Bloomington’s decision to try for a two-point conversion in the final minutes against the Force on Saturday night gave Kendrick Harper a jolt.
Instead of a kick that could have put Bloomington ahead by two and necessitated a score by Wichita’s offense, Bloomington gave Harper and the Force’s defense a chance to alter the outcome.
Harper intercepted the pass and returned it to the end zone for two go-ahead points as the Force won 52-51 in a Champions Indoor Football semifinal at Intrust Bank Arena.
Wichita plays Amarillo at home on June 27 for the championship.
“I love for the game to be in the defense’s hands,” Harper said. “You know the saying, offense sells tickets but defense wins games. I’m just proud. It was a total team effort, I’m just proud of the defense and how we played.”
The Force’s biggest lead was 47-35, which it took into the fourth quarter. To that point, Wichita had largely neutralized Bloomington quarterback Caleb Holbrook, as the league leader in pass attempts had two deep touchdowns but few drive-sustaining throws.
Holbrook led a Bloomington rally in the fourth, passing for an 11-yard touchdown and putting Bloomington in position for a field goal, then a six-yard touchdown run by Andre Raymond.
On the point-after attempt following Raymond’s touchdown, Harper put himself in position – physically and mentally – for a game-changing play.
“I saw the receiver (6-foot-5 Marcus Lewis), he’s a big, strong guy so I wanted to give him a little bit of cushion,” Harper said. “He’s a strong guy, so I want to separate myself. I know how to play big receivers. I just let myself get a little bit of room, and I saw the ball go up and I just went up and got it.”
Harper’s defensive play decided a game heavily predicated on special teams for much of the first three quarters.
Bloomington’s Orlando Harris returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, keeping the Edge in the game while Wichita’s defense mostly stymied Holbrook.
The Force began to pull away in the second half thanks to Clarence Anderson and his two long kick returns that put Wichita in scoring position.
Anderson also had a missed-field goal return of 47 yards to Bloomington’s three-yard line and had 237 return yards – 63 more than Harris’ total. Anderson also caught two touchdown passes.
“In my experience in football, one thing I’ve learned over the years is how important special teams are,” Anderson said. “A big return can change the momentum. A big return can help with field position. Our special teams, we struggled early but then we started picking it up and I think it was a key to our win tonight.”
W—Hayes 2 run (Drake kick)
W—Davis 13 pass from Olson (kick failed)
B—Harris 50 kickoff return (Ruhnke kick)
W—Drake 33 FG
B—Lewis 32 pass from Holbrook (kick failed)
W—Anderson 26 pass from Olson (Drake kick)
B—Safety (intentional grounding in end zone)
B—Harris 45 kickoff return (Ruhnke kick)
W—Safety (intentional grounding in end zone)
B—Ruhnke 25 FG
B--Ruhnke 23 FG
W—Soft 11 pass from Olson (Drake kick)
W—One-point safety (returner tackled in end zone)
B—Harris 39 pass from Holbrook (Ruhnke kick)
W—Anderson 4 pass from Olson (Drake kick)
W—Olson 1 run (Drake kick)
B—Harris 11 pass from Holbrook (Ruhnke kick)
B—Ruhnke 25 FG
W—Drake 30 FG
B—Raymond 6 run (pass failed)
W—Harper 2-point PAT return
Rushing—Bloomington, Raymond 4-8, Dunn 1-3, Holbrook 1-2; Wichita, Hayes 11-20, Benning 5-8, Olson 8-(-12).
Passing—Bloomington, Holbrook 18-29-230-1; Wichita, Olson 18-29-160-0.
Receiving—Bloomington, Lewis 6-114, Harris 5-86, Dunn 3-15, Raymond 2-8, Clark 2-7; Wichita; Anderson 6-62, Soft 6-39, David 3-32, Kelley 2-24, Hayes 1-3.