March 3, 2014

Playing by the rules

Rampage doomed by mistakes, league's unique scoring

When points are awarded for almost anything, no lead is safe in the new X-League.

The Georgia Rampage are well aware of that after Monday night’s season opener at the trade center.

The Rampage led 35-11 at halftime and 43-22 in the fourth quarter, but the visiting Alabama Outlawz made use of the “X-bonus” with 36 seconds left and turned a 13-point Rampage lead into a one-point Outlawz lead.

The Rampage couldn’t respond on the next possession, and lost 44-43 in the new league’s inaugural game.

The X-bonus makes all scores in the final minute of each half worth double points. With the Rampage leading 43-29, Telford Chatman tossed an interception with 1:51 left — worth a point for a defensive stop to make it 43-30 — and the Outlawz started their possession from the Rampage 11-yard line. On third down, quarterback Garrett Sutphen found Marsellos Wilder for a 10-yard score with 36 seconds remaining. That score, counting as double, brought the Outlawz within a point, 43-42. Chris Campbell, the kicker, put the team ahead with his successful extra-point(s) attempt.

With Demarcus Simons returning to the game at quarterback, the Rampage started their next drive from the 23-yard line of the Outlawz. The Rampage benefited from delay of game, offsides and illegal defense penalties and took two shots into the end zone from the 8-yard line. Both were incomplete, and the clock expired.

“We let off the gas in the second half,” Rampage coach Mark Bramblett said. “We got comfortable and it hurt us. Hats off to them. They made the adjustments. I thought we played great but made two or three mental mistakes and it cost us big time.”

The Rampage and Outlawz kicked off the new league after the Rampage played last season in the Ultimate Indoor Football League. The X-League’s scoring format awards points in unconventional ways. The “X-spot,” a 6-by-6 box in the end zone that awards two extra points if a receiver catches a touchdown pass in the box at any point during the game, didn’t come into play. However, the Rampage built a 2-0 lead when Michael Figgars won the “X-Dash” to start the game. The X-dash is a replacement for the customary pregame coin toss to decide which team receives possession of the ball first. One player from each team will start the same distance apart from midfield, where two balls are, and will race to gain possession and reach the opposite end zone first.

The Rampage also earned an eight-point defensive touchdown — taking an early 10-8 lead — when Akeen Scruggs returned an interception for a score. They led 28-9 after Jerrard Turant recovered a fumble with a minute left in the second quarter.

Teams earned one point for all defensive stops, whether by turnover or failing to earn a first down. Both teams benefited three times from the defensive stop rule.

The Outlawz also earned a point, cutting the deficit to 35-21, for a touchback on a kickoff in the third quarter.

“That’s why we made these rules,” Outlawz coach Lee Ellison said. “In the last minute, you can score on offense, get an interception on defense and score again on offense and be down 28 and still win. I like it. It helped us tonight. It may hurt us one day.”

Chatman started behind center for the Rampage but only lasted one possession, a turnover on downs, and left due to a turf toe injury. Simons played quarterback for the next three possessions, tossing two touchdowns, and helped the team build its halftime lead. Chatman returned to the game in the second half and led the team to one score on four possessions.

Chatman finished 6-for-17 for 68 yards and was sacked four times. He rushed once for 19 yards. Simons went 5-for-12 for 70 yards and wasn’t sacked.

“Demarcus came in and ran the offense effectively,” Bramblett said. “We want Telford to be our man and gave him the opportunities. Maybe we should’ve pulled him a little sooner. His toe was affecting him. He wasn’t as mobile.”

Simons put the Rampage ahead 17-8 with 9:29 left in the first half on a 38-yard scoring pass to Figgars. His second touchdown pass to Figgars, a 14-yard connection, put the Rampage up 35-9 with no time left in the second quarter. However, the Outlawz intercepted the two-point try and returned it for their own two points to enter halftime.

After the Rampage failed to score to start the third quarter, Sutphen found Rob Taylor for a 9-yard score as the Rampage’s lead dwindled to 35-20. Chatman found Anthony London for a 4-yard score with 2:53 left in the third quarter — and converted the two-point try with an option run — putting the Rampage ahead 43-21. The Rampage earned a turnover on the ensuing kickoff — not a defensive stop, therefore, no point earned — but couldn’t make the most of the shortened field. The Outlawz followed with a touchdown, Sutphen found Wilder for a score with 8:22 left and trailed 43-29.

“We need to go back to the drawing board,” Bramblett said. “We’re off for a couple weeks.”

The Rampage next play March 30 on the road against the St. Louis Attack.

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