By David Curtis – Xtreme Team Reporter
Los Angeles – (19 March 2001) — Sunday afternoon’s game between the Los Angeles Xtreme and the Orlando Rage figured to be a seesaw affair. Orlando came in as the league leader in rushing and points, while LA boasted the leading passer and receivers with the best individual marks for catches and touchdowns. So it was an especially good sign that the Xtreme scored first. And second. And third. And fourth. And fifth. And sixth.
The floodgates opened as quickly as the lanes for return man Damon Gibson, who brought back a punt 50 yards to the Rage 20 with just 2:51 gone in the first quarter. The Xtreme went three-and-out and settled for a 29-yard Jose Cortez field goal. But no matter. On Orlando’s third punt, Gibson worked his way to the sideline and raced for 34 yards (plus a five-yard penalty) to the Rage 14. This time LA went three-and-in – to the end zone. Tommy Maddox lunged over the line of scrimmage from a “yard” out to give his team a 9-0 lead.
The point-after try failed. But no matter. Cortez added another three from 31, and Gibson set up another six on a slot screen by cutting wide, accelerating, and then weaving back inside again for a gain of 32. Darnell McDonald capped the latter drive with a short slant for the score.
Finding themselves down 18-0 at the half’s two-minute warning, the Rage began moving the ball effectively against a prevent defense. Quarterback Brian Kuklick soon grew impatient, though, allowing safety Leomont Evans to break on a deep shot and return the resulting pick 57 yards. Kuklick was subbing for Jeff Brohm, injured earlier during a blitz by middle linebacker Juan Long. Brohm, it should be noted, hadn’t thrown an interception in four weeks.
The Xtreme went right back to McDonald on the slant. Coverage was much better than it had been on the previous strike, but he still managed to haul in the pass with a defender on his back. Jeremaine Copeland scored the extra point on a quick out. Twenty-five to nada.
Orlando made another push late in the third, most of it coming on a perfectly executed 38-yard screen to running back Derrick Clark. But no matter. Corner Dell McGee, once the weak link in LA’s secondary, shielded the much larger Dialleo Burks from a would-be touchdown, came up with the ball, and eluded the befuddled Burks to mount a lengthy return of his own. His yardage was largely nullified by an illegal block, but the offense proceeded to drive 90 yards in 11 plays for a final romp over the goal line. Saladin McCullough did the honors, dragging a Rage linebacker for a considerable ride.
Game over. No; in fact, Orlando got six points of consolation. Well. Same difference.
TEDDY ROOSEVELT WOULD BE PROUD…
Shutting out an offensive powder keg until late in the fourth seemingly should involve unmistakable dominance. Yet LA’s defense seemed rather innocuous on camera. The Rage averaged a healthy 5.6 yards per play, committed only one turnover when the game was in doubt, and didn’t yield a single second-half sack despite their frantic efforts to come back. The Xtreme simply mastered the fundamentals, racing to positions that forced holding penalties in the run game, refusing to allow many yards after the catch, etc.
McGee was a prime example of this understated approach. With fellow starter Terry Billups out because of a hamstring pull, he was the only true corner on the field in base packages. The onus was on him as never before. And he responded by beating Orlando at its own physical game. In addition to his pick, he outmuscled Burks twice more to force incompletions and made a solo stop on the 235-pound Clark. Just a few signs of the attitude and discipline that prevailed.
STILL THE ONE
McCullough managed less than three-and-a-half yards per carry, but continued to show why he’s become the feature back. He flattened a safety on an 11-yard catch and run and left a linebacker clutching at air in the backfield on a 10-yard draw play. And that touchdown thing was nice, too…