The Salina Bombers season continued to unravel Saturday night, and no one was more unhappy than team owner Chris Vercher.
“This is the worst team we’ve had in our three years,” Vercher said following Salina’s 45-32 loss to the Wichita Force at the Bicentennial Center. He also said personnel changes would be made this week.
The loss was the third in a row for the Bombers — two of them at home — and their fourth in their last five games. They’re now 4-4 after starting the season 3-0.
Saturday’s loss was especially difficult. Wichita won with two newly-signed quarterbacks, Jonathan Wright and Michael Stewart, who replaced injured starter Kyle Jech. Jech was the third starting quarterback for Wichita this season after season-edning injuries to Rocky Hinds and Jon Kassanavoid.
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It also marked the low point of the season for the Bombers’ offense. Quarterback Chris Coffin, the leading passer in Champion Indoor Football, threw for 185 yards and four touchdowns, but also had an interception, lost a fumble, was sacked four times and called for intentional grounding in the end zone that produced a safety.
The Bombers trailed 23-20 at halftime, but failed to score in the third quarter. They did managed two late Coffin touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, but Wichita had a 38-20 lead and tacked on another with three minutes left.
Compounding matters for Salina was the loss of starting offensive linemen Ed Prince and Rodney Ewing. Prince was transported by ambulance to Salina Regional Health Center with a back injury in the second quarter and Ewing was helped off the field with a leg injury in the third quarter.
“That’s tough when you lose that much offensively,” Salina coach Bob Ray said. “We were in the game until that point, realistically. (Wichita lineman Matt) Moss is one of the best in the league and you’ve got people subbing in trying to block him.”
Wichita didn’t skip a beat with Wright and Stewart leading the offense. Wright had more success, using his legs in rushing for 61 yards on five carries, one them a 21-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. He also threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Dontel Watkins in the final period.
“They had only two practices this week,” Wichita coach Paco Martinez said. “That’s the notice we had when our two quarterbacks went out.
“We fed them 15 plays and thought we’d run just 15 plays tonight, and we ran about six. We kept running them over and over and they did a great job, both of them did. With only two practices they exceeded my expectations.”
Martinez was especially pleased with his team’s defensive effort. Salina entered the game averaging just over 50 points per game.
“The defense knew they really had to step up,” he said. “We emphasized that this week. Our defensive coaches did a great job and they executed great.”
Wichita led 26-20 after three quarters but took control the final period. Ernesto Lacayo kicked a 20-yard field goal, Coffin was called for grounding that led to the safety and Wright hit Watkins with the scoring pass that made it 38-20 with just over nine minutes left.
’We knew (Wright) was a running quarterback but we didn’t know if they would pass with him and they did,” Ray said. “We had a couple of missed assignments with our defensive ends not staying at home.”
Wichita led 23-20 at halftime after a see-saw first half.
Stewart hit Bret Soft with a 10-yard pass three plays after Attrail Snipes was stripped of the ball at the 25-yard line on the Bombers’ first possession.
The Force made it 10-0 on a 35-yard Lacayo field goal midway through the quarter.
Salina got on the board on Coffin’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Parks, but Stecker’s kick was blocked.
Lacayo kicked a 41-yard field goal early in the second quarter before Salina answered on Quentin Benning’s 19-yard touchdown run that saw him flatten two would-be tacklers. Stecker’s kick made it tied the game at 13.
Wichita immediately answered, though, as Clarence Anderson, a former NAIA All-American at Ottawa, returned the kickoff 43 yards for a touchdown. Salina tied it 20-20 on its next possession when Coffin hit Parks again with a scoring pass, this time from 9 yards out.
Lacayo capped the first half scoring with a 23-yard field goal with 3:13 left before the break.
Both teams missed late field goal – Stecker’s 25-yard attempt blocked and Lacayo just missing a 50-yarder as time expired. Stecker had a tough half with two field goal attempts and an extra point try blocked.
W—Soft 10 pass from Stewart (Lacayo kick), 12:20
W—Lacayo 35 field goal, 5:45
S—Parks 2 pass from Coffin (kick blocked), 0:51
W—Lacayo 41 field goal, 13:35
S—Benning 19 run (Stecker kick), 12:34
W—Anderson 43 kickoff return (Lacayo kick), 12:16
S—Parks 9 pass from Coffin (Stecker kick), 9:06
W—Lacayo 23 field goal, 3:13
W—Lacayo 31 field goal, 3:05
W—Lacayo 20 field goal, 12:39
W—Watkins 43 pass from Wright (Lacayo kick), 9:07
S—Parks 5 pass from Coffin (pass failed), 6:14
W—Wright 21 run (Lacayo kick), 3:03
S—Snipes 30 pass from Coffin (pass failed), 1:25