March 4, 2013

Opening of a new chapter

In just one season, the Georgia Rampage built themselves a rivalry with the Lakeland (Fla.) Raiders.

And it’ll be re-established today.

The Rampage and Raiders begin the 2013 Ultimate Indoor Football League season against one another today, with kickoff scheduled for 7:15 p.m. inside the trade center.

It’ll be the second seasons in the UIFL for each team. Last year, the Raiders won both meetings, but this will be the first time the Rampage host — last year they were a travel team with practices taking place in Calhoun. In those two losses, the Rampage did their fair share of irritating the hosts.

“Even though we were both in our first years last year and are sophomores this year, we’ve developed a rivalry,” Rampage coach Mark Bramlett said. “We don’t like them, and they don’t like us.”

Bramlett came in midway through last year but coached both games against the Raiders. It was the first one that started the ill will.

“In the first game, I want to say we were celebrating a touchdown and one of their coaches took offense to it and walked to our side of the fence and had a few words with some of our players and a coach,” Bramlett said. “In the (preseason) game the benches were close. We’re going to separate the benches more. We told them, ‘This isn’t going to work, especially for this game.’”

The Rampage defeated the Georgia Panthers 25-21 in the first game for the team since moving to Dalton last year. The benches — areas outside the walls surrounding the field and divided by a wall — were right next to one another.

“We’re making arrangements to keep the benches apart, just to avoid any issues,” Bramlett said.

The rivalry spilled into this past offseason. One of the Rampage’s additions, offensive lineman Samuel Chester, played for the Raiders last year.

“I knew it would add to it. It’s going to be more intense,” Chester said. “They actually wanted me to come back this year, but I told them I didn’t want to. I wanted to be with a team I was familiar with and wanted to be closer to home.”

The Raiders finished 5-6 last season with a loss to the Florida Tarpons in the UIFL Southern Conference championship — there were two conferences last season, but only one this year. The Rampage finished 1-6.

In the offseason, Lakeland added B.J. Jernigan as its defensive coordinator. Jernigan played linebacker and fullback at Savannah’s Tompkins High School, which closed in 1989. He also played at the semi-professional level for the Tampa Bay Cougars and was an assistant and head coach for different semi-pro teams in Florida.

Roderick Jefferson returns at wide receiver for the Raiders. New additions include defensive back Damien Jackson and wide receiver D.J. Boldin. Jackson played 16 games at Ole Miss from 2011-2012. Boldin played at Wake Forest from 2005-2008 and had a brief stint with the Detroit Lions, but never played in an NFL game.

Bramlett said the Raiders will be as big and physical as the Panthers, “maybe even more physical.”

But the Rampage handled that well against the Panthers, especially on defense. The Rampage made nine stops and only allowed three touchdowns, better than what Rampage coaches and players previously hoped. Indoor football favors the offense, with two players allowed in forward motion at the time of the snap and the field only 50 yards long. The Panthers didn’t get a first down for the first 25 minutes of the game — UILF games have four 15-minute quarters.

On offense, the Rampage didn’t score for the first two possessions but recorded touchdowns on three straight before removing the starters.

“We’re not as bad (on offense) as it looked, but we’re not as good as we need to be,” Bramlett said.

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