Sports at a Glance
All stories by Jean Schurman
The Bitterroot Blaze wrapped up their season with a shutout and sweep of the Missoula Phoenix. And oh, yeah, the championship. The game was a defensive battle with Bitterroots overpowering defense the star of the show in the 15-0 victory.
"This has been an outstanding season," said Jared Neumeier, commissioner of the Rocky Mountain Football League. "Never has a team had this kind of a year. Theres been teams that have been undefeated before but you guys gave up 20 points in the season."
All week, the Phoenix had indicated they were going to come out running but the Blaze didnt bite and forced a punt, which was blocked, early in the game. However, the Phoenix defense was also fired up kept the Blaze from moving down the field. The emotions were cranked up another notch after Blaze receiver Mark Hausknecht went down with a compound fracture on his leg.
"With Hausknecht being out, that brought our emotions out," said assistant coach Tad Sheridan. "I think we got the blood going to much and we needed to settle down in the second half."
The flags were flying like firecrackers for most of the game with not only emotional penalties such as personal fouls but also fundamental mistakes being made. "We had guys playing receivers that had never played receiver before," said quarterback Buckie Brawley of the Blaze. "After Hausknecht went out and Mike Rasmussen hurt his leg, we had new guys in there. People lined up wrong. They just havent had the reps."
Blaze kicker Erik Peterson kicked a 34 yard field goal midway through the second quarter for the first score of the game. It was the first of three for him. He finished the second quarter with another field goal from 46 yards out. That kick was just barely long enough. The ball hit the cross bar, bounced 10 feet in the air and landed on the back side of the uprights. Petersons final goal was just into the fourth quarter from 14 yards out.
"Our defense took them right out of their game," said player/coach Joe Murawa. "Our offense, when we did get rollin, did a good job getting us in field goal range." When asked about the lucky bounce on the second field goal, Murawa replied, "Id rather be lucky than good any day. Thats the way its bounced for us all year long."
The defense was the star of the show. The defensive line put pressure on the Phoenix line and quarterback, and created havoc. Corner Christian Brown picked off Missoulas quarterback, Shane Jurasek, five times.
"Ive got to give him (Jurasek) a lot of credit. Hes a great quarterback. We had great penetration and it caused him to do a lot of scrambling and caused him to throw off his back foot. I got lucky, I was in the right place at the right time.
Brown was not even supposed to be at the game on Saturday night. His family runs a 4th of July type business in Washington and he was needed there to help out. However, the Blaze, who act like one giant family, got together after last weeks playoff game and bought Brown a plane ticket to fly back for the championship game.
"I had a tough tough time leaving this field last week," said Brown, the MVP of the game. "My dad agreed, he said theres never been a Brown play in a championship game. He goes youre doing it.
Brown was the leading receiver for the Blaze, even though hes a defensive player. He finished with five interceptions, including one for 40 yards, and two punt returns for 40 yards.
It was the defense who scored the only touchdown of the game. After sacking Jurasek on a second and 10 situation, the Phoenix again went to the air. And so did Jamie Jones of the Blaze. He picked off the pass and raced 38 yards to the end zone and a touchdown. Jurasek was 10 of 30 for 101 yards and eight interceptions. By contrast, Brawley finished the night 4 of 11 for 50 yards. Workhorse Justin Nixon carried the ball 27 times for 154 yards.
Nixon, along with seven other Blaze members have been selected to the All Star roster. Joining the halfback are Brian Gollnick, OL; Jason Schumacher, OL; Peterson, kicker; Brian Buckreus, DE; Jones, LB; and Kurt Rausch, cornerback. Alternates are Tyler Jolley, Paul Tryon, Chris Jones, Kyle Rausch, DB, and Christian Brown, return specialist.
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