Sting Capture CIFL Title, Beat Kalamazoo 41-37
by Randy Snow
Originally posted on OurSportsCentral.com, Monday, June 30, 2008
In one of the best games ever played in the Continental Indoor Football League's three seasons, the Saginaw Sting narrowly defeated the Kalamazoo Xplosion on Sunday, June 29, to claim the CIFL title. Both teams finished the 2008 season with 13-2 records, but it was the first year Sting that walked off the field as champions in a thrilling 41-37 win.
After the 12-0 Rochester Raiders bolted from the league at the end of the regular season, the two teams with the best records in the league were the Xplosion and the Sting. It was inevitable that these two teams would meet in the championship game.
The Sting wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. On the second play from scrimmage, Saginaw quarterback Damon Dowdell connected with Nick Body on a 14-yard touchdown strike, giving the Sting a 7-0 lead. Kalamazoo answered with a three-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Randy Hutchison to wide receiver Eric Gardner. The first quarter ended with the score tied at 7-7.
In the second quarter, Hutchison connected with wide receiver Brian Dolph on a 45-yard touchdown strike and Xplosion kicker Brad Selent booted a pair of field goals. The first one was 38 yards and the second was a 51 yarder that tied the game 20-20 going into halftime! "I was just thinking, ‘Keep it low and don't get it blocked. Keep it off the ceiling,'" said Selent.
The Xplosion went into their trick bag in the third quarter. There have been many times this season when wide receiver/backup quarterback Eric Gardner took snaps at QB during the season and Hutchison would move over into Gardner's wide receiver position. Gardner is mostly a running QB and Hutchison had not caught a pass this season. Gardner surprised everyone when he threw a 23-yard pass to a wide-open Hutchison in the end zone for a touchdown. Kalamazoo now led 27-20.
"Believe it or not, Randy was a wide receiver in high school as well as a quarterback," said Xplosion head coach Mike Sparks. "He was recruited as a wide receiver. People didn't respect him when he lined up out there. That was one of the easiest plays we had all night."
Kalamazoo was hoping to catch the Sting off guard when they attempted an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, but it was recovered by Saginaw at their own 11-yard line. The Sting missed a field goal on that drive, but tied the game at 27-27 at the end of the third quarter on a seven-yard TD pass to Body.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Hutchison hit Gardner on a one-yard touchdown pass giving Kalamazoo the lead once again, 34-27. Saginaw answered a few minutes later with a nine-yard touchdown pass to running back Nate Collins.
As it was at the end of the first, second and third quarters, the score was once again tied going into the final minute of play. With the score at 34-34, Xplosion kicker Brad Selent booted a 41-yard field goal with 42.5 seconds remaining in the game, giving Kalamazoo a 37-34 lead. But Saginaw was not about to give up. After the kickoff, it took Saginaw just three plays to go 33 yards for the go-ahead score, a one-yard touchdown run by running back John Radney with 24.4 seconds remaining.
Kalamazoo had one last chance to win the game, however. With the ball at their own 21-yard line, Hutchison threw a pass that was intended for Gardner in the end zone, but it was intercepted by Sting defensive back Charles Barber at the two-yard line with 15.4 seconds left in the game. Saginaw ran one play and the clock counted down the final seconds, giving Saginaw the win and the championship.
"I knew our defense was going to come through," said Saginaw head coach Karl Featherstone. "I wasn't worried about the clock, even though it was down to seconds, I felt there was plenty of time on the clock in this game. I don't want guys that are playing not to lose, I want guys playing to win. That's what I instilled in them the whole season and that's how we pulled this off."
This was Featherstone's third appearance in the league championship game and his second championship. He was an assistant coach with the Port Huron Pirates when they won the championship in 2006. Last season, he was the head coach of the Pirates, but they lost to the Rochester Raiders in the championship game, 37-27.
"No excuses. Our guys battled. We played tough. We didn't end up on top. That's how it goes sometimes," said coach Sparks of his Kalamazoo team. "Saginaw is a great football team. We knew that going in."
For Kalamazoo, quarterback Randy Hutchison completed 13 of 31 passes for 157 yards, two touchdowns and was intercepted three times. He also caught a touchdown pass. Wide receiver Brian Dolph caught six passes for 98 yards and one touchdown while Eric Gardner caught two passes for 10 yards and a touchdown.
For Saginaw, quarterback Damon Dowdell completed 18 of 36 passes for 246 yards, four touchdowns and was intercepted once. Wide receiver Nick Body caught 12 passes for 156 yards and four touchdowns while Nate Collins caught four passes for 67 yards and one touchdown. Body was also named MVP of the game.
At no time during the game did either team enjoy more than a seven-point lead. The fans in Kalamazoo, and the many Sting fans who traveled from Saginaw, were treated to a close, hard fought game that had everyone on the edge of their seats until the final seconds. For the Xplosion, it was their first loss ever at Wings Stadium.
Since both the Kalamazoo Xplosion and the Saginaw Sting are owned by the same ownership team of Mike Johnson, Mike Trumbull and Esteban Rivera, there was a slight dilemma when it came to which team colors to wear during the game. The Solution: They had white polo shirts specially made for the game with the Sting logo embroidered on one sleeve and the Xplosion logo on the other.
A total of eight player in the CIFL championship game played college football at Michigan State University, three on the Kalamazoo team and five on the Saginaw team. MSU alumni for Kalamazoo are RB Little John Flowers, DL Dominick Brown and DB Richard Newsome. Saginaw players who played at MSU include QB Damon Dowdell, WR Charles Barber, DB Jeremiah McLaurin, OL Eric Knott and DL Eze Ejelonu.
NFL IN THE HOUSE
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings and his family were in attendance at the game. Jennings graduated from Kalamazoo Central High school and also played college football in Kalamazoo at Western Michigan University. He was in town for his annual charity softball game. Xplosion running back Little John Flowers participated in the game on Saturday.
Xplosion lineman/tight end Kyle Lackscheide did not play in the championship game. His appendix ruptured and was removed the night before the game. He was at the game, however, cheering on his team mates from the bench.
Kalamazoo assistant coach Joe Tanis was participating in a contest at halftime where he was throwing passes to contestants for prizes. One of the contestants turned out to be his girlfriend, Jill. After throwing her two passes that both went incomplete, he ran over to her, got down on one knee and proposed. She said yes.
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE ON THE GAME
In the week leading up to the championship game, Xplosion wide receiver Brian Dolph learned that his wife, who is an Army National Guard recruiter in Kalamazoo, had received orders to deploy to Iraq for 12 months. She will be leaving her husband and two small children behind when she heads overseas in August. It is a sobering reminder that while football is an important part of many people's lives, including my own, there are more important thing going on in our world. As great as the game of football is, it is still just a game.