An Xplosion in Fort Wayne
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on OurSportsCentral.com, Sunday, March 22, 2009
In their season opener Saturday night (March 21), the Fort Wayne Freedom looked like the Freedom of old, in more ways than one. The first thing that fans noticed was the uniforms. The team has returned to the look it had from 2003-2006, when it was first a member of the National Indoor Football League and then United Indoor Football. The team is once again sporting the familiar white helmets with the classic Freedom logo along with blue jerseys with white pants.
The second thing fans noticed was the way the team handled its opponent on the field. It was reminiscent of the 2005 season when the team finished with a 14-2 regular season record that, incidentally, was also under the direction of current head coach Matt Land. Last night's opponent was the Marion Mayhem, the only original team left in the Continental Indoor Football League that can trace its history back to the league's very first season in 2006, when it was known as the Great Lakes Indoor Football League.
This year's Fort Wayne team also includes several players who were members of last year's now defunct Kalamazoo Xplosion team that lost in the CIFL championship game.
Freedom quarterback Randy Hutchison played in Kalamazoo the last two seasons, as did wide receivers Brian Dolph and Dan Musielewicz, defensive backs David Gator and Eric Gardner and kicker Brad Selent. Gator was the CIFL MVP last season and led the league with 18 interceptions. All of these players, who are now with Fort Wayne, had a hand in helping the team to a 46-23 win over Marion.
It didn't take long for the former Xplosion players to make their presence known in the game. On the second play from scrimmage, Gator picked up right where he left off last season, intercepting a pass from Marion quarterback Tavares Woodley and returning it down to the three-yard line. Hutchison then completed a three-yard touchdown strike to Musielewicz and Selent kicked the extra point. Fort Wayne was up 7-0 before all the fans had even settled into their seats. The Freedom was up 20-3 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Hutchison connected with Dolph on a three-yard touchdown pass, increasing the Freedom's lead to 33-10. Musielewicz also had a 25-yard touchdown catch and run in the fourth quarter giving Fort Wayne a 46-17 lead. Gardner, who last season played just about every position on the field for Kalamazoo, including backup quarterback, played primarily on special teams last night and registered several tackles.
Hutchison completed 15 of 27 passes on the night for 155 yards and six touchdowns. Musielewicz had four catches for 40 yards and two touchdowns, Dolph had three catches for 48 yards and one touchdown and Gator had 8.5 tackles and an interception.
But the Freedom have more than just a bunch of former Xplosion players making contribution on the team this year. Longtime Fort Wayne fan favorite Luther Stroder had five receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown while wide receiver Brian Jackson had three catches for 15 yards and two touchdowns. Fort Wayne defensive back Scott Heighland had an interception and fellow DB Aaron Lane recorded two interceptions, one that was returned 48 yards for a touchdown.
"I thought our defense played outstanding," said Freedom head coach Matt Land. "We had four picks (on defense) and six touchdowns. We weren't as sharp as I thought we could be but still it's a pretty good start for us in Game 1."
In all, it was a great night for the Freedom, who sent the crowd of 2,031 fans home happy. With a mix of talented veteran players and an impressive group of newcomers on the team, look for the Freedom to make their presence know in the CIFL as the season unfolds.
Over the last two seasons, several players from the Fort Wayne area made the drive up to Kalamazoo for practices and games. This year, Brian Dolph is one of the former Kalamazoo players who is making the drive down to Fort Wayne to be on the team. "That's been an ongoing joke. They give me a hard time now saying I'm the one having to make the drive, but it's worth it. It's only an hour and a half!"
Fort Wayne (1-0) travels to West Virginia to take on the Wheeling Wildcats (0-1) on Saturday night, March 28 while Marion (1-1) will host the Miami Valley Silverbacks (0-0) on Friday night, March 27.
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Randy Snow is a freelance football writer from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Since 2003, he has covered the Arena Football League, arenafootball2, United Indoor Football, the Continental Indoor Football League, the Indoor Football League, the All American Football League and the Canadian Football League. Randy has been a member of the Arena Football League Writer's Association since 2005 and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He also maintains the web site www.theworldoffootball.com and is the organizer of Operation Gridiron Airlift, which collects footballs and sends them to our troops serving overseas.