If each game ends the same as Tuesday night’s preseason contest with the Georgia Panthers, then the Georgia Rampage’s 2013 season should be pretty entertaining.
The Rampage beat the Panthers 25-21 thanks to a goal-line stop in the final minute at the trade center. It was the Rampage’s first home game in Dalton and precedes its upcoming Ultimate Indoor Football League season, which begins Monday when the Rampage hosts the Lakeland (Fla.) Raiders.
Indoor football is commonly considered a high-scoring sport with defenses at a disadvantage, and Rampage coaches, officials and players even said so in previous interviews. Teams have eight players on the field at once — three linemen — and a maximum of two offensive players can be in forward motion when the play begins. The field, surrounded by a wall, is only 50 yards long and 28 yards wide.
However, it was defense that shined for the Rampage during Tuesday night’s trial run, and the offense that needed a bit of help. Rampage quarterback Joel Statham had two fumbled snaps in the first half — one, the first Rampage offensive play of the game, resulted in a turnover — and backup quarterback Javares Taylor threw an interception in the second half.
“For (Robert Stephens), it was his first game playing center,” Statham said. “I knew (snaps) would be different for him in the game situation.”
There were also a couple flags for false start with players in motion crossing the line of scrimmage before the snap. Wide receiver Jeff Phillips, who caught three first-half touchdowns, said he knew exactly what was wrong.
“Timing,” Phillips said. “A lot of timing with the receivers and quarterbacks.”
On defense, the Rampage’s Aldrickious Shumake intercepted the first pass and the Panthers didn’t get a first down until the 4:43 mark of the second quarter.
Defensive back Manny Rodriguez said it might not be as easy for the Rampage’s defense once the regular season begins.
“I’m not sure what to expect,” he said. “In the first game, (the Raiders) are supposed to be really good.”
The Rampage led 19-7 at halftime but trailed 21-19 in the fourth quarter. With 3:30 left, Rodriguez recovered a blocked field goal and returned it for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Panthers, an outdoor team from Marietta, used a personal foul and pass interference penalty to get first-and-goal from the 5. Three plays later, it was fourth-and-goal from the 1.
A quarterback sneak attempt from Antonio Henton resulted in a fumble, both teams celebrating and a conference for game officials. They ruled the Rampage had recovered, concluding a dramatic finish.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Shumake said of the game’s ending.
For the fans who stayed, it was an eventful finish to a game that won’t count against either team’s record but gave a preview of what the Rampage will be. A football team local fans can watch when they normally wouldn’t have the chance.
“It’s football,” said Paul Summey, of Dalton. “We don’t have any usually in the spring. If it was in Miami, then no, I wouldn’t go. But it’s in Dalton.”
Rampage co-owner Kacee Smith said the estimated attendance was between 500 to 600. Fans filled the bleachers and stood along the wall as players crashed into and over the barrier, bringing additional reasons to cheer big hits due to how close the action is.
“I think it’s really good that you can see the guys’ faces and are right there with them,” Chatsworth’s Andy Brogdon said. “I think it’s good that there really aren’t any boundaries. The wall is it.”
And Smith hopes the numbers rise for the Rampage’s six remaining scheduled home games.
“I want a solid 1,000,” he said. “From here on out.”