Storm Win Home Opener

by Logan Hernandez

DODGE CITY, KS - The Southwest Kansas Storm played, and won, their 2024 Arena Football League Home Opener on May 4th, 2024 at United Wireless Arena. This was a game that had no shortage of drama leading up to it. After The Iowa Rampage ownership announced their decision to cease operations on Thursday May 2nd, many fans were left wondering if the Storm would still play Saturday. Thanks to a cooperative agreement between the Storm ownership group and the AFL ownership, this game was able to be played. 

The Storm would receive the opening kickoff, but after a couple of early miscues, they were unable to convert on fourth down. This would give Iowa favorable starting field position, however, the Storm defense would stand tall and get a fourth down stop of their own. The Storm would start their second drive from their own 20 yard line, and got going in a similar fashion to their first drive. Iowa would sack QB Caden Walters on first down. Second down would prove to be much different as Walter was able to find WR/DB Da'Quan Bailey Brown on a long pass that would set Southwest Kansas up at the 3 YD Line of the Rampage. The first play from inside the Guthrie Floor Covering Redzone is all Southwest Kansas would need as Walters took it in three yards into the Ozone Roofing 'O Zone' for the first score of the game. Kicker Dillon Burkhard would make the PAT and put Southwest Kansas up 7-0 with 6:31 remaining in the First Quarter. Iowa would start their next possession from their own 18 YD Line and would methodically move it down the field, eventually scoring from the 2 of Southwest Kansas. A failed Two-Point conversion would keep  Southwest Kansas in the lead 7-6 with 51 Seconds to go in the First Quarter. The ensuing kickoff would lead to one point for Southwest Kansas as Iowa's kick would go out of bounds with out ever touching the ground or a player. The First Quarter would end with Southwest Kansas leading 8-6. QB Matt Struck would lead the charge starting the Second Quarter. Struck would find Bailey Brown on a 27 YD Pass that was deflected off a Rampage defender. After a missed PAT Southwest Kansas would lead 14-6 just 1:49 into the Second Quarter. The next Rampage drive would come to a grinding halt as DB Michael Lawson would grab his second INT of the year in the O Zone, setting up Southwest Kansas at their own 5 YD Line after the Touchback. After a defensive penalty would give Southwest Kansas a first down, they would go the wrong way. Eventually ending up in a 4th & 25 from their own 5 YD Line, Southwest Kansas was unable to convert turning the ball back over to Iowa on the Storm's 6 YD Line. Iowa would score on 3rd Down from inside the Guthrie Floor Covering Redzone, after an apparent arid pass would bounce off of the rebound net and get brought in by a Rampage receiver. Another failed conversion would draw Iowa within 2, 14-12 with 2:36 to go in the half. The Rampage would get an interception on a ball that was initially ruled incomplete, taking over at their own 8 YD Line. After a couple of backwards plays, Iowa would seem to start moving the ball at will. However, Lawson would force a fumble that was recovered by WR/JLB Eugene Minter. Walter would take back over and on 2nd & 6 from his own 7 YD Line, he was able to find Bailey-Brown again for a 43 YD Score. This would put Southwest Kansas up 20-12 with 14 seconds remaining, and that would be the score at half-time. 

Iowa would receive the ball to start the second half, and again the Storm Defense would come up big. Lawson would get his second interception of the night, returning this one 37 Yards into the Ozone Roofing O Zone for a TD. Burkhard would put the PAT through the Chris Boys Agency Uprights giving Southwest Kansas a 27-12 lead with 10:50 to go in the 3rd Quarter. The Storm Defense would remain to stand tall, stopping Iowa on another Fourth Down. This would give Southwest Kansas their first offensive snap of the Second Half with just 2:02 remaining in the quarter. It only took one play for Walters to find WR Todd Athey for a 35 YD TD pass. Burkhard would make the PAT giving the Storm a 34-12 lead with 1:10 left in the Third Quarter. The Quarter would wind down with out any more scoring as the Storm would lead 34-12 going into the final frame. The Fourth Quarter would be rather quiet in terms of scoring as neither offense could get the ball moving quite enough, and both defense would bend but not break. Iowa would eventually score again with 9 seconds remaining but would fail on another 2-PT Attempt, keeping the Storm in front 34-18. A failed onside attempt would take any possibility of a miracle comeback away, and the Storm would run the clock out getting their first win on the night of their Home Opener. After the game Coach Thomas would say "The first win is always the hardest to get. Honestly, any win in this league is going to be hard to get. Offensively we need to be happy with taking what the defense will give us, so we don't have to play behind the sticks so much. Defensively we played at a pretty high level. The two interceptions and forced fumble by Michael (Lawson) were huge, and at big points in the game. I thought our pass rush was really good tonight, we were able to get some solid hits on their QB’s and get them off their spots and off platform. That proved itself in the final score. I'm really happy that we didn't let everything this week affect how we came out and played. We'll get in the film room and see what we really looked like, and find out what we need to fix. We're going to enjoy this win tonight, but we have to get ourselves healthy so we can go into Wichita next week at full strength."

Southwest Kansas will have longer week as they don't play again until Monday May 13th at Wichita, and will have a short week as they will travel to Rapid City to take on the Marshals Saturday May 18th.