The Force handed out T-shirts following a 48-45 win over Amarillo in the Champions Indoor Football title game, then retreated to the locker room to holler and drink champagne.
That familiar championship scene followed an atypical path to create it. The Force used defense and its running game, not necessarily hallmarks of indoor football, to build a significant early lead then hold on late.
The Force held Amarillo to 17 points through three quarters and rushed for 137 yards and three touchdowns to win the franchise’s first championship in its second season.
“We just did us,” Force coach Paco Martinez said. “Our offensive line is really talented and I could see they were getting tired on defense. We had two (running) backs and kept one fresh for the second half. We did a great job of bowling people over and we wore them down.”
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Amarillo cut the Force’s lead to three points four times in the second half, but Wichita never lost its advantage. One of the most important plays toward that effort was Quentin Benning’s 24-yard run that got the Force to Amarillo’s 6-yard line with about 13 minutes to go.
The Force scored three plays later to take a 34-24 lead and Benning and quarterback David Olson, who rushed for 27 yards and two touchdowns, were instrumental in keeping Amarillo at bay. In the first half, Julian Hayes rushed for 44 yards and a touchdown.
“It was big because it kept the clock moving,” Force receiver Jarrell Kelley said. “It was helping us on our clock management and when we weren’t getting the catches and the looks that we needed, that running helped. Julian Hayes and Quentin Benning did a hell of a job.”
Before the Force’s running game became so impactful, Kelley had much of the most crucial output. Olson passed for 89 yards, but 50 of them, and two touchdowns, were to Kelley.
He had the Force’s first points on the way to a 17-3 lead, and Kelley scored Wichita’s first touchdown of the second half, stretching the lead from three points to 27-17.
“We’re a team that is built on winning close games,” Martinez said. “That’s what a championship team has to do, and we did that all year. We get everybody’s best shot. We come in expecting a fist fight, and that’s what we prepare for. If it’s close and we lose the lead, we know we’re going to be all right – just do what we do.”
Most of the Force’s identity is tied to its defense, which particularly shined for the first three quarters. The game featured 32 penalties – 21 by Amarillo – but the Force was never bogged down, maintaining elevated emotion for 60 minutes, or at least summoning it when needed.
Amarillo quarterback Nate Davis, a former NFL draft pick who played preseason games with the San Francisco 49ers and spent time with NFL practice squads, was relentlessly pursued by the Force’s defensive line while his receivers were shadowed by defensive backs.
“We took the challenge,” said Force defensive back Elbert Mack, a North product and former NFL player. “Coach told us we were going to play man coverage. The quarterback spent some time in the NFL, so that speaks for itself. He has the arm, and we knew that coming in. We took the challenge coming in and defensively we stepped up to it.”
The Force was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last season, though many of its players won league championships with the Wild in 2013 and ’14. They’ve experienced similar emotions, but that didn’t damper the comfort of those T-shirts or the chill of the champagne.
“This one just means more,” Martinez said. “I don’t want to disrespect those efforts, but this season we had a lot more to overcome. …Just knowing everything we’ve overcome and knowing how good the league was, I just enjoy this one much more. But I’ve got some more enjoying to do later on tonight, that’s for sure.”
W—Kelley 16 pass from Olson (Drake kick)
W—Hayes 11 run (Drake kick)
A—Felton 18 FG
W—Drake 24 FG
A—Walker 8 pass from Davis (Felton kick)
W—Drake 17 FG
A—Davis 4 run (Felton kick)
W—Kelley 22 pass from Olson (Drake kick)
A—Bradley 1 run (Felton kick)
W—Davis 9 pass from Olson (Drake kick)
A—Jones 30 pass from Davis (Felton kick)
W—Olson 4 run (Drake kick)
A—Jones 13 pass from Davis (Felton kick)
W—Olson 4 run (Drake kick)
A—Bradley 5 pass from Davis (Felton kick)
Rushing—Amarillo, Davis 5-37, Bradley 6-17; Wichita, Benning 7-45, Hayes 9-44, Olson 11-27, Anderson 3-21.
Passing—Amarillo, Davis 20-34-205-0; Wichita, Olson 9-18-89-0.
Receiving—Amarillo, Walker 5-37, Jones 4-61, Johnson 4-61, Curry 4-24, Bradley 2-10, Liu 1-12; Wichita, Kelly 4-50, Anderson 2-25, Davis 2-19, Hayes 1-(-5).