Joe Kassanavoid doesn’t play much quarterback, but when he does, good things usually happen.
Kassanavoid took over for an injured Rocky Hinds in last season’s Champions Professional Indoor Football League title game and led the Wild to their second straight championship.
Saturday, Kassanavoid again replaced an injured Hinds but didn’t enjoy the same results. In the debut game for the Force, Wichita lost a late lead and Kassanavoid threw four interceptions in Salina’s 64-61 win at Intrust Bank Arena.
The Force’s inaugural season in the Champions Indoor Football league began with a look of familiarity as several Wild players returned to Wichita and made contributions on Saturday.
The opener went awry gradually as Kassanavoid, usually a wide receiver, couldn’t maintain productivity in extended duty. He threw a 40-yard touchdown to Dontel Watkins but his interceptions allowed Salina to rally from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Salina’s Thomas Frevert kicked a 37-yard field goal with 30 seconds to go for the deciding points. Isaiah Barfield had four interceptions for the Bombers, including the last one.
Hinds left in the third quarter because of knee and back issues, but coach Paco Martinez didn’t know the severity.
“I think it’s impossible to carry a true backup quarterback,” Martinez said. “Joe is going to be the closest thing that we have. He’s great at working at it, but at the same time he’s a weapon for us at wide receiver.”
It appeared Kassanavoid would maintain the connection Hinds established with Watkins, who spent 2014 in the Arena Football League and has NFL training camp experience. The 40-yard touchdown was Watkins’ third, and it happened as Wichita’s defense was tightening up after a rough first half.
But Kassanavoid and his receivers never fully clicked even though Watkins caught a fourth touchdown in the fourth, and ill-advised passes to receivers who weren’t open negated the efforts of the defense.
The Force held Salina scoreless after the first two of Wichita’s five interceptions – one by Hinds – of the second half, as the Bombers missed a pair of field goals.
The last interception was grabbed out of Watkins’ hands and led to the Frevert field goal. The Force got another chance with the ball but Ernesto Lacayo’s long field goal was blocked.
“The defense made some huge plays for us, so that was big,” Salina coach Bob Ray said. “Barfield had the game of his life. It was a good day for our defense for the most part.”
The second half didn’t maintain the pace of the first, when the teams combined for 14 touchdowns. Wichita’s defense produced a turn when Kendrick Harper returned the third interception of Salina’s final series of the half – the first two were nullified by penalties – for a touchdown that put Wichita ahead 48-47.
The Force maintained its stinginess for a while following Wichita turnovers, but the Force’s mistakes added up quickly.
Kassanavoid’s inexperience at quarterback showed and Salina’s offense didn’t need to be as prolific as it was in the first half thanks to several short-field opportunities. The Force led 55-47 after three quarters and 61-53 after Watkins’ fourth touchdown but couldn’t keep the ball away from Salina enough in the fourth.
“Late in the game, it was just some bad play calls that put Joe in a bad position,” Martinez said. “That’s on me. I’ve got to grow from that and we’ve got to grow as a team and get better from that.”
S—Simpson 31 pass from Coffin (kick failed)
W—Watkins 19 pass from Hinds (Lacayo kick)
S—Parks 15 pass from Coffin (Frevert kick)
S—Jackson 20 fumble recovery (Frevert kick)
W—Anderson 55 kickoff return (Lacayo kick)
S—Parks 23 pass from Coffin (Frevert kick)
W—Watkins 3 pass from Hinds (Lacayo kick)
S—Simpson 2 pass from Coffin (kick failed)
W—Murph 7 pass from Hinds (Lacayo kick)
S—Snipes 5 pass from Coffin (Frevert kick)
W—Murph 12 pass from Hinds (Lacayo kick)
S—Elmore 13 pass from Coffin (Frevert kick)
W—Kassanavoid 5 pass from Kassanavoid (Lacayo kick)
W—Harper 52 INT return (kick failed)
W—Watkins 40 pass from Kassanavoid (Lacayo kick)
S—Elmore 13 pass from Coffin (kick failed)
W—Watkins 31 pass from Kassanavoid (kick failed)
S—Benning 3 run (Parks pass from Coffin)
S—Frevert 36 FG
Rushing—Salina, Benning 6-22, Mack 7-4; Wichita, Hubbard 14-55, Kassanavoid 4-30.
Passing—Salina, Coffin 23-40-279-2 INT; Wichita, Hinds 1115-22-130-1, Kassanavoid 4-12-92-4.
Receiving—Salina, Simpson 7-57, Elmore 6-97, Snipes 5-43, Parks 4-76, Benning 1-6; Wichita, Watkins 5-101, Kassanavoid 4-39, Murph 4-31, Soft 3-45, Hubbard 2-6.