BISMARCK, N.D. - A short field helped Chris Schwab and the Bismarck Roughriders make short work of the Billings Outlaws, 68-55, on Saturday night.
Thanks to a ballhawking defense in the first half and a flurry of onside kicks in the second, the Roughriders had seven possessions that began inside the Billings 15-yard line.
Thanks to Schwab, who threw for eight touchdowns, and a strong game by his receivers, the Riders scored on all of them. No wonder then that Bismarck (4-3) picked up its third straight win and all but eliminated defending conference champion Billings (3-5) from playoff contention.
"We played really poorly tonight," said Joe Curtiss, the Outlaws' head coach. "They didn't do anything different. We just didn't execute at all and they did.
"We had our chances and we didn't make the plays, especially on defense. It was an extremely frustrating night."
Unlike Bismarck's last game against Sioux City, when Schwab threw franchise records of nine touchdowns and 350 yards, Schwab's only gaudy stat was the TDs. He threw for just 119 yards because of the field position.
"That makes it nice, but it also makes it tough, because you don't have as much room," Schwab said.
That didn't seem to slow down Bismarck. The Roughriders began three of their four possessions inside the Billings 10-yard line. Not surprisingly, all four ended in touchdowns.
In fact, the Riders finished the half with nearly as many points (28) as yards of total offense (30).
On the Outlaws' first drive, Albert Higgs and Jay LeProwse crossed wires on a pitchout attempt. Bismarck defensive back Kyle Sires scooped it up and took it back 31 yards to the Billings 6. Three plays later, Schwab hooked up with A.J. Street on a 2-yard scoring pass, making it 6-0 Bismarck.
Each team benefited from long pass interference penalties on their second drives, with Billings scoring on a 1-yard run by Higgs and Bismarck answering on a 1-yard play-action pass from Schwab to Chris Anderson on the first play of the second quarter. The two-point conversion run by Quentin Cradle gave Bismarck a 14-7 lead.
A 3-yard TD by Jaquwan Brackenridge evened the game, but Cradle put Bismarck back in business with a 19-yard kickoff return to the Outlaw 7. Two plays later Cradle left Brackenridge grabbing air as he swept around left end and into the end zone untouched. Street's conversion run made it 22-14, Riders.
Then the Bismarck defense came up with another big play. Stacy Edwards, who nearly recovered the first fumble, snared a Higgs pass and took it back 33 yards, all the way down to the Billings 2-yard line.
The Riders had a tough time punching it in, but on fourth down Schwab again found Anderson on the play-action, increasing the lead to 28-14.
Billings trimmed the Bismarck gap to a touchdown, scoring with 10.4 seconds left in the half on a 2-yard toss from Higgs to Owens.
The Riders nearly got another score before half, as Reggie Schulte made a spectacular catch that would have been for a 30-yard touchdown, but a holding penalty brought it back.
The Riders were flagged nine times for 51 yards of penalties in the first half.
"We were undisciplined," Bismarck coach Luke Shafer admitted.
Schwab made his lone mistake to start the second half, getting picked off by Ali Rolle. But on the very next play Bismarck defensive lineman Virgal Johnson got a paw on a Higgs pass, tipping it high in the air, then snaring it. Johnson had nowhere to go, but alertly handed the ball to Edwards, who ran it back 23 yards for a score, giving Bismarck a 34-21 edge.
"I just ran up there and tried to hustle to the ball," Edwards said.
Each team added another touchdown before the Rider defense really provided some breathing room. Under heavy pressure from Johnson, Higgs was picked off by Kyle Sires.
Edwards said it was no coincidence that the Roughriders, who had so much trouble forcing turnovers early in the season, had four again on Saturday.
"At the beginning of the year we were playing it safe," he said. "Now we're being more aggressive."
Schwab promptly led the Riders on one of the few sustained drives they would need, culminating in a 3-yard TD pass to Street. That score made it 50-28, and from there the game turned into the indoor football equivalent of trading baskets.
After each Billings score the Outlaws tried to on-side kick, but failed all four times.
Neither team was stopped the rest of the way until Bismarck came up short in the final minute of the game.
"Chris is doing a great job offensively," Shafer said. "You can't ask for more than 17 touchdowns in two weeks."