March 5, 2013

Knocked down early

Rampage blown out in season opener

Devin Golden

— Three consecutive plays in the final minute of the first half summarized the Georgia Rampage’s season opener Monday night — disappointment, lack of execution and the potential for excitement.

Rampage players tried to keep the home crowd inside the trade center energized for Dalton’s first Ultimate Indoor Football League game. However, the town’s new pro football team lost 74-25 to the Lakeland (Fla.) Raiders, beginning the 2013 season with a mistake-filled performance.

With the Rampage trailing 34-7 in the final minute of the first half, quarterback Joel Statham threw one of his four interceptions to Lakeland’s Koreen Burch, who returned it for a touchdown. On the first play of the next Rampage possession, Statham fumbled center Robert Stephens’ snap, and Roderick Jefferson re-turned it for another Raiders score.

On the Rampage’s next snap, Statham found Javares Taylor for a 31-yard touchdown, giving the more than 500 fans in attendance reason to cheer as the players tried to make the most of the home atmosphere. The Raiders led 48-13 at halftime, intercepted Statham on the second half’s third play, scored four plays later and destroyed any hopes for a dramatic comeback.

The Rampage had three fumbled snaps and four interceptions.

“It’s confusing me,” said Statham, who fumbled two snaps in the Rampage’s 25-21 preseason win last week against the Georgia Panthers. “I kept trying to figure it out. We don’t ever fumble (snaps) in practice. We come out here and it’s completely different.”

The Rampage scored twice in the second half — a 30-yard pass from Statham to wide receiver C.J. Dial with 5:07 left in the third quarter, and a 2-yard run by Taylor with 43 seconds left in the game.

Statham finished the night 12-for-31 for 179 yards and three touchdown passes.

While he wasn’t sacked, he was knocked down more than 10 times and was throwing off his back foot other times to avoid pressure.

“We’ve got some issues offensive line-wise,” Rampage coach Mark Bramlett said. “It’s not just the offensive line. It’s our blocking back stepping up and making the correct read. ... Even when we’re getting passes and good snaps, we’re just getting too much pressure and aren’t making the right reads. We were getting in rhythm a couple of times and then would shoot ourselves in the foot.”

The Raiders and quarterback B.J. Hall made the most of the UIFL’s 50-yard field and two-receiver forward motion rules.

On the game’s first possession, Hall found Tyler Batts for a 3-yard touchdown after a five-play drive. The Raiders failed to score on just two of their possessions — one at the end of the first half and the other to end the game.

Hall finished 12-for-23 for 148 yards, three touchdown passes and one touchdown run. Lakeland did not have any turnovers.

“Defensively, we played horrible,” Bramlett said. “We were blowing coverage after coverage after coverage.”

On the Rampage’s first offensive play, Statham fumbled a snap and the Raiders recovered. The Rampage didn’t score their first touchdown until there was 12:40 left in the second quarter — an 18-yard touchdown pass from Statham to Dial that the Raiders’ lead to 20-7.