PARK CITY — Rocky Hinds didn’t play after suffering a second fourth-quarter injury Saturday, but he got to come back.
Hinds hobbled onto the field on crutches following Wichita’s 46-41 win over Sioux City for the Champions Professional Indoor Football League championship, joining the celebration after leading the Wild through 13 games and more than three quarters.
Hinds got the Wild within striking distance late, but the end of the Wild’s championship story was authored, perhaps unexpectedly, by Joe Kassanavoid.
Normally a receiver, Kassanavoid stepped in – and stepped up – at quarterback, throwing a 24-yard touchdown to Rashad Daniels to provide the winning points. Kassanavoid completed his only two passes and ran three times for 21 yards, helping to keep the final series alive.
Wichita successfully defended its CPIFL title and is the only champion in the league’s two seasons. It was the Wild’s 20th consecutive win at Hartman Arena.
“When I saw Rocky go down, my mindset was, ‘OK, I’m going to have to play quarterback,’ ” Kassanavoid said. “I wasn’t nervous, the guys weren’t nervous for me. I knew I could take advantage of the opportunity, so I was just going to go with the flow and play the game of football.”
One of the Wild’s two regular-season losses came when Hinds was injured and Kassanavoid played the entire game at Salina. Over 60 minutes, the flaws and inexperience of a backup who plays another position can be exposed, but in five minutes a change of pace can be a motivator.
That’s how it worked Saturday, at least. Kassanavoid’s poise gave the Wild energy when it appeared both teams were zapped from the physical and emotional toll a tight championship game can take. Hinds tried to overcome it, but a desperate, attacking Sioux City defense got to him twice and put him out.
“We had the Salina game, it didn’t go well,” Wild kick returner Junior Allen said. “I feel like that’s what gave him the motivation to success and be fearless. Maybe if we won that game, he probably would have never made that pass (to Daniels). I feel like everything was just adversity that we had to overcome and that’s what made us become champions.”
A defensive stand by Wichita may have ended up hampering Kassanavoid. Two tackles for loss on Sioux City’s final drive put the Bandits effectively out of field-goal range, and when they missed a 58-yarder, Wichita started on the 5-yard line.
That was no roadblock for Kassanavoid and the Wild offense, though. Kassanavoid had eight-, nine-, and four-yard rushes during the series, the latter getting Wichita just inside midfield. On the next play, Kassanavoid threw a long fade to Daniels, who ran under the perfectly timed pass and caught it in stride.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Kassanavoid said. “I just do what I’m told by the coach, and coach (Paco Martinez) made a good play call. Rashad ran a good route, caught a very tough ball. It was just everybody trusting each other to get the job done, and we did.”
Kassanavoid caught two touchdowns in last year’s championship game, and he matched that Saturday. He had Saturday’s first score as the Wild raced to a 30-7 lead early in the second quarter.
The Bandits scored the next 31 to take a 38-30 lead in the third, and it was close from that point forward. When it became clear Wichita was going to win following a late Sioux City turnover on downs, tempers escalated and the teams engaged in a bench-clearing brawl after which Sioux City’s Darius Davis was ejected.
The fight marred another dramatic finish one week after an Ernesto Lacayo 51-yard field goal gave Wichita a playoff semifinal victory, but it didn’t dampen the Wild’s emotion.
“Guys are hyped up,” Wild defensive back Chris Hemphill said. “We had a laid-back week of practice, just so we could get our energy, get our legs behind us. It’s a mental week of practice, everybody’s mentally focused. Everybody poured their all into it. We knew it was going to be a dogfight. That’s what happens when you’re in the jungle.”
W—Kassanavoid 5 pass from Hinds (Lacayo kick)
W—Hinds 1 run (Lacayo kick)
W—Daniels 3 pass from Hinds (Lacayo kick)
SC—Jensen 25 run (Wieking kick)
W—Safety, quarterback sacked in end zone
W—Hubbard 20 pass from Hinds (Lacayo kick)
SC—Brown 51 kickoff return (Wieking kick)
SC—Brown 3 pass from Jensen (Wieking kick)
SC—Wieking 29 FG
SC—Bentley 4 run (Wieking kick)
SC—Smith 32 INT return (Wieking kick)
W—Kassanavoid 8 pass from Hinds (Lacayo kick)
SC—Wieking 35 FG
W—Lacayo 25 FG
W—Daniels 24 pass from Kassanavoid (run failed)