Needing a win and facing some Capitol punishment, the Billings Outlaws got a reprieve on Saturday night.
Billings quarterback Albert Higgs - announced as The Man in pregame introductions - instead played The Warden, passing for four touchdowns in directing the do-or-die Outlaws to a 44-20 National Indoor Football League victory over the Lincoln (Neb.) Capitols at MetraPark Arena.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Higgs thrilled the home crowd of 2,610 by hooking up with speedy receiver James Owens on all of his touchdown passes. Higgs passed for 292 yards and Owens accounted for 96 of them by making nine catches.
"It's go time," said Owens, who reeled in TD passes covering 7, 9, 10 and 32 yards. "This is what we get paid for. We can't sit back and wait for things to happen. We've got to make them happen."
Billings, needing a victory to keep its precarious playoff hopes alive, scored on its first three possessions of the game. The Outlaws, now 4-5 on the year, then stalled on offense before erupting for 27 fourth-quarter points.
"They did play with a sense of urgency, which was good," Billings coach Joe Curtiss said of his team. "We just need to do it every week. We have the potential."
The Outlaws, who have five regular-season games remaining, will play the next three weekends on the road, beginning this coming Saturday at the Sioux Falls Storm. Billings' final home game will be June 14 against the Rapid City Red Dogs.
"We want to be in it for the rest of the season," linebacker Luke Twibell said after the Outlaws defeated the Capitols. "We just don't want to be playing for pride."
Billings led Lincoln just 17-13 heading into the final 15 minutes of play.
The Outlaws scored on a 10-yard pass from Higgs to Owens with 13:30 left to make it a 24-13 spread. Lincoln's Jason Mitchell then fumbled after dashing up the field with a long return on the ensuing kickoff.
Billings' Vince Huntsberger made the fumble recovery at the Outlaws' 22. Five plays later, Jaquwan Brackenridge raced in from the 2-yard line to increase the Outlaws' lead to 30-13 with 10:05 remaining.
Lincoln came right back - thanks to a 39-yard gain on a pass interference call - to get a 2-yard scoring run by quarterback Derek Dyer and close within 30-20 with eight minutes left.
Higgs, however, hooked up with a streaking Owens on a 32-yard scoring pass and Jay LeProwse added another TD on a 6-yard run to close out the scoring.
"When our veterans come out and play like they did tonight and everybody else falls into line, it's easy to win games," said Owens.
Higgs completed 27 of his 41 passes with no interceptions. Bryan Meier had eight receptions for 96 yards and newly-acquired Ron Harper snagged eight balls for 63 yards.
"One thing Albert does very well is spread the ball around," said Curtiss. "As we continue to get things going, these guys are going to have to come up big."
While Billings sparkled - at times - on offense, the defense also played a pivotal role in the victory.
Leading 17-7 in the second quarter, the Outlaws stopped Lincoln's star running back Jon Hall on four straight carries starting from the 6-yard line. On one play, Twibell made a shoestring tackle on Hall to prevent the 225-pound running back from scoring.
"That goal-line stand was huge," said Curtiss. "Anytime a team gets down there close and doesn't score it's pretty disheartening. It was at a point in the game where they were trying to get some momentum. And this game is all about momentum."
Higgs and Owens hooked up on two touchdown passes and Brandon Schillinger had a 21-yard field goal as the Outlaws scored 17 points in the game's 12 1/2 minutes.
"Albert always throws a tight ball," said Owens. "I've got a broken finger because of it."
Billings, as a team, didn't feel completely comfortable against the Capitols until Shon Flores intercepted a Dyer pass in the end zone with 4:26 to play - and the Outlaws leading 37-20.
Flores received a late hit after making the pick, and a brief skirmish broke out. Both Lincoln's Dyer and Billings' Andy Petek were ejected.
"This was a complete game for us," Curtiss said afterwards. "This team has a lot of character. We just need to get some consistency."
So while the Outlaws gained a reprieve on Saturday night, Curtiss said his team is definitely not off the hook.
"I don't think we can drop one right now," he said. "We've got to prepare for each game like it's a playoff game."