Story credit: Donny Victory, Times Record News
It had been almost a month since the Wichita Falls Nighthawks had played in front of the home crowd at the Nighthawks' Nest, Kay Yeager Coliseum. Wichita Falls looked extremely comfortable back in its home confines dominating Salt Lake for three quarters.
However in the fourth quarter, the warm welcome home grew wearisome. Still, the Nighthawks held on for a 39-33 victory.
The Screaming Eagles ran off 14 straight points in the fourth to narrow their deficit to six with 6:11 left in the game. Salt Lake drove to the Wichita Falls 7-yard line and looked as if they had taken the lead on a third down pass play that was called back on off-setting penalties.
Walter Thomas helped the Nighthawks take full advantage of the replay. Thomas broke through the line of scrimmage and decimated the QB on fourth down, sealing the Nighthawks' win.
"I was going through my mind in the huddle after the penalties," Thomas said. "I knew exactly what I was going to do before we ever even lined up. I got through the line, and the quarterback still had the ball. I was not going to let him get away from me."
"Walter is just a huge guy," Nighthawks coach Billy Back said. "If he gets his mitts on somebody, he is going to control him. That is exactly how that play went. He got his hands on their lineman and that was the end of the story. He was past him and on the quarterback."
By any standards, the Nighthawks defense was pretty good. By indoor football standards, Wichita Falls defense channeled their inner Iron Curtain. In the first half with the game in the balance, Salt Lake only managed to score twice, allowing Wichita Falls to build a comfortable lead.
"We came out with something to prove," Nighthawks defensive back Neiko Conway said. "After our last performance, we wanted to prove to everyone that we could play defense."
They proved their point for three quarters, but things fell apart for them in the fourth before Thomas came up with his late game heroics.
"I'm going to blame the letdown on conditioning," defensive coordinator Ernie Cooke said. "We got a little tired and got a little sloppy. The defense that we were to start the game is how good we can be, but we still have some work to put in."
The offense was just good enough to win, faltering regularly in the game.
"We built a three-possession lead," Back said. "But we should have had a much bigger cushion with the way our defense played. We played just good enough to win. To be the championship caliber team that we want to be, we can't do that. We have to be at our best and not play down to our competition. Don't get me wrong. They are a good team with some good athletes, but we are better than they are."
First Quarter: The Nighthawks got off to a quick start taking only three minutes to get their goose egg off the scoreboard with a McCullum 1-yard run, and then proceeded to hold the Screaming Eagles off the board on their first possession.
Williams capped the quarter with a 24-yard touchdown run as the buzzer was blaring. Wichita Falls 16, Salt Lake 7.
Second Quarter: The Nighthawks started the second stanza as strongly as they ended the first trapping the Screaming Eagles on their 1-yard line on the kickoff. That series ended with Thomas crushing the Salt Lake QB, forcing an errant throw that Norris Wrenn III picked off and returned for a 23-yard TD.
The second can be summed up by the final play of the quarter. The Screaming Eagles were sitting 3 yards short of a TD, and decided to try to run the ball in for a score. Malcolm Goines was having none of that, blowing up the offensive tackle and stuffing the running back for a loss. Wichita Falls 32, Salt Lake 15.
Third Quarter: The defense started the second half the same as they ended the first by forcing a fumble on Salt Lake's first possesion. The Nighthawks again held Salt Lake to a single score. Thomas crushed every Screaming Eagle that came across his face and Conway absolutely crushed a WR on a bubble screen to put an exclamation point on the defense's third quarter performance.
The fans seen the Nighthawks league best passing attack gel for the first time including a 29-yard catch and run by Phillip Barnett. Wichita Falls 39, Salt Lake 21.
Fourth Quarter: Salt Lake showed some fight refusing to give up. The Screaming Eagles scored on the opening drive of the quarter, and then made a goal line stop on the ensuing Nighthawk defense. Salt Lake followed that with another TD and defensive stop as they came screaming back into this one. Wichita Falls 39, Salt Lake 33.