BLOOMINGTON - The "glue," the "gazelle" and the guy coach Ted Schmitz calls the best in United Indoor Football have given the Bloomington Extreme an offensive line to reckon with.
That line of former Western Illinois University teammates hopes to pave the way for a sixth consecutive victory in tonight's 7:05 game against the Evansville BlueCats at U.S. Cellular Coliseum.
Center Luke Wickman and tackles Chad Walker and Brett Tobin gave quarterback Dusty Burk enough protection last week to secure a 54-47 overtime victory against the Rock River Raptors at Rockford.
That triumph lifted the Extreme to 5-3 atop the Eastern Conference standings. Evansville comes in at 2-6.
"It takes a lot of stress off me when I can sit back there and have time to really scan the defense instead of worrying about avoiding the rush," Burk said. "They give me a lot of freedom to do what I want back there and that's awesome."
Schmitz thinks it's awesome to have linemen familiar with each other.
"They can communicate with each other," he said. "They know exactly what we're doing. They can relate it to what they've done in the past both run wise and pass wise."
The 6-foot-3, 315-pound Wickman was wise enough to suggest his former teammates and roommates give indoor football a try.
"I was actually joking around with coach Schmitz saying I might as well become an agent," quipped Wickman. "I was wanting these guys to come and play the whole time."
The 6-6, 291-pound Tobin joined the team last week.
"We call him the gazelle because he's an athlete," Walker said. "Luke is the glue that holds us both together. This is new to us, and he's been doing it a couple weeks more."
The 6-5, 335-pound Walker has performed like he's been playing indoor football his whole life.
"Chad Walker has probably been as good as anybody in the league," said Schmitz, who has learned quality linemen are a hot commodity in the UIF.
"It's like finding gold when you can find offensive linemen. Corners and offensive linemen are hard to find. You recruit all winter and you hope to get a few. Centers like Luke, you can't find them at all."
Finding three linemen who already have a bond is even rarer.
"We've spent a lot of time together," Wickman said. "We know each other pretty well. It's been real enjoyable for me to get to play with these guys.
"When you are confident and feel like you know what the guy next to you is going to do, it just makes it that much easier when you are out there playing."
It also helps to have a quarterback as elusive as Burk.
"It gives you a lot more leeway," Wickman said. "You mess up sometimes, you're not going to expect him to just get killed. He's able to elude and get out of there."
The linemen try to give Burk three to five seconds to pass.
"In some other protections, the ball needs to be gone in two seconds because we're not sitting back. We're just firing out," Wickman said. "Those are kind of on him. If he doesn't get rid of it, they (defenders) are coming."
Evansville figures to come at Burk with nose tackle Johnny Brown.
"They have the best nose tackle in the league," Schmitz said. "Their middle linebacker was all-league last year, (John) Winchester. "Right up the middle they are really, really strong."
Evansville's roster has been in flux with the addition of seven new players just this week, but Burk feels he has seen enough film on the BlueCats to challenge whoever takes the field.
"I think from what we've seen on film, we understand what they are doing," Burk said. "They have some athletes. I know their record doesn't show what they're capable of."
Extreme defensive back Dion Brown expects the unexpected.
"They've been struggling with turnovers," he said. "They've been changing quarterbacks. Anything can happen. We can't take them lightly."
Bloomington Extreme vs. Evansville BlueCats
Site: U.S. Cellular Coliseum, Bloomington
Time: 7:05 p.m. today
Radio: WTRX-FM (93.7)
Records: Evansville 2-6; Extreme 5-3
Extreme leaders: Scoring: James Walton (11 TD, 66 points), Dusty Burk (8 TD, 48 points), Peter Christofilakos
(7 FG, 24 PAT, 45 points); Rushing: Rocky Harvey (76 carries, 182 yards, 3 TD), Dusty Burk 39 carries, 160 yards, 8 TD); Passing: Dusty Burk 86 of 131, 1,031 yards, 22 TD); Receiving: James Walton (35 catches, 458 yards, 11 TD), Reggie Gray (35 catches, 399 yards, 7 TD), Glenn Johnson (26 catches, 348 yards, 5 TD).
BlueCats leaders: Scoring: Ray Kirkley (12 TD, 72 points), Levron Williams (6 TD, 36 points), Richard Johnson (5 TD, 30 points); Rushing: Ray Kirkley (105 carries, 312 yards, 12 TD), Haven Mosley (132 carries, 90 yards, 1 TD); Passing: Haven Mosley (35 of 71, 358 yards, 6 TD), Brent Dearmon (7 of 20, 69 yards, 0 TD); Receiving: Levron Williams (21 catches, 231 yards, 6 TD), Odest Shannon (13 catches, 190 yards, 2 TD), Dale Jennings (17 catches, 145 yards, 3 TD).
Baker remains out
Extreme defensive back Lamar Baker, who has battled a groin injury, will not play.
What to watch for
- The Extreme has built a franchise-record, five-game winning streak to move into first place in the Eastern Conference ahead of Lexington (5-4), RiverCity (5-4) and Rock River (5-4).
- Evansville, which has lost five of its last six games, is coming off a 56-31 setback against Lexington on May 19. The BlueCats, who had a bye last week, signed four players this week, including wide receiver Drouzon Quillen, kicker Nate Meyer, defensive back Daniel Reese and defensive back Hunter Pingston. Quillen, a former Louisiana-Monroe star, has been in camp with Washington and Buffalo of the NFL.
- The BlueCats rank eighth in the 11-team UIF in scoring average (34.1) while Bloomington ranks fourth (39.5). The Extreme allow 38.8 points to rank seventh while Evansville ranks 10th at 46.4. The BlueCats rank second in the league in rushing with 81.4 yards per game.
- Evansville's Ray Kirkley ranks fifth in the league with 312 yards rushing. Teammate Choo Choo Davis has intercepted four passes. Evansville quarterback Brent Dearmon made his pro debut in the team's last game. James Walton of the Extreme ranks third in the UIF with 458 receiving yards.
Trading cards of the Bloomington Extreme players go on sale prior to tonight's game. The 30-card set costs $10 and includes a team photo as well as photos of selected players and dance team members.
Tonight's first 2,500 fans will receive a free maraca compliments of OSF St. Joseph Medical Center.
Around the UIF
Sioux Falls, which leads the Western Conference at 8-0, puts its 28-game winning streak on the line at Colorado (5-4) today.
Compiled by Randy Sharer