Last season, the Wichita Force learned not to take anything for granted. This season, they put that realization into practice.
After enduring a tumultuous inaugural season that included eight quarterbacks and little stability, the Force used the knowledge gained to easily hurdle adversity this year. Wichita plays in the Champions Indoor Football championship game against Amarillo Monday night at Intrust Bank Arena.
The Force advanced to the postseason last year but was eliminated in the first round.
“Just a realization that the playoffs are precious,” Force coach Paco Martinez said. “The playoffs are something that we’ve become accustomed to, but it’s earned, it’s not given.
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“Last year we had a lot of injuries on offense, we went through quarterbacks and had a lot of changes. We got there, we just couldn’t get over the hump.”
Martinez and many of the Force players won back-to-back league championships with the Wild before that franchise folded following the 2014 season. The first-year Force battled injuries and defections that kept the team from gaining an identity or week-to-week consistency.
Similar problems have cropped up again this year, but the Force has handled them with few missteps.
Injuries on the secondary and the departure of quarterback Stephen Panasuk after seven games to the Arena Football League have been minor bumps in the road, as new quarterback David Olson has won all six of his starts.
“Nothing can be as bad as last year,” Martinez said. “We’ve already been through the absolute worst and we still came out all right. We made the playoffs. There was a ‘next man up’ mentality this year. We’re going to get a guy in place, we’re going to make the best of it and we’re going to move forward with whoever it is that comes in for us.”
Amarillo presents a challenge to the Force’s newfound ability to shake off problems. In their regular-season meeting in late May, Amarillo jumped to a 27-7 lead before the Force began its rally in the final seconds of the first half, eventually winning 59-51 after a back-and-forth second half.
“That was one of our most dramatic comebacks,” Olson said. “We were down 20 at one point and hadn’t really started anything on offense. We were struggling a little bit against them. We really found our rhythm in the second half and came back for a big win for our team.”
Martinez said the Force controlled the outcome from start to finish, letting its sluggishness get the best of the players in the first half before they realized their potential after halftime.
“The takeaway is pretty simple – when we decide that we want to play, we’re a really scary team,” Martinez said. “When we decide that we don’t care or things don’t go our way, we’re a pretty bad team.
“…That’s the biggest thing that I noticed from that game. When we decide how we want to play, it’s either going to be great or it’s going to be terrible. But we determine what happens on the football field with how we want to approach it.”
Amarillo at Force
▪ When: 7 p.m. Monday
▪ Where: Intrust Bank Arena
▪ What: CIF championship
▪ Radio: KFH, 1240-AM