BLOOMINGTON - The Bloomington Extreme rode a punishing defense and a season-high rushing total to its first United Indoor Football playoff berth Saturday night at U.S. Cellular Coliseum.
The defense held the Billings Outlaws to 80 yards and the ground game amassed 140 yards as Bloomington won its final regular-season home game, 49-31, before a crowd of 5,634.
The victory, coupled with Evansville's 41-38 loss to RiverCity, gave the Extreme (7-7) a spot in the UIF's Eastern Conference playoffs. Bloomington started the night one game ahead of Evansville, which will host the Extreme next week in the regular-season finale.
The Extreme built a 22-point second-half lead and held on to snap Billings' eight-game win streak. The Outlaws (8-5) had wrapped up a Western Conference playoff berth prior to the game, and Coach Heron O'Neal decided to rest standout quarterback Chris Dixon.
Bloomington now will have the same option of resting some regulars next week, thanks largely to its defense. Billings was held to 28 first-half yards and managed 52 yards and 14 points after halftime.
Carlos Lattimore rushed for 56 yards and quarterback Dusty Burk had 50 as the Extreme eclipsed its previous season-best rushing total of 116 yards.
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The defense was paced by linebacker Winston Taylor with three solo tackles and four assists. Mike Crumpler added three solos and six assists and recovered a fumble. Lineman Quince Holman had two sacks and forced a fumble.
Billings made things interesting in the fourth quarter, cutting a 39-17 deficit to 39-31 with a 2-yard TD run by Jacquwan Brackenridge and a 38-yard burst by Eddie Linscomb at the 9:43 mark.
Peter Christofilakos gave the Extreme some breathing room with a 23-yard field goal, making it 42-31 with 5:30 to play. Burk added a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:27 left, and James Temple iced the win with an interception.
The Extreme used two third-quarter touchdowns to build its 39-17 cushion. Running back Rocky Harvey scored on a 2-yard run at the 4:06 mark after receiver Glenn Johnson had given Bloomington a 32-17 lead early in the period.
Johnson was looking to pass on a reverse, but found no one open and ran in from the 8 for the score. The TD was set up by a Billings fumble which was recovered by Crumpler at the 7.
The Extreme led 25-17 at the half after a wild final two and a half minutes.
Lattimore's 10-yard touchdown run with 2:16 left before halftime gave Bloomington a 21-17.
The defense then forced Billings into a 55-yard field goal attempt, but the snap from center was high and Taylor tackled kicker Ha'a Bento in the end zone for a safety, making it 23-17 at the 1:05 mark.
A Lattimore fumble gave Billings the ball at its own 5 with 13 seconds remaining. However, lineman Rachman Crable and Holman roared in and sacked quarterback Terrance Bennett in the end zone for another safety with seven seconds to go.
Billings had taken a 17-14 lead on Linscomb's 4-yard TD run with 5:17 left in the second quarter. It came seven plays after the Extreme gave up the ball on downs at its own 19.
Bloomington led 14-3 before Ernest James intercepted a Burk pass and returned it 42 yards for a Billings touchdown early in the second quarter.
The Extreme scored twice in the first quarter on Burk TD passes to James Walton, the first a 6-yarder and the second from 13 yards out. Bento kicked a 33-yard field goal for Billings' only first-quarter points.
Bennett was held to 19 yards passing in the first half, which saw the Extreme outgain Billings 168 to 28.