RACINE – Just ask Wilbert Kennedy about how good his team is, and he’ll tell you the Racine Raiders can hang with – and beat – any opponent. This is most likely true. But it’s not easy to emerge victorious when you have nine regular linemen injured and unavailable against the cream of the crop, the undefeated Chicago Birdgang.
The newly-formed Birdgang, a MidStates Football League (MSFL) rookie, pretty much took the best players from two Chicago teams from last year that disbanded and formed one gigantic super team.
All of these factors worked against the Raiders at historic Horlick Field in the heart of Racine Saturday night in front of a season-high crowd of about 500 people. Even as they found themselves in a 16-0 hole, the Raiders still were on their way to winning with 2:33 remaining in the game. However, the Birdgang showed exactly why they’re perfect on the season with a 6-yard touchdown run to win it, 24-17, with 1:48 left on the clock, and Chicago held the Raiders for the victory.
Kennedy unfazed despite the loss
Racine dropped to 5-2 overall and 2-2 in the MSFL. Kennedy is unfazed mostly, as he still believes his team belongs in the conversation of the elite squads.
“It’s definitely disappointing, sure it was a big game, but it doesn’t change the fact we are still one of the better teams in the league,” Kennedy told the Racine County Eye. “We have to play again. A loss here doesn’t end or destroy our season, but it makes us have to work harder.”
A scoreless first half saw the Raiders contain talented dual-threat quarterback Andre Locke, Jr., who finished 14-for-28 with 273 passing yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Kennedy said the Raiders stifled defensively for the first 30 minutes.
“The defense played very well the first half, and we continued to give different looks pre-snap, which gave them some problems,” he said. “We also came with timely blitzes to create pressure. That helped us with playing such a talented team.
“Offensively, we were in the same boat. Due to injuries and work conflicts, we played with only five offensive linemen for the game. Their front four was big, physical and athletic, and they brought pressure at times and it created problems. We just didn’t execute our offense very well, not getting in the right formations, running wrong routes, missing blocks. Too many mistakes to beat a high-caliber team like the Birdgang.”
Raiders’ defense couldn’t contain Birdgang
Kennedy said Locke, Jr. is an athletic quarterback, and he caused the Raiders’ defense to break contain several times in the third quarter, where Chicago built a 16-0 lead. Lamarius Bellamy, who caught three balls for 133 yards, scored touchdowns of 53 and 43 yards and basically made the game-winning deep catch late in the game to set up the winning touchdown. Kennedy said the Raiders blew a couple coverages and allowed the game-breaking receiver to run free in the secondary.
The Raiders fought back with an unanswered flurry of their own, reeling off 17 straight points. Kennedy said special teams executed perfectly on a long kickoff return by Joe Garcia, and Racine was in business deep in Chicago territory.
Quarterback Mitchell Farr hit Will Norwood for a 12-yard touchdown immediately less than one minute after Chicago went up 16-0 midway through the third quarter, and then at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Raiders’ defense made some loud, deafening noise. With Locke, Jr. pinned back in his own end zone after a shotgun snap, he tried to roll right and get rid of the ball. But Nick Jones was simply too big and fast, tracking down Locke for the safety.
Racine now trailed, 16-10, and Farr was far from done. He went up top to Garcia for a 42-yard bomb to give Racine the lead with only 2:33 left on the clock. However, Bellamy struck again for a big gain, setting up the short touchdown run. Racine wasn’t able to really get close to scoring position to tie things up.
“Due to lack of communication, they hit a big pass play on a blown coverage,” Kennedy said. “It was a great play for them, especially after the catch, but you can’t give them opportunities like that. We have to be more sound and need to be more disciplined in our techniques. If you’re not, great teams will take advantage of this.”
The Chicago Birdgang now sits alone atop the MSFL standings at 4-0. The Illinois Cowboys and Wisconsin Hitmen are both 2-1 in second place, with the Raiders in the thick of things at 2-2. With seven games left in the regular season, including matchups one more time each against the Hitmen, Cowboys and Birdgang, Racine still controls its own destiny.
“Communication, technique and knowing your responsibilities will have to be improved moving forward,” Kennedy said.
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