Wichita Force

Wild rookie plows along

In his professional football debut two weeks ago, big James McCartney came agonizingly close to a sack, but the quarterback, at the very last second, high-stepped out of his grasp.

In the next game, there was similar frustration as McCartney, a Hesston native and former Bethel College star, closed in for a big hit, only to have the QB throw the ball away to avoid what appeared to be a certain sack.

"Oh, man, so close," McCartney said.

Two good chances, no sacks, but coach Ken Matous will happily take the pressure that McCartney, a 6-foot-1, 320-pound nose guard, has been applying since joining the starting lineup.

Because while the Wild's defensive linemen have been outstanding at stopping the run, their inability to reach the quarterback is a point of concern. Consider that entering tonight's game at undefeated Sioux Falls (4-0), the Wild (3-1) has exactly one sack — and that came courtesy of a linebacker.

Stopping that trend could be key tonight since Sioux Falls' Terrance Bryant is one of the best quarterbacks in the Indoor Football League.

Bryant, who played at Oregon State, leads the IFL with a 72 percent completion rate, is second with 183.5 passing yards a game, and has 12 touchdown throws to only one interception.

And he has beaten the Wild three straight times, once this season when he threw four TD passes in the Storm's 43-34 victory on March 13.

"We've got to get to him," Bryant said.

Injuries to starters Collin Bryant and Greg Nicks have created quite an opportunity for McCartney, a two-time KCAC defensive player of the year.

Matous said that McCartney is making the most of his chance.

On Monday, he assisted on a couple tackles and forced a fumble in the Wild's road win at Omaha.

"He's a perfect nose guard because he's built like a fire plug; he's just a big, strong guy and he gets under those centers' pads," Matous said. "He's just learning this game, but he's got great determination and a lot of fight to him."

McCartney, who will graduate from Bethel in May with a business administration degree, said adjusting to the speed of the indoor game has been difficult.

"At this level, everybody's big and everybody's fast," he said. "You have to think faster and move faster. One misjudgment in this game and it costs you a TD."

Playing nose guard, Bryant isn't expected to collect sacks for the Wild. Indeed, Matous said that Bryant has proven effective at plowing the center straight back into the opposing quarterback, flushing him out of the pocket.

Still, Bryant had 16 sacks during his Bethel career, including six as a senior. And pressures are fine, but, as he said with a chuckle, sacks "bring the glory."

"Sacks have gotta be the best," he said. "It makes all the work worth it. When you get a sack, it's like, 'Yes!' And for me, it just makes me hungry to want to get more."