06/16/2012 9:46 PM
Reggie Gray celebrates one of his three first half touchdowns - photo by Dave Erwin
ROSEMONT, Illinois –A defensive awakening by the Chicago Rush (8-5) vaulted them to a 62-27 victory over the Georgia Force (7-7) Saturday night at Allstate Arena in front of 6,202 fans. The win keeps the Rush right in the thick of the National Conference playoff race as they moved to within a half game of the fourth and final playoff spot.
“I like where our team is headed. I like what they’re doing right now. They’re having player meetings to talk about getting better in practice. They’re working hard.. they’re picking each other up. It’s about character and the kind of guys we have in the locker room and those guys are doing well,” began Head Coach Bob McMillen about the ability for the team to rally together after a tough defeat last week.
A sack by Georgia’s Jerry Turner on the opening possession only delayed the inevitable as Russ Michna (17-26, 217 yards, 6 TD) found Reggie Gray for a 24-yard touchdown two minutes and twenty four seconds into the contest. The defense used the early 7-0 lead to spark pressure in every gap on the Force offensive line. Defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald and nose tackle Darrell Campbell harassed Force QB R.J. Archer into a turnover on downs on Georgia's first offensive series when he hurried a pass that was dropped WR Jake Allen.
The early defensive stop poured fuel on the fire for the quick strike Rush offense. Missing Reggie Gray (7 catches, 91 yards, 3 TD) by inches for a touchdown on the first play of the second drive, Michna redeemed himself four plays later tofind Gray for the 9-yard touchdown pass and catch.
Other than a 13-yard touchdown pass thrown by Georgia’s R.J. Archer to Larry Shipp (10 catches, 102 yards, 1 TD), the Force were unable to place additional points on the board in the first half. Archer’s six incompletions in the first quarter matched the incompletions he threw for the entire Week 6 match up between the Rush and Force earlier this season.
The inconsistency from Archer did not transfer to the left arm of Russ Michna. He targeted Terrance Turner on four straight passing plays during the third offensive possession to set up a quick screen touchdown toss to Reggie Gray, his third and final touchdown catch of the night.
The 21-7 score received another shot in the arm when Rush newcomer Jorrick Calvin, assigned to the Rush roster two days prior, picked off Archer for his fifth interception on the year, first for the Rush.
The interception by Jorrick Calvin (10 tackles, 2 interceptions on the night) led to the longest drive of the night for the Rush, both in terms of yards (45) and minutes (4:00). The methodical nine play drive, which perfectly clocked the final minute of the second quarter, was capped off with a one step drop by Michna who tossed the ball to Jared Perry allowing him to dart along the side board to give the Rush a 28-7 halftime lead.
A shot of adrenaline gave the Force 14 unanswered points to begin the second half. C.J. Johnson took the opening third quarter kickoff 53 yards for a touchdown. Chicago’s only turnover of the night happened on the ensuing possession when Georgia’s Matt Marcorelle strip sacked Russ Michna. The Force zeroed in on the opportunity to close the game to within seven on an Archer touchdown pass and catch to Shay Hodge (4 catches, 28 yards, 1 TD). However, Hodge’s touchdown catch at the 12:46 mark of the third quarter was Georgia’s last score until a four-yard touchdown catch by Jake Allen broke a 25-minute scoring drought.
Reason for the scoring troubles can be attributed to a Rush defense that was firing on all cylinders. Jorrick Calvin grabbed his second interception of the game late in the third quarter as he took advantage of an Archer touch pass that lost steam on way to Larry Shipp.
Rush jack linebacker Kelvin Morris had the highlight of the game in the fourth quarter by tipping his 5th interception of the season into his hands and thundering 32-yards down the right sideline to notch his fourth defensive touchdown of the year. With the third turnover of the night by the Force, any air remaining in the sails of their offense left as Head Coach Dean Cokinos replaced Archer with Kevin Eakin for an offensive series.
As always, the game couldn’t be complete without Rush backup quarterback Luke Drone finding the end zone for his 11th rushing touchdown of the year. Fullback J.J. Payne backed him up with a nine-yard touchdown run of his own a possession later to place the exclamation point on the 62-point output.
“We’ve kind of had an interesting year here,” discussed QB Russ Michna about the jekyll and hyde nature of playing home versus away, “Where we’ve had a lot of, you know, turnover on the (defensive side) of the ball and we’ve been pretty stable on the (offensive), so if we can get that thing right in the same direction and get them playing well, get us playing well and hopefully we can make a little run here.”
The Rush improved to 8-5 on the season and kept themselves within 2 games of division leading San Antonio (10-3). Chicago heads out on the road next week trying for their first win away from Allstate since March 31st against Kansas City (2-10).
National Guard MVP – CHI QB Russ Michna
Russell Athletic Offensive Player of the Game – CHI WR Reggie Gray
Riddell Defensive Player of the Game – CHI DB Jorrick Calvin
Cutters Catch of the Week – CHI JLB Kelvin Morris interception returned for TD
AFL Playmaker of the Game – CHI DB Jorrick Calvin
Spalding Highlight of the Game – GEO KR C.J. Johnson’s 53-yard kickoff return for TD
JLS Ironman of the Game – CHI JLB Kelvin Morris