Wichita’s 47-34 win over Salina in the Champions Professional Indoor Football League championship was like opening the biggest gift on Christmas morning with prior knowledge of what’s inside.
The emotions were real and the aftermath was celebratory, but the predictability attached to the moment was unavoidable.
Receiver Joe Kassanavoid, who caught two touchdown passes, was stoic in saying the win, the Wild’s third over Salina this season, left him speechless. Quarterback Rocky Hinds was calm and collected in describing the victory as both exciting and relieving.
Wichita planned for a championship, expected one and played all season like a team with those goals in mind. The title wasn’t surprising, but the first title was satisfying for a seventh-year franchise in its third league.
“To be honest, it just feels good,” said Hinds, who was chosen the game’s MVP. “This is a great organization. It feels great (to play here), and to bring a championship it feels even better.”
Hinds was the final piece toward building a championship contender after the Wild advanced to the conference title game last year in the Indoor Football League.
Wichita’s late-season surge in 2012 was fueled by a renewed emphasis on defense and significant contributions from running back Tywon Hubbard. But the Wild never found stability at quarterback, so when Hinds reached out to Wild coach Morris Lolar in the offseason, it didn’t take long for Lolar to determine that Hinds was the perfect fit.
Hinds proved his reputation as a top indoor quarterback with skills that complemented Wichita’s suffocating defense and stable running attack.
“Before I signed, Coach brought back a lot of key guys,” Hinds said. “We had some great pieces, and the team welcomed me with open arms. The veterans, when they found out I was coming, they all reached out to me. We had a great group of core guys, I just added to the core.
“The other guys, they put in the work the previous years, so I just wanted to come and help them build this.”
Saturday presented the perfect opportunity for Hinds to cement his worth, not just because he was playing for a championship but because he was opposing league MVP Dane Simoneau.
The former Washburn quarterback trailed Hinds in most major categories and the Bombers finished a game behind Wichita, but the voters opted for Simoneau and his ability to lead a team without as much talent as the Wild to the playoffs.
Simoneau threw for five touchdowns and 196 yards Saturday, but a significant portion of those numbers came in garbage time, and he threw three interceptions.
Hinds was more efficient in outplaying Simoneau, completing 18 of 22 passes for 163 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Tim Simmons, Brian Murph and Kassanavoid all had at least five receptions while no Salina receiver had more than four.
“Rocky’s a great quarterback and he deserves every award he gets,” Kassanavoid said. “He got the MVP tonight, but he should have been the MVP of the league. Great quarterback.”
Hinds ran and passed for a touchdown as Wichita took a 21-0 lead in a balanced first half that also included a Hubbard touchdown run.
The Wild played confidently from that point, even when Salina scored 14 of the next 24 points and answered a Wichita score with 31 seconds to go in the half with a touchdown 26 seconds later.
The 13-point final margin was the closest Salina got, and that took two touchdowns in the final 2:32. The slim comeback hopes were eliminated when Kendrick Harper, who led the league in interceptions, picked off Simoneau in the final minute.
“It’s been a goal since Day 1,” Harper said. “We’ve been working hard in the offseason, and then once we got to training camp. This is what we were working hard for.”
W—Hinds 3 run (Fambrough kick)
W—Kassanavoid 10 pass from Hinds (Fambrough kick)
W—Hubbard 1 run (Fambrough kick)
S—Smalls 4 pass from Simoneau (Hoover kick)
W—Simmons 5 pass from Hinds (kick failed)
S—Snipes 13 pass from Simoneau (Hoover kick)
W—Fambrough 49 FG
W—Kassanavoid 2 pass from Hinds (Fambrough kick)
S—Roberts 34 pass from Simoneau (Hoover kick)
W—Simmons 10 pass from Hinds (Fambrough kick)
W—Fambrough 28 FG
S—Roberts 24 pass from Simoneau (kick failed)
S—Snipes 31 pass from Simoneau (Hoover kick)
Rushing—Salina, Simoneau 6-31, Benning 2-5, Miles 6-(-1); Wichita, Hubbard 9-18, Hinds 3-17, Ribbing 1-3, Simmons 1-(-5).
Passing—Salina, Simoneau 19-39-196-3; Wichita, Hinds 18-22-163-1.
Receiving—Salina, Roberts 4-72, Miles 4-35, Smalls 4-14, Myers 3-23, Snipes 2-44, Ham 1-6, Benning 1-2; Wichita, Simmons 6-52, Murph 5-45, Kassanavoid 5-45, Hubbard 2-21.