it to host a first-round game.
"At the beginning of the season when we were struggling, those guys were still sending me text messages and they were calling me," Lolar said. "You could see it in practice — nobody hung their head.
"Those guys were like, ‘Coach, you know what, we’re not going to be making those mistakes. We’re going to figure this stuff out. No more of this losing, and we’re going to fight for you.’ "
Even though he’s hesitant to accept it, Lolar likely deserves credit for the Wild’s renewed hope. Lolar pointed out Wichita’s difficult early schedule before and after the 0-4 start, but the Wild have re-entered the playoff hunt with wins against three teams to which it previously lost.
Lolar has also kept the Wild (6-5) on course through recent roster turnover that saw the Wild lose receiver Doug Pierce to the Canadian Football League and others to injury. Wichita has stabilized by adding players such as receiver Landon Turner, offensive lineman Tommy Crowley and defensive lineman Callahan Bright.
"We have continuity in the locker room, kind of a family atmosphere and the guys care about each other," Lolar said. "It’s tough to just insert someone just off the streets to come in and play and get along with the guys.... We’ve been very fortunate to be able to insert those guys and they fit right in with the guys that we have."
The Wild also appear to have intangible qualities that have helped it win despite struggling to stay in the upper half of the IFL’s total offense and total defense ratings. Star power also helps — Matt Moss leads the league in sacks and Tywon Hubbard is second in all-purpose yards.
Wichita is adjusting on the fly, too, moving quarterback Marcus Jackson to running back and using Phil Staback as the full-time quarterback. With Moss and Hubbard out of the lineup last week at Allen, the Wild got production from some players who were playing unfamiliar positions.
Kendrick Harper was named IFL defensive player of the week after recording two interceptions and a fumble recovery to go with his four tackles.
"My big thing is getting into the playoffs," Lolar said. "If we can get in there, we can be very effective. Those guys are starting to figure it out. We still have our issues, but it’s not a whole lot of things that are surprising us right now.”