Tim Brown is quickly becoming the Prince of The Plex.
Brown zigged, zagged and sprinted to 240 all-purpose yards and scored three touchdowns Saturday afternoon as the Billings Outlaws dominated the San Angelo Stampede Express 68-39 in an Indoor Football League quarterfinal playoff game at the Outlaws SportsPlex.
With the win, the defending IFL champion Outlaws (14-2) advance to a semifinal game on Saturday night against the Arkansas (Little Rock) Diamonds. Kickoff for the semifinal game will be at 7 p.m. at the SportsPlex.
Brown scored on a 6-yard pass from Chris Dixon, a 41-yard kickoff return and a 1-yard run — all in the first half — helping the Outlaws build an overwhelming 38-20 halftime lead to the delight of the crowd of 1,500-plus at the SportsPlex. Brown finished the game with 68 yards rushing on 11 carries, 61 yards receiving on six catches, and 111 yards on four kickoff returns.
In two playoff games at the SportsPlex — the Outlaws’ temporary home for games due to the tornado that hit Rimrock Auto Arena on June 20 — Brown has racked up 368 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns.
“I love it in here,” said the 5-foot-8, 200-pound speedster with a wide smile. “With the lower ceiling, they can’t kick it high and deep on kickoffs so there’s more chances to get a return. And I love the turf in here. It’s the outdoor-style turf … you have to wear football cleats, which is perfect for the way I run.”
While Brown was running wild, the Billings defense held San Angelo running back Derrick Ross, the IFL’s leading rusher and offensive rookie of the year, to 55 yards on 11 carries. The 5-foot-11, 235-pound Ross ran for two touchdowns, giving him 31 rushing TDs for the season, and also caught a touchdown pass.
“This was a day of running backs, and I am definitely loving my running back,” said Outlaws coach Heron O’Neal. “Tim is the most elusive guy in this league, and he proved that again today. He ran the ball, he caught the ball, and he busted loose on a kickoff return for the second week in a row. He even made three tackles (on kickoff coverage).
“Everybody was talking about Ross coming into the game, and he is very good … I became a Derrick Ross fan today. But Tim Brown is good, too. They’re both good in their own different ways, but I wouldn’t trade Tim for anybody.”
Brown’s most spectacular play of the day did not result in a touchdown.
Midway through the second quarter, Brown took a short pass from Dixon and burst up the left sideline. After he’d gained 15 yards, Brown was met on the sideline by San Angelo cornerback Keon Perry at the 7-yard line. Brown attempted to hurdle Perry, but Perry rose up and got a piece of Brown and sent him flying over the sideline boards.
Brown immediately popped back up, drawing a roar of appreciation and relief from the crowd. Two plays later, Brown scored on a 1-yard run.
“I tried to jump over him, but I didn’t make it,” smiled Brown. “I landed on my side … kind of on my arm and shoulder. That hurt, but I didn’t want to let (San Angelo) know I was hurting.”
Billings led 38-20 at halftime and never led by less than 19 points in the second half.
Dixon completed 19 of 30 passes for 186 yards, four touchdowns and one interception as Billings scored on nine of 10 offensive possessions. Carl Sims caught six passes for 73 yards and two touchdowns and James Walton also had a touchdown catch.
The game also featured its share of unusual plays, most of which involved Outlaws kicker Garret Palmer.
Twice on Palmer’s hard bouncing kickoffs, Billings caught San Angelo kick returners in the end zone for a one-point rouge. And the strangest play of the game came after Brown’s kickoff return for a TD in the second quarter.
A low snap on the extra-point kick saw the ball bounce into Palmer’s hands, and he ran to his left to avoid the onrushing San Angelo players. Palmer then stopped and threw the ball back to his right to Dixon, who scrambled around for a few seconds before lofting a pass to the back right corner of the end zone — where defensive end Mike Bazemore made a leaping catch high against the eight-foot end zone boards.
“I saw Garret throw the ball back to Chris, and then I saw the DB come up because he thought Chris was going to run it,” said Bazemore. “Chris kind of gave me a look and I knew he was going to throw it to the corner. I caught it clean, then I hit the wall and it almost popped out.”
San Angelo finishes the season with an 11-5 record. Stampede Express coach Clint Dolezel credited the Outlaws with playing like defending champions.
“They’re a great football team,” said Dolezel. “They play a good style and they don’t make many mistakes. We had a few chances to get back to within one score in that second quarter, but when the time came Billings made a play and we didn’t.
“Our guys played hard and made some plays, just not enough. This was definitely Billings’ night … they were the better team.”
O’Neal was pleased with the dominant effort of his defense, which held San Angelo to just six points in the second and third quarters.
“Getting those defensive stops was the key to the win,” he said. “Our secondary played solid … they didn’t get beat over the top all day and they got their hands on a lot of passes. And our guys up front were pressuring their quarterback all day (San Angelo QB Dustin Almond completed just 16 of 38 passes).
“This was another solid team win for us. We played well on offense, defense and special teams, which is exactly what you want to be doing at playoff time.”
With a win next week, Billings will reach its third championship game in Heron O’Neal’s five years as head coach. The Outlaws won league titles in 2006 (NIFL) and 2009 (IFL) under O’Neal, who is now 10-0 at home in the playoffs.
NOTES: Arkansas defeated Amarillo 46-31 in their quarterfinal game Saturday night. … Billings’ next-to-last TD came on a one-yard run by Stevensville native and former Carroll College receiver Travis Browne. On the previous play, Browne broke two tackles on an 11-yard reception and was stopped just short of the goal line. … Including the $5 ticket for fans who chose to view the game in VIP tents in the concession/beer garden area, Outlaws officials estimated Saturday’s total attendance to be 2,200. … The win is the 21st straight at home for the Outlaws dating back to the 2008 regular season. … San Angelo defensive back Joey Longoria, a member of the Outlaws’ 2006 NIFL championship team, suffered a shoulder injury in last week’s win over Fairbanks. Longoria did not make the trip to Billings.