Wichita Force quarterback David Olson stepped in front of his team’s fans during a postgame jersey auction after a 44-30 win over Sioux City that clinched a regular-season division championship and the top seed in the playoffs. Olson wanted to apologize.
“I’m sorry,” he said of his team’s offensive effort. “We’ll do better next time.”
Though the offense played poorly enough to offer up an unsolicited apology, the team still celebrated a key win over second-place Sioux City thanks to a series of defensive highlights in the fourth quarter.
The two teams entered the fourth quarter tied at 20, but the Wichita defense took it from there, picking off Sioux City quarterback Chuck Wright three times on three consecutive possessions to seal the win and bail out an ineffective offense.
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Defensive back Dontra’ Matthews snagged a Wright pass out of the air near the goal line and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. On the next play from scrimmage, fellow defensive back Evan Ray peeled off his man in the middle of the field to grab another interception and return it 22 yards for a second touchdown.
Sioux City, trailing by 14, tried to rally, but Ray again ruined the drive with an interception in the end zone with four minutes left. After the game he credited defensive coordinator Rod Miller for preparing the defense to make the difference.
“It was a field-goal game for a while,” Ray said. “But we told our defense we had to lock down. Coach Miller came in and changed the culture here on the defense, and we’ve responded. We’ve been prepared. We’ve been ready.”
Even before the crucial trio of fourth-quarter interceptions, the Force defense disrupted Sioux City’s game. Wright completed 11 of his 20 passes before the interceptions began. On a few drives, the Bandits abandoned the passing game, instead trying to establish a rushing game that was also ineffective.
The three-man defensive line, including Matt Moss, kept Wright on the run most of the game.
“It was a game that could have gotten us to the top of the division, and I put the blame on me,” Wright said. “The offense wasn’t working, and that was on me.”
The win lifted the Force (9-2) two games ahead of second-place Sioux City (7-4) with one game left in the regular season. Wichita will enter the CIF playoffs as the top seed from the North Division.
“That’s the important thing. We’re the 1-seed,” coach Paco Martinez said. “You don’t want to go on the road and have to play a good team and their fans and the face the road officiating, so it’s a great thing to lock up the 1-seed.”
And it wouldn’t have happened without the field goals and defensive effort that bailed out an inconsistent Wichita offense. The Force settled for field-goal attempts on 6 of 7 consecutive possessions before the back-to-back-to-back interceptions. Only half the attempts were good.
Olson did start well, completing 7 of 8 first-quarter passes, including a 16-yard touchdown toss to Clarence Anderson. But Olson completed just four passes the rest of the night and finished 11 for 21 with two touchdowns.
“But we’re not just a football offense; we’re a football team, and that’s how we can win games like this,” Martinez said. “I’m very proud of this team and the defense. We want to be playing this well heading into the playoffs. This is right where we want to be.”