Things began well for the Chicago Rush on Friday night against the Kansas City Command, starting with a three-play opening drive that led to a ten-yard scoring strike from QB Russ Michna to NiFTy Playmaker of the Game WR Reggie Gray. But the wheels came off the wagon late in the second quarter, and the Rush fumbled the game away to the Command, 58-51.
Turnovers were the death knell of the Rush (4-2), with the home team putting the ball on the ground five times, losing four of them. Three times during the game, Michna and C T.J. Watkins failed to make a clean exchange on the snap. In fact, facing fourth-and-one on Kansas City’s five-yard-line with five seconds left in the game, the third botched snap sealed the fate of the Rush. Michna recovered it, but the Command defense swarmed him to prevent the first down.
Chicago and Kansas City (2-4) traded blows throughout most of the first half, and only after JLS Ironman of the Game DL Joe Clermond scooped up a Command fumble and rumbled 43 yards with it for a Chicago touchdown did the Rush start to get a little breathing room with a 30-21 lead at the 2:30 mark in the second quarter.
The last 45 seconds of the quarter, however, proved disastrous.
Command QB JJ Raterink absorbed an enormous hit on the boards from Rush DB Perry Kyles on a scramble play, but on the very next play, Raterink escaped and ran it in for a score from midfield. Kyles blasted him again on the boards, but not before he crossed the goal line with :45 left in the first half.
On the ensuing kickoff, Riddell Defensive Player of the Game DB Jason Simpson took a big shot from Command WR Bradly Chavez and coughed up the ball, recovered at the Rush one-yard-line by Command DL Trey Bryant. One play and three seconds later, Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game WR Steven Savoy punched it in for another Kansas City touchdown.
Chicago shot itself in the foot again on the next drive when Michna fumbled, recovered by Command LB Tyus Jackson. K Brian Umstead completed the scoring barrage with a 37-yard field goal as the half expired. In the blink of an eye, a nine-point Rush lead turned into an eight-point halftime deficit.
Kansas City received to start the second half, marched down the field and scored another touchdown with a ridiculous one-handed over-the-shoulder grab by Savoy that earned him the Cutter Catch of the Game and the #2 spot on ESPN’s Top Plays of the Day on Friday night.
Gray responded for the Rush by returning the ensuing kickoff 55 yards for a Chicago touchdown, good for the Spalding Highlight of the Game, finally providing an answer to Kansas City’s 24 straight points.
The teams scored twice more on each other in the fourth quarter, but ultimately it was the botched snap by Chicago on the crucial fourth-and-one that preserved the first road victory of the season for the Command.
The loss spoiled some great individual efforts by the Rush. National Guard MVP FB Johnie Kirton had a tremendous night with 34 rushing yards, 25 receiving yards, one touchdown on the ground, two more scores through the air, and one impressive hurdle over several Command defenders. Simpson intercepted Raterink twice and led the Rush with nine tackles and one assist. FB/LB Marcus Waugh tallied two sacks and a forced fumble. DL Quartez Vickerson contributed a sack and a fumble recovery, while DL Mark Weivoda added a sack of his own to the mix. In addition to his fumble recovery returned for a score, Clermond also blocked a Command field goal attempt.
For Kansas City, Raterink torched his former team with 286 passing yards, five passing touchdowns, 47 rushing yards, and two rushing touchdowns. Savoy hauled in 14 of those passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns, and he rushed for another six yards and two scores on the ground. WR Bret Smith contributed an additional six receptions, 98 receiving yards, and a touchdown. Defensively, Jackson had two fumble recoveries and half a sack, DL Michael Landry rang up a sack-and-a-half, Bryant and WR/DB Christian Wise each recovered a fumble, and DL Bryan Robinson blocked an extra point attempt.
A crowd of 7,310 was on-hand at Allstate Arena for the game.
With the loss, the Rush drops into a tie for the Central Division lead with the Dallas Vigilantes, who beat the Tampa Bay Storm on Saturday, 67-61. The Command closes the gap on both teams to two games with 12 more to play.
Next week, the Rush hosts the New Orleans Voodoo (1-5) at Allstate Arena on Saturday, April 30 at 7:00 p.m. Central Time. Rush legendary fullback and current head coach Bob McMillen will have his number retired by the team that night.
The Command hosts the Dallas Vigilantes (4-2) at Sprint Center on Friday, April 29 at 7:30 p.m. Central Time in an important division battle. Dallas prevailed in Week One by a score of 53-46. The Command has won two of its last three games, though, after a rough 0-3 start to the season.
This article also appears on Arena Pigskin.