Few games live up to the pregame hype. An exception to the rule took place at Mahone Middle School in Kenosha Saturday night as the Racine Raiders (11-2) defeated the defending North American Football League (NAFL) champion Indianapolis Tornados in a defensive battle, 21-14.
The teams were scoreless through the first quarter of play, but the Tornados did have a great opportunity late in the quarter: Raiders' punter Tim Merchut mishandled the snap deep in Raiders territory. He ran outside and tried to kick the ball on the run, giving the Tornados the ball at the Raiders' 15-yard line. A few plays later, Raiders defensive back Donald Woodard picked off a Quincy Adams pass at the nine-yard line, preserving the tie game.
The Raiders drew first blood midway through the second quarter on a four-yard touchdown run by former Green Bay Packer J.R. Taylor. Taylor was playing in his first game since breaking his fibula and dislocating his ankle on July 11.
The Tornados responded on their next possession: Adams hit running back Mo Virgil on a screen pass that Virgil brought to the Raiders' ten-yard line. A few plays later, fullback Mike Perkins ran the ball in from three yards out. The Chad Rollins extra-point was good and the score was tied at seven.
The Raiders moved the ball well on their following possession, but the drive ended when quarterback Ron Ricciardi was picked off. The teams went into halftime tied at seven.
The Raiders' offense got the ball first in the second half and were marching down the field. Ricciardi threw a pass intended for wide receiver Dorian Palmer. Tornados defensive back Charles Jackson tipped the ball right into the hands of linebacker Anthony Weather who rumbled 40 yards for a touchdown. The point-after gave the Tornados a 14-7 lead just minutes into the half.
Ricciardi connected with wide receiver Curtis Gordon on a 16-yard touchdown pass. Kicker Tim Merchut added the extra point and the game was tied at 14.
The Tornados then drove to the Raiders' ten-yard line. Adams, under pressure and moving up in the pocket, threw the ball in the middle of the field near the goal line. Raiders rookie defensive back and First Team All-Star Torie Ruffin picked off the pass at the three-yard line and returned it 97 yards for what would be the winning score, giving Racine a 21-14 lead, with six seconds to play in the third quarter.
The Tornados had trouble moving the ball until late in the fourth quarter. They converted two fourth down plays on their final drive, getting the ball deep into Raiders territory. Adams attempted to hit a Tornados receiver in the front corner of the end zone with 36 seconds left but Woodard came up with his second interception of the game, securing the Raiders' victory.
The Raiders defense held the defending champions to just 225 total yards and picked off three passes in the game.
The Raiders return to Horlick Field next week for probably the final time in 2009. They will play the Traverse City (Mich.) Wolves in the third round of the NAFL playoffs. The game will begin at 7 p.m.
The Wolves advanced by beating the London (Ont.) Silverbacks 20-7 in Traverse City Saturday night. The Raiders played the Wolves on Aug. 29, and walked away with a 43-6 victory.