In his short time with the Wichita Wild, quarterback Phil Staback has excelled at spreading the ball around to various receivers.
But in a pressure situation — like the one the Wild faced late in a game against the Omaha Beef — everyone in the league knows who Staback will try to find: Clinton Solomon.
"Come on, man, why wouldn't they go to him?" Omaha linebacker Matt Hewitt said. "The guy's one of the best players in the league. I got a lot of respect for him."
So much respect that when he spied Solomon out of the corner of his eye, he reacted quickly and made a spectacular interception — a highlight-worthy play that all but sealed Omaha's victory over the Wild on Saturday night at Hartman Arena.
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While the Wild, behind a stout defensive effort, made a valiant second-half comeback, Omaha held on 48-44 in a three-hour game played in front of 3,546 fans.
The loss was a blow to the fading playoff hopes for the Wild, which dropped to 3-7.
The Wild struggled offensively for most of the first two quarters and, thanks to some clock-management problems, limped into halftime with no momentum and trailing 32-16.
"The defense played a hell of a game," Staback said. "Offensively, we have to learn to play all four quarters.
"I made some mistakes I shouldn't be making. We ran some wrong routes. Play calling was an issue. It was definitely team mistakes that cost us that game."
Despite all those problems, the Wild found itself in surprisingly good shape late in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 48-42, the Wild took over first and 10 at its own 5 and marched steadily down the field. Staback made one of the best plays of the game on the drive when he scrambled, ducked away from an Omaha lineman and hit Solomon to convert a third-and-one at midfield.
A few plays later, the Wild had a first and goal at the 7 with just under a minute left. Staback, who had thrown his first interception on a tipped pass with the Wild on an earlier drive, appeared ready to redeem himself and move to 3-0 as the team's quarterback.
The indoor rookie dropped back and zipped a pass toward Solomon, but the 6-foot-3 Hewitt dove in front of him and, arms outstretched, hauled in the football.
"I was roaming in the middle of the field, and then I saw Solomon with my peripheral vision," Hewitt said. "So I went that direction, and when the quarterback threw a dart I dove for it. I had to stretch out on that one, man."
Solomon, who had a typically strong game with two touchdown catches, took off his helmet and pleaded with the official to rule that the ball had hit the ground. No luck.
"The guy (Hewitt) made a heck of a play, but I thought the ball hit the ground," Staback said. "I think it was half my mistake and half his great play that caused that.
"I definitely shouldn't have tried to force things. We had 20 seconds left on the clock. I should have thrown it away and lived to play another down, which I usually do."
The Wild made things interesting when defensive lineman Matt Moss sacked Omaha quarterback James McNear in the end zone for a safety, for the game's final margin.
After Omaha intentionally kicked the ball out of bounds, the Wild had one last shot from the 20, but Staback's pass in the end zone was batted down.
"We'll learn from this and take it out on West Texas next week," Staback said.
Notes — Wild kicker Dylan Pohlman missed three extra points and a 28-yard field goal.... Ken Matous was fired as the Wild's coach on April 11, but, in the team's game-day program, he is was still listed as the team's coach and is pictured twice.... Omaha has a player named O.J. Simpson on its roster. A wide receiver from Missouri Western, he was called for a personal foul in the second half — a penalty that drew a murmur when his name was announced.
Omaha6 26 9 7 — 48 Wichita10 6 20 8 — 44
W—Fudge 2 run (Pohlman kick)
O—McNear 9 run (Stewart kick failed)
W—Pohlman 20 FG
O—Avery 4 pass from McNear (Stewart kick blocked)
O—Jones 7 pass from McNear (run failed)
W—Fudge 6 run (Pohlman kick failed)
O—Rollins 42 run (Stewart kick)
O—Avery 5 pass from McNear (Stewart kick))
O—Stewart 39 kick
W—Solomon 5 pass from Staback (Pohlman kick)
W—Kelly 50 missed FG return (Pohlman kick)
O—Avery 26 pass from McNear (Stewart kick failed)
W—Solomon 24 pass from Staback (Pohlman kick failed)
O—McNear 7 run (Stewart kick)
W—Fudge 1 run (Pohlman kick failed)
W—McNear tackled in end zone for safety
Rushing—Omaha, Rollins 11-71, McNear 8-13, Simpson 1-9. Wichita, Fudge 12-32, Staback 4-13.
Passing—Omaha, McNear 20-36-1-180. Wichita, Staback 19-35-2-165.
Receiving—Omaha, Avery 7-79, Rollins 6-23, Jones 4-44, Burrell 2-25. Wichita, Solomon 7-76, Givens 6-65, Fudge 4-16, Sharp 1-5.