SIOUX CITY | Defense was the name of the game in Saturday night’s highly-anticipated Northern Elite Football League matchup at Memorial Field.
The defending NEFL champion Minneapolis Warriors forced three turnovers, the same number by the Sioux City Stampede, first-year participants in the league. There were key stops by both teams, such as the fumble recovery the Warriors claimed when Stampede running back Larry Taylor tried to leap over a pile of defenders in the fourth quarter.
Sioux City’s 12-7 win over the defending NEFL champs, was also highlighted by an absolute crazy play made by Coach Jason Garnand’s defense. Minneapolis wide receiver Rasheme Sharpe had bobbled a catch that two Stampede defenders tried to intercept, then found himself in the clear when he ran 57 yards to Sioux City’s 9-yard line.
That’s where the Stampede’s Warren Joiner, an All-Star last year for Sioux City’s Midwest Football Alliance champions, chopped the ball out of Sharpe’s grasp. Robert Lewis, who had an interception to end the third quarter, recovered the ball.
“It was crazy because the ball came in the middle of the field and nobody knew who was going to get it,” said Lewis. “It was all hands on the ball for both teams. Fortunately, Warren came and finished the play off and knocked the ball out of his hands. We saw the ball, we were hungry and we went for the grab.
“Great play, great effort by Warren. Most people wouldn’t have tried to do that. He fought to the ball. Coach said make a play and he made the play.”
Garnand’s squad, now 6-0 on the season (5-0 NEFL) outgained the Warriors 308-235. Seventy-five of those Minneapolis yards came when it marched 16 plays on its first play of the game, culminating in quarterback Dave Connors’ 1-yard touchdown plunge.
However, on the 11 drives after that, Sioux City held its opponent to 160 yards. Fifty-seven of those yards came on a play where the Warriors could have scored had it not been for Joiner.
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“It was one of those games where we were unfortunate going to the end zone where L.T. (Taylor) fumbling it going over the top,” said Garnand, whose team, dating back to last year’s MFA championship, has won 16 consecutive games.
“The football gods gave us another one. Warren Joiner is an all-league corner. I know in his mind, he was going 100 miles an hour after that kid made the completion. What he did was an all-star play. He didn’t give up. He followed the play and made a fantastic play to get the ball loose. It really kind of sealed the game.”
Sioux City’s defense also made a stop as Minneapolis drove late in the fourth quarter. Running back Tyrell Martin, the game’s top rusher with 111 yards, had a 12-yard gain on a 9-play drive that reached as far as the Stampede 5-yard line when a host of Sioux City defenders stopped on fourth down.
Among Sioux City’s defenders on the play were Corey Wortman and Trenton Jones, who held Martin to no gains on consecutive stops prior to the team tackle on fourth down.
Sioux City quarterback Dorian Ballentine started the game missing his first five passes and seven of his first eight. Eventually, the former Grand View College quarterback found a rhythm, especially with former Briar Cliff Charger Bryce Harshman, who had five catches for 83 yards in the first half.
Ballentine exploded for a 14-yard rush to his 43, then threaded three consecutive passes. Jake McDonald had a 10-yard catch to the 37, then Harshman had two grabs for 37 yards, including a 22-yard scoring catch that gave Sioux City a 12-7 lead.
Sioux City’s first touchdown was set up when T.J. Pegram recovered a fumbled punt return catch at the Minneapolis 15-yard line. One play after Bret Van Muyden’s 9-yard catch at the 5-yard line, T.J. James ran for a 5-yard touchdown to pull within 7-6.
The Stampede will continue NEFL action this Saturday at Rochester, Minnesota, against the Med City Freeze. The game will start at 7 p.m. at Mayo High School.