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Bucks confident heading into CIF playoff game at Salina

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

Bismarck Bucks head coach Paco Martinez has said for weeks that if the Bucks get to the Champions Indoor Football playoffs, they would be a force to be reckoned with. Now it’s time to back up those words.

The Bucks (5-7) open the playoffs on Saturday against the Salina Liberty (9-3) in Salina. The teams met twice in the regular season with Bismarck losing 50-32 on the road in March and beating the Liberty 47-36 at home in April.

It’s time for the Bucks to step up, Martinez said.

“If we can just put a game together. I’ve been saying that for weeks, but that’s the problem, we’ve been saying it,” Martinez said. “… This week it’s the same story, but this time there is no next week. If we don’t get it right, we’re going home.”

Receiver Jauhem Byrd said he isn’t ready to go home.

“Making it to the playoffs is great, but it’s how we did it,” said Byrd, who sat out last week’s season-ending loss as a week to heal up and prepare for the playoffs. “We stayed in the fight. We can be a different team as long as we combine all three phases of the game.”

Byrd played for last year’s playoff Bucks and was surprised that the team couldn’t keep the spark after its 4-2 start. “Even though we went through the quarterback change, I thought we would have got better. Obviously it didn’t happen that way. We had to stay in the hunt.”

Bismarck has lost five of six games since that high-water mark of 5-2, winning only the game it needed to against the Omaha Beef two weeks ago to clinch a playoff berth. Every loss was punctuated by a break down in a specific area – offense, defense or special team. That led to a series close games – seven straight – decided on the Bucks’ last play of the game. Most were losses.

Defensive end Marquis Smith played a big role in the Bucks’ win over the Liberty. His hit on Salina quarterback Derrick Bernard on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1-yard line, forced a fumble Antwan Smith returned 50 yards for a score. He had seven tackles in that game.

The Bucks need a similar effort this time around.

“As a team, we just have to count on each other and become one,” said Smith, who has made 47 tackles, three sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss and forced five fumbles. “Each game was always something that we did to hurt ourselves. We just need to get over the hump and I have the confidence we can get over the hump. Everybody has the mindset that we can win. That alone shows everyone is on the same page.”

Smith says that has to be there from the opening kickoff.

“From the first snap to the last you have to dominate. No plays off. Give it everything you’ve got,” Smith said. “We you lose you go home. We don’t want to go home.”

Byrd is ready to get back on the field to had to his season totals. He is second in the CIF in receiving yards per game (69) and tied for second in touchdown catches (16). He didn’t want to miss the Sioux City game. “I did not want a break, but it is what it is. It’s for the team.”

Zavier Steward ran for 80 yards last week and is fifth in the CIF in rushing (44.0).

Salina gives up on average 56 yards a game on the ground but has been susceptible to the pass, giving up 166. However, they are third in the league in interceptions with 17 and the Bucks are last in TD passes in the CIF with 28.

“Our offense will put up points, but our defense is going to have to win the game,” Byrd said. “They’ve got a BAD (as in good) offense.”

That all starts with Bernard, who has completed 129 of 229 passes for 1,456 yards and 37 touchdowns. He has run for 556 yards and 19 more scores. Bernard is 20-37 for 212 yards, five touchdowns and an interception in two games against the Bucks. Running back Dominique Carson has carried 30 times for 155 yards and four touchdowns.

“Anybody in this league can win any day,” Martinez said. “We’re excited about the matchup.”

In other first-round games, the Quad Cities Steamwheelers (8-4) play at Sioux City Bandits (9-3) on Saturday at 7 p.m.; the Wichita Force (4-8) travels to the Duke City Gladiators (10-2) on Saturday at 7 p.m., MT; and the Texas Revolution (5-7) goes to the Amaraillo Venom (8-4) on Monday, June 18, at 7 p.m. Champions Bowl IV will be held the weekend of June 30.

Boone, Bucks hope to keep momentum going against Sioux City

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

How is the Bismarck Bucks’ Tray Boone approaching Saturday’s regular-season ending Champions Indoor Football game at Sioux City? The same way he approaches kickoff returns – full speed ahead.

The question is – why?

With a playoff berth locked up and no way to better their postseason seeding, the game means very little, or so it would seem on the surface. But to Boone, head coach Paco Martinez and the rest of the Bucks, there’s a big reason to play to win.

“We have to continue to carry the momentum,” Boone said, “We just got off a four-game losing streak. Getting this win and how we got that last win, we’ve got to carry the momentum. We don’t look at it like we can take it easy because no one is going to take it easy on the Bismarck Bucks. We might as well bring it to them before they bring it to us.”

The 5-foot-10, 160-pound Boone has been taking it to teams more and more each week as his playing time has increased. His playing time is increasing because his productivity is picking up.

“He’s one of those guys who’s rarely going to be off the field,” Martinez said. “If he’s not playing running back, he’s going to be at receiver. If he’s not receiver, he’ll be on special teams. Even if they try a long field goal, I tell him to get ready because he can run it back. As much as we can get him on the field, he’ll be on the field.”

Boone is the Bucks’ second-leading rusher and has scored five touchdowns. He’s the team’s second-leading scorer as a receiver with four TDs. He’s averaging 17 yards per kick return and has returned two for scores. He’s even made eight tackles on defense.

Boone’s speed makes up for a lack of size. And he’s tough enough to take a big it and get up. It’s most apparent on kickoffs. He doesn’t wait for things to happen, he attacks and reacts.

“(Running back) Zavier Steward said you’re a fast guy, get the ball and run,” Boone said. “Once I got that down, it was just grab the ball and go.”

Boone was the team’s leading rusher in the 41-38 overtime win over Omaha that got the Bucks in the playoffs. But it was his 50-yard kickoff return that ignited a 28-0 run that erased a 38-13 deficit.

“It was on everyone’s mind. At one point in time, somebody had to make a play, but who’s going to make the play,” Boone said.

“The blocking on that … coach (Harrell) put new players on the field and Tray had a clear alley to run through,” Martinez said.  “The guys just decided they weren’t going to let the season end this way. It started with special teams, then the defense stepped up and made several key stops and the offense scored.”

Martinez wants to see more of that this week. But there’s also a drawback. 

“Don’t want to get anybody hurt but we’re not playing our best football. We still have work to do. We need to get better and be smart,” Martinez said. “We can’t help ourselves or hurt ourselves. We’re the fourth seed no matter what. It’s a delicate situation to be in.”

Bucks fighting for playoff life in Omaha

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

 Paco Martinez has been around sports long enough for the Bismarck Bucks head coach to know that what’s happening to his team is highly unusual.

 And he says his team has only itself to blame.

 “We’ve done this to ourselves,” Martinez says of Bismarck’s four-game losing streak heading into Saturday’s crucial game at Omaha. “We’re hurting ourselves. We have to stop doing that. When we do, we’ll have a really good team.”

 The Bucks (4-6) are a good team going through a really bad stretch, one that is almost unheard of. They have played six straight games that have been decided on their final play of the game. Unfortunately, the Bucks have been on the losing end four times after winning the first two.

 “I’ve seen one or two in a season but six in a row is unheard of,” Martinez said. “I feel like we’re setting ourselves up for that.”

 The Beef (4-7) have played a big role in the Bucks’ current situation. Bismarck beat the Beef 33-32 in the first of six straight close games. They turned around a few weeks later to beat the Bucks 79-78.

 Now the two are locked in a battle for a playoff berth. In the north, Bismarck, Omaha and suddenly Kansas City (3-7) are alive.

 In the south, with just four teams and an automatic bye each week a team was supposed to play the defunct Dallas Marshals, Texas and Wichita both stand 4-6. Of those, two will be staying home.

 The playoff format is skewed somewhat by the byes south teams are being awarded.

 The first playoff tie-breaker is head-to-head, followed by strength of schedule.

 One thing is certain. It the Bucks are going to make the postseason, they’re going to have win down the stretch at Omaha and Sioux City.

 “If we can just play like we can play, it won’t come down to the last play anymore. That’s what we’ve been focused on,” Martinez said.

 If the Bucks do make the playoffs, regardless of their seeding, other teams better beware, Martinez said.

 “We’re still focused on a championship, that’s the caliber this team is,” the coach stated. “If we get into the playoffs nobody is going to want to play us. They can act like they want to, but we’re going to be a tough matchup.”

Beef, Bucks gear up for Round Two

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

 With one big exception, not much has changed with the Omaha Beef, who return to the Bismarck Event Center on Saturday for their second of three regular-season Champions Indoor Football games against the Bismarck Bucks.

 The one exception: No Anthony Iannotti.

 The veteran quarterback who threw for 148 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 53 yards in the Bucks’ 33-32 win on April 7, was suspended by the Beef on May 3, according to the CIF transactions report. In his place last week was John Gibbs, who was 17-for-31 for 152 yards and a TD and ran for 39 yards and two scores in a 52-40 loss to Sioux City.

 The Beef need to beat the Bucks this week to maintain their hold on third place and a playoff spot. The Bucks need a win to take over that spot. “We’re focused on us and trying to be the best team we can be,” Martinez said. “We’re going to try to put a complete game together.”

 Martinez said inconsistency has dogged the Bucks the last two weeks, both losses which resulted in the team’s first losing streak of the season.

 “The biggest thing I see – sometimes it’s defense and sometimes it’s offense – is just consistency. That’s the big thing we are missing. Consistency is what we’re challenging everybody with. Just don’t panic. Let’s put one game together and see what it looks like.”

 Like the Beef, Bismarck will be without some key players. Team rushing leader Zavier Steward is nursing an injured shoulder and is questionable, while starting lineman Deon Paulson will miss his second straight game.

 Steward has rushed for 360 yards and 10 touchdowns. If he can’t go, Trey Boone will start in his place.

 The teams are quite similar. Both average 43 points; the Beef average 82 rushing, the Bucks 81; the Beef average 147 passing, the Bucks 138.

 “It’s going to be another tough game,” Martinez said. “They’re a quality team. They’re athletic with a defense that is flying around. Everyone knows what’s on the line so it’s going to be a dogfight.”

Bucks turn focus toward Steamwheelers

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

 Bismarck Bucks coach Paco Martinez doesn’t have time to dwell on what happened last Saturday when Bismarck put 60 points on the board and lost.

 Nor does he care to think about the fact that every time the Bucks made a big play – like a 45-yard game-winning touchdown pass as time ran out – was negated by a penalty.

 Nah, Martinez just peeked back over his shoulder and started looking ahead to Saturday’s Champions Indoor Football game against the Quad Cities Steamwheelers.

 “I was disappointed with how we came out and played,” Martinez said. “Seemed like before we woke up we were down 14-0 and almost 21-0. Weren’t ready to play. But we got back in it. When you have that many turnovers and you play that poorly, you shouldn’t be in a ballgame.”

 Martinez is hoping his team is ready for the Steamwheelers. “We’ve got something special, we just have to figure out how to turn the switch at kickoff.”

 LaKeith Murray’s pick-six stopped the bleeding and got the Bucks back in the game. But 11 penalties for 164 yards took a toll on a team that came in averaging less than 40 yards per game.

 Instead of coming out of the game leading the conference, they are third but still very much in the hunt.

 After Saturday’s game, the Bucks will finish the home part of the regular season with a game against the Omaha Beef. Then its three straight road games.

 So is this must-win game?

 “I never look at anything as a must-win,” Martinez said. “I look at things one game at a time. I’ve been in this league long enough and I’ve never had that approach and it’s worked for me.”

 Martinez said he can’t control the schedule.

 “In years past I’ve had some pretty bad schedules where we’ve played the top three teams in the last three weeks and needed wins. It’s just one of those things.”

Martinez: What a difference a week makes

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

Bismarck Bucks head coach Paco Martinez has won three indoor football championships as a coach and offensive coordinator. He has never been through a week like last week.

 “It was a lot different,” Martinez said of the thrilling 47-36 win over Salina. “The coaching change in the middle of the season, we were missing our starting linebacker (Jarelle Miller was at a Canadian Football League tryout) and we were changing quarterbacks. Just a lot of moving parts, that’s what made it different. We just had to put our nose to the grindstone and make it work.”

The Bucks defense stopped Salina four times from the 1-yard line in the closing minute and scored a TD as time ran out on a 50-yard fumble return.

Defensive end Marquis Williams filled in for Miller at linebacker and made the game-ending hit on Derrick Bernard to cause the fumble on fourth down. Miller will be back on Saturday when the Bucks play at Kansas City, a team they beat 67-30 in week one. They held the Phantoms to five yards rushing in that game but also knocked quarterback Donovan Portiere from the game early. Williams will move back to the line. Neither is likely to have to worry about a running game.

Believe it or not, Kansas City never has developed a running game. It’s averaging just over four yards per game on the ground.

“They’re running back got hurt in the game here and they’ve been using a big offensive lineman a lot. They’ve kinda thrown the running game out,” Martinez said. “There’s going to be a lot of pressure on our DBs. That’s the defending league MVP that’s quarterback for them. They just tell you they’re just going to throw the ball all over the place.”

Donovan Portiere was injured early in the Bismarck game but he has since averaged 209 yards per game and thrown 29 touchdown passes. The Bucks will counter with Aaron Aiken, who will start his second game. Martinez gave Aiken a B- for his first start.

“It was his uncertainty with the offense,” Martinez said. “But again, he had a day and a half to learn stuff and get in there. Now he’s had time to digest things and have time in the system.”

 Martinez said the team should be much better prepared for Saturday’s game.

 “I’m excited just knowing we’re going to have a full week of film and a full week of prep and practice and a full week of having a quarterback in camp,” Martinez said. “Jarelle will be back. I’m excited to see us on the field.”

Martinez named head coach

By DAVE SELVIG
Bismarck Tribune

When the Bismarck Bucks take the field Saturday night at the Event Center they will have a decidedly different look.

Two days before its sixth game of the season, the second-year Champions Indoor Football league team parted ways with head coach Richard Davis and elevated offensive coordinator Paco Martinez to the top job.

Martinez, a successful indoor head coach before joining the Bucks staff two months ago, learned the news over breakfast Thursday morning.

"They just kind of broke down the situation and that they needed me to step in and make sure the coaches and players stay focused on the task at hand," said the 36-year-old native of Wichita, Kan. "I hadn't heard anything or didn't know anything about it until this morning. It was a real shock."

Martinez owns a sparkling resume as a head coach. In 2014, he led the Wichita Wild to the Champions Professional Indoor Football League title. In 2016, Martinez guided the Wichita Force to the Champions Indoor Football championship.

The Bucks are 3-2 and trail Sioux City (4-1) and Salina (2-1) in the North Division of the CIF. Davis was still making team-related personnel decisions as of Tuesday night. Davis did not return a call seeking comment. Bismarck hosts Salina on Saturday at 7 p.m.

"It's one of those deals in this profession that happens sometimes and you hate to see it happen to anybody," Martinez said. "But as coaches and players we understand we have a job to do. It's the same mentality as when a player gets injured. It's next man up and we just have to get to work."

Brandon Vaughan, management representative for Dakota Pro Football LLC., owner of the Bucks, said the move coincided with the team's bye week.

“We just felt it was the right time in the season to make a change,” Vaughan said. “Paco has a solid coaching history having previously won a couple championships.”

The Bucks will also have a new quarterback on Saturday night. The team has replaced previous starter Tyler Johnson with Aaron Aiken. Johnson is no longer on the roster.

The 6-foot-5, 235-pounder played collegiately at Georgetown and Coastal Carolina. Last year he played for the Colorado Crush of the Indoor Football League. Additionally, the Bucks have added wide receiver Tarrell Downing, who played with the Jacksonville Sharks of the National Arena League last season.

"We're going to keep it as simple and basic as possible," said Martinez. "Everybody's just going to have to do a little more, but we're confident we'll have (Aaron) ready to play Saturday night."

As for the future, Martinez said it's too soon to even think about it.

"Honestly, that thought process has not even crossed my mind," he said. "We had to get all of our focus and attention back on Salina. We want to play well and put on a good show for our fans on Saturday night."

Ground game, Steward key against Omaha

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

When Bismarck Bucks coach Richard Davis was building his team for the 2018 Champions Indoor Football League season, he told running back Zavier Steward the Bucks were going to run the football. 

“Coach told me he was dedicated to the run and he told me I was going to lead the league because he focused on running the football,” Steward said. “I haven’t hit my stride yet. I haven’t played my best game yet.”

This would be a good week to do so. The Bucks play host to the Omaha Beef and their vaunted run defense on Saturday at the Bismarck Event Center. The Beef allow a league-best 15 yards per game on the ground – 15 yards! They also lead the league in rushing offense at 108.7.

The challenge for the Beef will be stopping the CIF’s second-leading rusher. Steward is averaging 54 yards per game and has scored five touchdowns.

“It’s a welcome challenge. We’re not going to change because of their dominance,” Steward said. “We’re going to test them and make them stop the run.”

The challenge by the Bucks will be to run the ball and stop the run.

“We’re committed to the running game,” Davis said. “We’re going to knock people off the ball. The fact that Zavier (was) leading the league in rushing is not an accident. We intended to have somebody who can do that. Yes, we have to get better. In the grand scheme of things, we’re doing what I want to do.”

The Bucks outgained their first three opponents while going 2-1. They rushed for at least 100 yards in each game. Then came Sioux City, a 43-27 loss in which the Bucks gained just 57 yards on the ground and lost 216-166 in total yards.

“We did not play very well on offense last week,” Davis said. “Sioux City showed how teams should defend us, but we countered that this week and hopefully have an answer for that.”

One area to improve on is turnovers and untimely touchdowns by the opponent. The Bucks turned it over four times, gave up a TD on the game’s first play and a crushing kickoff return score.

The game will likely come down to execution. “They’re job is to stop us and our job is to keep moving the ball,” Davis said. “We’ll figure out who does what better.”

Through the first three games, the Bucks had enjoyed an edge in total offense. They outgained Kansas City 256-177 in a 67-30 win; outgained Salina 245-205 in a 50-32 loss; and outgained Quad Cities 241-195 in a 44-42 win.

Byrd flying high for Bismarck Bucks

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

 The Byrd Man of Bismarck is again flying high in the Champions Indoor Football League.

 Wide receiver Jauhem Byrd first took flight last season, putting together all-league numbers while leading the expansion Bismarck Bucks into the CIF playoffs. Despite a new quarterback calling the shots, the 6-foot, 175-pounder has picked up where he left off last season. With the same team.

 “I had something in my heart telling me Bismarck … Bismarck,” Byrd said. “Even when I talked to other teams, I put them on hold because I wanted to hear back from Bismarck. As soon as I heard from Bismarck, there was no question where I was going.”

 The Bucks are glad Byrd spurned offers from the National Arena League and the Indoor Football League. Through three games this season, Byrd has caught 14 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns, helping the Bucks to a 2-1 start. He figures to play a big role on Friday when the Bucks play host to unbeaten Sioux City in a game for first place in the North Division.

 Byrd, a veteran of several years with semi-pro teams in the Minneapolis area, first came to the indoor football league with an admitted chip on his shoulder. But he channeled that into solid production on the field, in a game much different than traditional football.

Byrd’s ability to adapt was a key to him bursting on the scene last year, when he caught 46 passes for a team-high 709 yards and 16 touchdowns. He finished sixth in the CIF in receiving. He currently is third in the league with an average of 72 receiving yards per game.

 “He’s the security blanket,” Bucks’ offensive coordinator Paco Martinez said. “We’ve got Elby (Pope) who is good and a couple other guys coming along, but he is the one guy you know when you need something in the clutch he’s going to be in the right spot and make limited mistakes.”

 That was most evident in the game against Quad Cities when Byrd hauled in a 45-yard TD pass – the field is 50 yards long – to give the Bucks the lead for good with 4:45 left in the game. He also has a 39-yard TD catch this season.

 Martinez says the thing that sets Byrd apart isn’t easily noticed. “It’s very subtle movements, bending outside and cutting. You’re not running to space in this game, you have to create it. He understands it.”

 Byrd, however, it comes down to the basics. “You have to want it more than anything,” Byrd said. “Coming from semi-pro, I had a big chip on my shoulder. I did what I had to do, made noise and came back. Everything has to be quick and fast.”

Smith steady in Bucks' secondary

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

 Bismarck Bucks defensive back Antwan Smith is usually the last player between a guy with the football and the end zone. He’s usually one of the first between Bucks’ coach Richard Davis and teammates who may be having a hard time accepting Davis’ coaching advice.

 That’ two reasons Davis’ really likes having the second-year player back on the roster.

 “He and I have a great relationship,” Davis said. “He understands where I’m coming from. When I’m pushing somebody hard, Antwan pounds the guy on the but and says ‘listen to coach, there’s a reason he’s doing this.’”

 Smith, a 5-11, 180-pounder from Dickinson State, was a valuable player as a rookie last season. He learned the indoor game on the fly and made 58 tackles, with two tackles for loss, four interceptions and three fumble recoveries.

 Smith picked up this year where he left off last season. He started the season with six tackles and a forced fumble in a 67-30 in over Kansas City and added 10 tackles in a 50-32 loss to Salina

 Smith said the Bucks were solely to blame for the loss.

 “We came out a little flat. We don’t want to do that again,” Smith said. “We were prepared for it, we just came out flat.”

 Smith expects the Bucks to get off to a better start Friday in Moline, Illinois, when they take on the Quad City Steamwheelers. “From the opening whistle we’re going to be on it trying to make that play,” he said.”

 Davis agrees with Smith’s assessment of the Salina game.

 “We just didn’t play very well. I could make a whole bunch of excuses but we just didn’t play well. I don’t know why,” Davis said. “I think our youth showed. We were flat.”

CIF Capsules

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

The Bismarck Bucks open the season at home on March 9 against the Kansas City Phantoms. They will play 12 games on the way to what they hope will be a second straight playoff apperance. To get there, they'll have to wade through 10 other Champions Indoor Football League teams. Here is a look at each based on training camp information:

NORTH DIVISION

BISMARCK BUCKS
Head Coach: Richard Davis
Home Field: Bismarck Event Center
2017 Season Record: 5-8
Key Players: Elby Pope, 6-0, 195, Rec.; Jauhem Byrd, 6-0, 175, Rec.; Deon Paulson, 6-4, 325, OL; Jarelle Miller, 6-2, 245, LB; Antwan Smith, 5-11, 180, DB.
Huddle Talk: Tyler Johnson (6-2, 205) has taken the lead role in the fight to start at quarterback. He was with the Jacksonville Sharks last season and in Arizona Rattlers camp this winter. … Pope had 47 catches for 599 yards and 11 TDs last season. … Byrd grabbed 46 passes for 709 yards and 16 TDs last season. … Miller was second on the team with 67 tackles and 2.5 sacks. … Smith had 58 tackles and four interceptions. … Miller was a first-team all-North Conference pick last season. Paulson and Pope were second-team.

KANSAS CITY PHANTOMS
Head Coach: Meadow Lemon
Home Field: Silversterein Eye Center Arena
2017 Season Record: 4-8
Key Players: Jared Elmore, 6-3, 215, Rec.; Jarard Milo, 6-3, 211, DB; Kevin Funches, 6-0, 180, DB.
Huddle Talk: Elmore caught 23 passes for 333 yards and eight TDs despite playing in only nine games. He is a four-year veteran. … Milo made 47 tackles, two tackles for loss and made three interceptions. … Funches made 10 tackls in four games last season.

OMAHA BEEF
Head Coach: Mike Bonner
Home Field: Ralston Arena
2017 Season Record: 7-5
Key Players: Anthony Iannotti, 6-4, 225, QB; Jeffrey Mack, 5-8, 190, RB; Chris Perry, 5-10, 190, Rec.; Olu’kayode Akinmoladun, Jr., 6-3, 315, OL; Paul Dobson, 6-2, 200, DB
Huddle Talk: Iannotti passed for 2,056 yards and 33 TDs and ran for 676 yards and 19 TDs last season … Mack is back after a year in Sioux City where he ran for 418 yards and 19 TDs. … Perry moved from receiver to defensive back last season and had six interceptions. Moving back to offense this year. … Dobson made 63 tackles last season.

QUAD CITY STEAMWHEELERS
Head Coach: Cory Ross
Home Field: iWireless Center
2017 Season Record: DNP
Key Players: NA
Huddle Talk: Team played in arenafootball2 from 2000 to 2009. It won two af2 championships. … In an exhibition win over the Chicago Marauders, Paul Mroz and Bryan Hicks split time at quarterback. Mroz ran for a team-high 66 yards and Hicks added 54 yards in a 20-18 win. 

SALINA LIBERTY
Head Coach: Heron O’Neal
Home Field: Bicenyennial Center
2017 Season Record: 1-11
Key PlayersDerrick Bernard, 6-1, 210, QB; Dominque Carson, 5-6, 160, RB; Rashad Pargo, 6-0, 185, WR; Julia Staford, 5-0, 190, WR; Ricky Wyatt, 6-0, 233, LB; Tyrell Green, 5-11, 195, DB.
Huddle Talk: The Liberty opened the season with a 17-15 win over Wichita … Bernard was 8-18 for 66 yards and two interceptions in debut. He rushed for 66 yards. … Carson had 50 yards rushing … Pargo and Staford had two catches each. … Wyatt had seven tackles and two tackles for loss. 

SIOUX CITY BANDITS
Head Coach: Erv Strohbeen
Home Field: Tyson Events Center
2017 Season Record: 10-4
Key Players: TJ Oates, 6-3, 205, QB; Frederick Bruno, 6-0, 195, RB; Anthony Eboreime, 6-4, 195, Rec.; Zac Schleuger, 6-2, 230, LB;
Huddle Talk: Bruno was seond on the team in rushing with 625 yards and 23 TDs and led the team in receiving with 36 catches for 309 yards. … Eboreime had 13 catches for 123 yards.

 

SOUTH DIVISION 

AMARILLO VENOM
Head Coach: Julian Reese
Home Field: Cal Farley Coliseum
2017 Season Record: 10-4
Key Players: Nate Davis, 6-2, 225, QB; Jah’son Patterson, 5-11, 200, RB; Cedric Gilbert, 6-2, 225, WR-DB; Raymond Johnson, 5-0, 175, WR; Alex Waton, 5-10, 180, WR; Jordan Decorte, 6-4, 320, OL.
Huddle Talk: Davis is back to lead the offense after going 282-464 for 2,980 yards and 62 TDs last season. He also ran for 248 yards and 22 TDs. … Patterson ran 47 times for 270 yards and caught 16 passes for 97. … Gilbert led Amarillo receivers with 63 catches for 895 yards and 19 TDs. … Johnson had 55 catches for 541 yards.

DALLAS MARSHALS
Head Coach: Larry Hendrix
Home Field: Fair Park Coliseum
2017 Season Record: 7-5
Key Players: Anthony Gilbert, 6-4, 274, DL; Samuel Ajala, 6-1, 205, WR.
Huddle Talk: Dallas beat Texas Revolution 38-37 in overtime in opener. … The Marshals averaged 45.2 points a game last season behind mostly quarterback Robert Kent, who was 88-161 for 1,081 yards in five games. In all, four players attempted at least 35 passes. Defensively, they were among the league’s worst teams in most categories.

DUKE CITY GLADIATORS
Head Coach: Dominic Bramante
Home Field: Tingley Coliseum
2017 Season Record: 7-6
Key Players: Donovon Porterie, 6-4, 225, QB; Antonio Bray, 5-7, 170, Rec.; Dexter Manley, 6-3, 220, Rec.; Sedric Johnson, 6-4, 210, Rec.; Jayson Serda, 6-0, 225, DB; Ray Berry, 5-11, 195, DB.
Huddle Talk: CIF MVP Porterie is an eight-year veteran who passed for 3,010 yards and 63 TDs last season. … Bray had 40 catches for 463 yards an 10 TDs. … Johnson grabbed 39 passes for 353 yards and 10 scores. … Serda made 111 tackles, five sacks and 11 tackles for loss. … Berry was second on team with 62 tackles.

TEXAS REVOLUTION
Head Coach: Carlos Cavanaugh
Home Field: Dr. Pepper Arena (Frisco)
2017 Season Record: 11-4
Key Players: Darius Fudge, 6-0, 220, RB; Clinton Solomon, 6-4, 210, Rec.; Brett Reese, Jr., 6-3, 205, Rec.; Tavarres Williams, 6-1, 182, Rec.; Frankie Solomon, Jr., 5-10, 195, DB; LaDon Hudson, 6-3, 207, REC.-LB.
Huddle Talk: Brandon Crawford and Richard Adkins are in camp trying to earn QB job. … Fudge had 73 yards rushing and 89 receiving. … Clinton Solomon caught 82 passes for 1,112 yards and 34 TDs last season. … Reese had 17 catches for 187 yards. … Frankie Solomon led team with 117 tackles and four interceptions. … Hudson had 77 tackles and 7.5 sacks.

WICHITA FORCE
Head Coach: Morris Lolar
Home Field: Intrust Bank Arena
2017 Season Record: 7-5
Key Players: Jeffrey Legree, 6-2, 183, QB; Jerrel Kelley, RB; Jason Catchings, 6-3, 230, WR; Julian Hayes, RB; Dontra Matthews, 6-3, 200, DB.
Huddle Talk: The Force generated very little offense in a 17-15 loss to Salina in the season opener. Legree was 4-12 for 31 yards. … Kelley ran for 28 yards, … Catching had three catches for 37 yards.

Arena football: The game's the same, only different

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

 Arena football is different than the outdoor game everybody is familiar with, only it’s not.

 Yes, it’s played on a hockey rink without the ice.

 No, there’s no punting.

 Yes, you gotta run the ball out of the end zone after a missed field goal or it’s a point for the other guy.

 Yes, receivers can run toward the line of scrimmage before the snap but, no, they cannot cross the line before the snap.

 So, besides a few obvious variations, it’s football: tackling, blocking, running and catching. Those who like those aspects of the game played within hockey dashers can have an enjoyable night at the arena.

 Unlike hockey, boarding is encouraged since running players into the boards is one way of bringing them down.

 What else is unique to the game? Glad you asked:

 Kicking: There is no punting so it’s either go for it or try a field goal. Goal posts are only 10 feet wide, compared to 18-6 for NFL and college games. That’s why teams averaged between 21.4% and 66.7% and one team, the Texas Revolution, didn’t even try a field goal. Even PATs ranged from 66.7% to 97%. Teams get the ball on the 25-yard line if a kick goes out of bounds before being touched. Any kickoff hitting the back wall or bouncing over the back wall causes the ball to be placed at the 5-yard line.

 The Field: The field is 50 yards long by 28 yards wide with 8-yard end zones. All this is surrounded by four-foot dashers.

 The Players: Eight team has eight players on the field. Three linemen must be on the line of scrimmage for each team.

 Blitzing: One player can blitz but must be five yards from the line of scrimmage and not moving. Also, he must identify himself and stay between the defensive ends.

 Men in motion: Two receivers can be in motion at the snap and can be approach the line of scrimmage.

 The Rouge: When a team does not run a kicked ball out of the end zone, the kicking team is awarded a point, aka a “rouge.”

 These aren’t all the rules, but they’ll get you started.

 

 

Jarelle Miller is heart of the defense

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

Jarelle Miller was an NAIA All-American linebacker at the University of Jamestown. He made such an impact that he wound up in the Minnesota Vikings training camp, a rarity for NAIA players.

The Vikings’ loss has been the Bismarck Bucks’ gain. On Friday, Miller will lead the Bucks onto the field at the Bismarck Event Center where they play host to the Kansas City Phantoms in the Champions Indoor Football League opener.

Bismarck Bucks coach Richard Davis is thrilled to have Miller back.

“Aside from his ability on the field – I personally think he is NFL or CFL talent –he’s mature off the field and I can trust Jarelle to make good decisions. He’s an unquestioned leader on this team.”

It will be the second season opener for the first-team All-North Conference selection. And he can’t wait for kickoff.

“I’ve been ready since June of last year,” Miller said. It was in June that the Bucks’ postseason run came to an end in the first round. With it came an end to Miller’s amazing season, his first in indoor football.

“I’ll definitely have a better year,” Miller said. “With our defensive linemen ahead of me and our defensive backs behind me, I’m expecting to have a better year.”

That’s saying a lot.

As a rookie, Miller had 67 tackles, 2.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. He also forced and recovered three fumbles and broke up a pass, all while adjusting to the new game.

“The hardest aspect of the game is the speed,” the 6-2, 245-pound Miller noted. “It was me trying to figure out the holes on a small field. I always played fast, but I had to slow my game down. I didn’t want to pay too fast.”

The adjustment was as much mental as physical.

“I had to get smarter,” Miller said. “There are only so many things they can do. And I have to stay five yards out and not move. But I can feel every play and with the linemen blocking our line, I can sneak through a hole and react.”

Miller sees potential in this year’s Bucks.

“We have a lot of young talent,” Miller said. “I think we have a lot of guys older than last year. I see dedication and determination of everyone in practice. I didn’t see the energy last year that I do this year.”

Click here for a look at the Bismarck Bucks’ roster heading into Friday’s opener. Click here for Game Day notes.

Johnson Emerges in Camp Quarterback Battle

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

Quarterback Tyler Johnson got a chance last year to see how a top-notch indoor football team is run. He spent much of the season as a backup with the Jacksonville Sharks before being cut just before the team’s playoff run to the National Arena League championship.

He went to camp with the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League this year and was released, ultimately making his way to Bismarck where the 6-2, 205-pounder is a leading candidate to open the season under center for the Bismarck Bucks.

“TJ is a good decision maker on the field,” Bucks coach Richard Davis said. “At the end of the day, history shows in the indoor game decision making is as important, if not more so, than talent. If you keep the ball moving down the field you have a chance.”

Johnson has a history of moving the football. At NCAA Division III Alfred University in New York, Johnson was a second-team All-American and offensive Player of the Year. He holds the school record for rushing TDs (41), single-game passing yards (534) and total yards (8,597)

He “got his feet wet” in the indoor game with the Sharks, who summoned him away from a coaching job at Ithaca College in New York.

Johnson is battling with Mike Ashley for the starting job. Ashley was with the Bucks part of last season. Davis said the starter will obviously be the one who proves he can move the ball.

“Mike has a lot of explosive skills. He has to work on cutting down his mistakes,” Davis said. “He doesn’t have the experience TJ has, so we’re working through that.”

Johnson sees it, there’s only one real difference between the two teams. “The talent is identical,” Johnson said. “The experience is what’s missing a little bit here.

“Jacksonville has been around a long time. Coach Davis talks about the growing pains last year, but I really haven’t seen any of that. The luxuries that Jacksonville had are necessities. The way Bismarck is doing it is a good way to win.”

CAMP NOTES: The Bucks have introduced a strength and flexibility program in hopes of avoiding a rash of nagging injuries that plagued the team early last season. So far, Tanner Schweitzer and Collin Kudrna are paying off as the Bucks are injury free … Davis is trying to beef up the offensive line, which is thin at this point. “We need to remedy that pretty quick,” Davis said. Davis said one player never got to camp due to a torn ACL and another to the Canadian Football League.

Fans get up close look at Bucks

 

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

Bismarck Bucks veterans and a boatload of roster hopefuls squared off Sunday for a scrimmage at the Bismarck Event Center. And the winner was: the fans. 

With access to the field as the team went through various drills, fans got an up-close look and listen as to what it’s like in the huddle. Kids even got into the huddle to make play calls to the players. Bucks coach Richard Davis got to evaluate talent he has had in camp for a week. But he could have done that without opening the day to the public. The team’s first scrimmage was as much for the public – like Bob Vander Vorst and his son Parker – as for Davis and his staff.

Parker found the day memorable, which was the purpose. The most memorable: “Going on the field and calling plays,” Parker said.

“It was awesome,” Bob said of the scrimmage. “They let the kids go out and call a few plays. My son is a football player and he likes watching the team. It was a cool experience.”

The team didn’t hold a scrimmage before its first season started. But with an opening-week bye coming up, Davis thought a scrimmage would be a great way to bond with the fans who helped make the Bucks the Champions Indoor Football League franchise of the year last season. After picking up season tickets, fans made their ways to seats around the Event Center or to sidelines along the field where they mingled and had pictures taken with players.

 Vander Vorst was a season ticket holder last season and was eager to get a look at the new and returning Bucks. “I thought it was great to have indoor football back in Bismarck,” Vander Vorst said. “It was something you could take friends and family out to in the evening.”

 The Bucks open the season March 9 at home against Kansas City. Season tickets are available now at www.bismarckbucks.com or by calling 701-595-0771.

Pope an inspirational player for Bucks

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

There was a reason Bismarck Bucks football coach Richard Davis selected wide receiver Elby Pope to be the first Bucks player ever. In fact, there were many reasons.

“Elby is like an extension of the coach staff,” Davis said. “He’s who I want my own children to grow up to be. He’s a grown man who comes to work every day. He’s proud of what he does and no one ever outworks him. He’s what I want this organization to be about.”

Pope was introduced to Bismarck before last season during the press conference to announce the return of indoor football to Bismarck; not that he needed introductions. Pope played his college career at the University of Mary where in four seasons, he played in all 44 U-Mary games, had 193 catches for 2,781 yards and hauled in 22 touchdowns. As a senior, he caught 74 passes for 1,048 yards and 10 scores.

After his senior year, he signed on to play with an indoor team that never got off the ground in Bemidji, Minnesota, then committed last year to the expansion Bucks. Davis’ faith in Pope was rewarded by a player who scored 14 touchdowns and led the team in catches. Meanwhile, Pope’s faith in Davis was rewarded when the team not only came to fruition, but succeeded financially and made the Champions Indoor Football League playoffs.

““I loved last year,” Pope said of the Bucks’ 5-7 campaign. “I don’t think it was expected. I wanted to just play to see where I was out. I just wanted to play.”

Pope played 10 games, missing the other three (including the playoff) with an injury. He caught 47 passes for 599 yards and 11 touchdowns last season and ran 19 times for 78 yards and three scores. He was fourth in receiving yards per game (59.9) and came away with an appreciation of the indoor game.

 “I love football and since I had this opportunity, I wanted to play,” Pope said. “And I knew coach was going to bring in guys that we were going to win a championship with.”

Pope said he has seen big difference between preseason this year and last.

“I know the game now. I know the coaches. I feel better this season,” Pope said. “I think this team is going to be a lot better. The team is meshing better.”

Davis, however, said he hasn’t seen a big change in Pope. And for that he’s grateful. “Somebody needs to hire Elby right now while they have the chance,” Davis said.

For football?

“Nah. He’s a great player, but he’s a much better person.”

CAMP NOTES: Season ticket holders are invited to a pick-up tickets party at AB Pizza south on Sunday, February 25, beginning at noon and running until 2:45. The scrimmage will begin at 3 p.m. at the Bismarck Event Center.

Bucks tap Dickinson State pipeline

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

Many years ago, legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant leaned heavily on the “Junction Boys,” a group of players that proved determined enough to succeed despite many obstacles.

Today, Bismarck Bucks coach Richard Davis has put his trust in a bunch of players he calls “The Dickinson Boys,” all former college players at Dickinson State University.

“I admire what they do and how they do it,” Davis said at the completion of the first day of training camp on Tuesday. "They have a high standard of expectations, kind of like I want to have here. All the Dickinson kids pay attention in meetings, come prepared and are aware of the business side of it.”

Offensive lineman Deon Paulson was one of four players on the Bucks roster last season. He was joined by defensive back Antwan Smith, wide receiver/defensive back/returner Tray Boone and defensive back Mike Thompson. The four played key roles in the Bucks earning a playoff berth in the team’s first year SSmith made 58 tackles, made four interceptions and recovered two fumbles. Boone had 13 tackles on defense, caught 16 passes for 189 yards and four TDs and returned 11 kicks for 153 yards.

Paulson earned second-team all-league honors and said it was a no-brainer to return. “It was an opportunity to keep playing football in my hometown,” he pointed out. “It’s a lot different this year. It’s more organized and not as chaotic. Last year they did a great job, but this year is more established.”

This season, Paulson, Boone and Smith are joined in camp by former Blue Hawk lineman Sifa Vea and linebacker Devin Martin.

Vea is still taking classes at Dickinson State but has found time to work in some more football, too. When he wanted to know more about the Bucks, he turned to his former teammate, Paulson. “I reached out to Deon, asked him what it was like and he said they had a good thing going, so I thought I’d come out here,” Vea said.

Davis is glad he has a pipeline running through Dickinson State, which first supplied players to the team 17 years ago when it was the Roughriders and Blaze during its two-year run. The first “Dickinson Boys” to play indoor football in Bismarck included linebacker Tony Biesiot, lineman Grant Brinkman and kicker Tyson Niewoehner.

CAMP NOTES: Defensive end and linebacker Marquis Smith and running back Zavier Steward were expected to join the training camp roster on Tuesday. Smith is a 6-3, 245-pounder who was in the Green Bay Packers mini-camp in 2017. As a senior at Savannah State, he led the MEAC with 9.5 sacks to go with 21 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and 132 tackles. He was a 2016 All-MEAC defensive lineman. … Steward was a kicker returner, receiver and running back for the Colorado Crush of the Indoor Football League and is coming in as a running back.

Davis busy as Bucks kicks off Year 2

Spreadsheets, spread offenses, pre- or post-game food spreads; it’s safe to say that Richard Davis is spread thin as head coach and general manager of the Bismarck Bucks of the Champions Indoor Football League.

And he likes it that way.

“I entered into this business as a coach and defaulted my way into sales and...

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Paco Martinez joins Bucks staff

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

With three indoor football championships to his credit, Paco Martinez had his choice of coaching jobs with various leagues and teams. He chose the Bismarck Bucks, to the relief of head coach Richard Davis.

“He and I have the same philosophy, so at the end of the day, it gives me confidence and the players confidence to have a guy who’s been through the works,” Davis said Tuesday after introducing the new offensive coordinator to the team. “For Bismarck to be attractive enough to hire him as a coordinator – he should be a head coach somewhere – it says a lot about what we are doing.”

What Martinez had been doing was winning championship. With three titles (one as an offensive coordinator, two as head coach), he is one of the more successful coaches in indoor football over the last four years with a 27-12 record.

“I did my research on teams throughout the league,” Martinez said. “I wanted somebody that had a fan base supporting it and for a team to have the success they had in the first year is unheard of. I see a potential that’s huge here. It’s a unique town.”

The former coach of the Wichita Force of the Champions Indoor Football League said he knew little about the players when he chose to coach in Bismarck. And it really didn’t matter. He’s won titles with players that should not have won and lost with “stacked” rosters.

“I knew the character of coach Davis and the players we were both going after,” Martinez said. “I told him I’m onboard and excited for the opportunity.” 

Davis rounded out his coaching staff with Clay Harrell, who will coach the offensive and defensive lines and special teams. He was with the Cleveland Gladiators and Orlando Predators of the Arena Football League the past two seasons.

In 2017, the expansion Bismarck Bucks went 5-7 and earned a playoff berth. They open the 2018 season on March 9 against the Kansas City Phantoms

Cody Paul Standing tall in Bucks camp

By SCOOTER PURSLEY

Cody Paul could have been offended when the photographer taking individual pictures of Bismarck Bucks players asked him to stand on the chair be able to get him in the right frame. Instead, he laughed along with potential teammates.

Paul, a 5-foot-5, 180-pound running back and special teamer from Chadron (Neb.) State, has been proving things to others throughout his football career. He’s determined to prove to the Bucks that he belongs on the field when they open the Champions Indoor Football League season on March 9.

“I’ve had that feeling at every level I’ve ever been,” Paul said. “Ever since I was young, I’ve felt that all eyes are on me.”

They certainly were when Paul became a youtube sensation with his own highlight film as a youth player in California. He also had an impact at NCAA Division II Chadron State, following in the footsteps of another undersized player – NFL player Danny Woodhead.

As a senior, Paul ran 79 times for 485 yards and scored four touchdowns. He had 16 catches for 89 yards; returned 21 punts and average of 16.7 yards; and returned 24 kickoffs an average of 23.4 yards.

Paul said he doesn’t care how the Bucks use him. He just wants to show he can be a regular contributor.

“I’ll do whatever they ask me to do,” Paul said. “Usually it’s something to get the ball into my hands.”

Bucks coach Richard Davis asked Paul to come to camp early in the process of building a team.

“He’s a tough guy, he’s disciplined and he’s a good locker room guy,” Davis said. “For anybody with the physical stature of Cody, it’s a challenge. He’s going to work hard to make the roster. But he’s a guy who can do it. For him to make our roster he’s going to have to be Mr. Versatility.”

Paul accepts that. It’s easy when you’re with people, mostly strangers, but have already won some folks over.

“It’s a little scary coming out here, not knowing anybody but the team camaraderie is crazy,” Paul said.

That’s why Paul stood on a chair and shared a laugh with mostly strangers. “The first time you meet everybody it feels like you have close friends here.”

CAMP NOTES: The Bucks have been in pads for one day in preparation for Sunday’s scrimmage at the Bismarck Event Center. The final roster will be set after the scrimmage, which begins at 3 p.m.



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