DENVER – Brian Gowins (Birmingham, Ala.)Â hit a field goal with just underÂ one minute remaining to give the Grand Rapids Rampage a two-score lead and secure his team’s eventual 44-42 win over the Colorado Crush. The victory marked the first time since May 15, 2005, that the Rampage earned a road win, after going 0-8 as visitors last season.
â€œTonight was probably the best game in Brianâ€™s professional career, and weâ€™ve covered most of his games,â€ said Sparky McEwen, head coach and director of football operations for the Rampage. â€œThe guy was flawless tonight (three-for-three on field goals; five-for-five on extra points). Itâ€™s great to have him back.â€
Jerome Riley (Los Angeles, Calif.)Â earned Ironman of the Game honors after logging both a touchdown reception and an interception return for a score.
â€œThis is a huge victory, especially against Colorado,â€ said Riley. â€œWinning this game shows that we can go out and beat anybody, and it is great to get a road win after more than a year.â€
The victory marked the first season-opening win since 2003 for the Rampage, the same season the team last made the playoffs. Grand Rapids also picked up just itâ€™s second in win in the last seven games against the Crush.
Colorado opened the game with a methodical five-play drive culminating in Damian Harrellâ€™s first score of the game. Crush quarterback John Dutton found Harrell free over the middle for a short six-yard strike and the early 7-0 lead.
The Crush quickly pushed its lead to 14-0 after a Rampage offensive miscue. Grand Rapids quarterback Chad Salisbury (Perryopolis, Pa.) mishandled a snap from center Kyle Rasmussen (Rochester, Mich.), and Coloradoâ€™s Chris Snyder recovered the loose ball in Rampage territory. On the next play, Dutton hooked up with Harrell for the second time in the middle of the end zone.
Grand Rapids struck right back thanks to a solid kickoff return from wide receiver Timon Marshall (Kingston, Jamaica). Marshallâ€™s return set up the Rampage on the Crushâ€™s 15 yard-line while vaulting him into third all-time in Rampage career return yards. Two plays later, Salisbury found Ronney Daniels (Lake Wales, Fla.) in the end zone to slice the Colorado lead in half.
Colorado took a 21-7 lead as the buzzer sounded in the first quarter on a touchdown strike from Dutton to wide receiver Willie Quinnie. Gowins knocked home a pair of field goals to cut the Crush lead to 21-13 before each team traded scores to end the half.
On the first drive of the second half, Crush fullback/linebacker Robert Thomas tackled a scrambling Salisbury hard from behind. Salisbury suffered a concussion and was carted off the field on a stretcher.Â Team trainers report thatÂ he was talking and showing full mobility at an area hospital following the contest.
On the very next play, a fourth-and-10 situation, backup Rampage quarterback Matthew Sauk (Irvine, Calif.) connected with Riley on a 43-yard crossing pattern to cut the Crush lead to just a single point, 28-27.
The Rampage got a chance to take the lead on Coloradoâ€™s ensuing drive by forcing yet another turnover. Chukie Nwokorie (West Lafayette, Ind.) sacked Dutton, forced a fumble and dove on the loose ball. Grand Rapids cashed in 10 plays later, when Troy Edwards (Shreveport, La.) made a tough five-yard touchdown catch.
Riley scored his second touchdown of the game on the defensive side of the ball shortly thereafter. As a linebacker, Riley batted a Dutton pass to himself and raced untouched into the Crush end zone, extending Grand Rapidsâ€™ lead to 41-28.
The Crush cut into Grand Rapidsâ€™ lead to 41-35 thanks to an acrobatic touchdown grab from Offensive Player of the Game Harrell with just over nine minutes remaining in the game. But the Rampage answered back with Gowinsâ€™ clutch field goal.
Coloradoâ€™s Brad Pyatt grabbed a late touchdown to bring the Crush to within two points, but they failed to convert on an onside kick attempt, and the Rampage emerged with the victory.
â€œThis is the biggest victory in my [three-year] tenure here,â€ added McEwen. â€œWe have a long way to go, but this is a step in the right direction to show that we have a viable contender.â€
Salisbury finished the night with 11 completions on 21 attempts, moving him into third in all-time Rampage history in completions with 300. Meanwhile, Sauk closed the game going 10-of-15 for 101 yards and two scores.
Chris Ryan (Lake Charles, La.) also made a move in the Rampage record books. His 15 rushing yards moved him into second place in Grand Rapidsâ€™ history with 524, surpassing current Kansas City Brigade quarterback Michael Bishop. Rampage defensive back Chuck Wesley (East Orange, N.J.) took home Defensive Player of the Game honors after recording a game- and career-high 12.5 tackles.