Chris Dixon had near-perfect timing with his receivers all night, and the timing of an announcement from public address man Mike Long was also perfect.
Just as the Billings Outlaws were thumping the Arkansas Diamonds by a 47-20 score midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s Indoor Football League semifinal game, Long told the raucous crowd at the jam-packed Outlaws SportsPlex exactly what they wanted to hear. Sioux Falls had defeated Wichita 52-34 in their semifinal game, setting up a United Bowl championship showdown between the Outlaws and the rival Storm.
“It’s the game everybody wants to see,” said Dixon, who threw a season-high eight touchdown passes in Saturday’s 53-42 win. “None of us were shocked to hear that Sioux Falls won. They were at home, and that’s what they do at home.
“But they’ve gotta come to our place next week. We couldn’t ask for a better opponent … it’s gonna be a great show.”
The show will be this Saturday, when Billings and Sioux Falls meet for the league championship at 7 p.m. at the SportsPlex.
The defending IFL champion Outlaws (15-2) and Sioux Falls (14-3) have split their two meetings this season, each team winning on its home field. The two teams have combined to win league championships each of the past four years, including 2006 when both won titles in different leagues.
“It’s gonna be bananas in here,” said Outlaws coach Heron O’Neal, who has now guided Billings to league championship games three times in his five years as coach. “It was loud in here tonight … the loudest it’s been for the entire playoffs.
“I can only imagine how loud it will be in here next week. Sioux Falls will come in here ready to go, I know that … so our guys need to be ready, too.”
The Outlaws were certainly ready on Saturday.
Dixon threw touchdown passes on Billings’ first eight offensive possessions — four to James Walton, two to Carl Sims and two to Tim Brown.
The string of scoring on every possession ended early in the fourth quarter when an Arkansas defender stripped the ball from Travis Browne after Browne caught a pass on the Diamonds’ 20.
That came just after Arkansas had scored a touchdown and two-point conversion, and the Diamonds cut Billings’ lead to 53-42 with another TD and conversion after the fumble recovery.
Billings’ next drive ended in a missed field goal with 1:27 left, but the Outlaws defense sealed the deal with Jovan Jackson’s second interception of the game with 21 seconds left.
“That’s exactly what we needed there,” said Jackson. “We kind of shut it down in that fourth quarter and didn’t do a whole lot, so we needed a pick or a fumble on that last drive to end it.
“We need to play better next week. We can’t give up 42 points to Sioux Falls and expect to win.”
Dixon completed 19 of 25 passes for 191 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions. Walton caught five passes for 76 yards and four TDs, while Brown rushed for 57 yards and caught two passes for 36 yards, scoring on both.
Arkansas quarterback Brian Jones threw for 197 yards and four TDs, but was intercepted three times.
“Billings is a great football team,” said Arkansas coach Danton Barto. “We knew that coming in. Dixon, Tim Brown, James Walton, Carl Sims … we knew coming in that those guys were great players, and they proved it.
“Billings would probably say this wasn’t their best game, and it wasn’t ours, either. But they played better and they deserved to win. This was an unbelievable atmosphere in here. Billings has great fans and they obviously know the game and they love their team.”
NOTES: Tickets for the United Bowl will be available online today at www.billingsoutlaws.com. Beginning Monday at 9 a.m., tickets can be purchased at the SportsPlex or by calling the SportsPlex at 839-9080. … Because of the limited capacity of the SportsPlex — around 2,000 bleacher seats and standing-room spots combined — Outlaws officials urged fans to purchase their tickets early. The game is expected to be sold out by mid-week. … The most bizarre play of the game came on the second-half kickoff, when Arkansas kicker Brian Umstead threw a punch at Outlaws linebacker Kelly Rouse at the end of the play. Umstead was ejected, leaving the Diamonds without a kicker for the remainder of the game. … Following his ejection, Umstead reportedly knocked a hole in the wall of the locker room with his helmet. He reportedly agreed to pay for the damages. … Arkansas made the trip from Little Rock to Billings by bus. Barto said it was a 28-hour trip. … Outlaws officials estimated Saturday’s total attendance — including fans inside the SportsPlex and outside watching on big-screen TVs in the concession/beer garden area — at just over 2,500.