BY: John Letasky at 406 Sports/ Billings Gazette
NEXT GAME: AT OMAHA BEEF, Saturday, January 10, 2023, at 5:30 P.M. Mountain Time.
BILLINGS — It wasn’t always pretty, but the Billings Outlaws are marching on in the Champions Indoor Football playoffs.
With what Damian Francis, who had an interception and a forced fumble in the final stanza, labeled a “team win,” the fourth-seeded Outlaws (7-4) defeated the No. 5 Sioux City (Iowa) Bandits 39-31 in the quarterfinals on Monday in front of 1,054 fans at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark.
The win was the fifth straight for Billings. Sioux City (5-6) closed the year with five straight losses.
For Billings, the win was especially gratifying. It was the first playoff victory for an Outlaws team at the Metra in 14 years and the first playoff game for the Outlaws at Metra in 14 years. The original Outlaws disbanded in 2010 after winning two straight Indoor Football League titles.
Last year was the first year of this version of the Outlaws and the team reached the semifinals of the playoffs after posting a quarterfinal win at the SportsPlex as the Metra was unavailable for that 2022 playoff game.
When assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Shon King was promoted to head coach, Billings had a 2-2 record and was coming off a 73-28 loss at Gillette, Wyoming, on April 1.
“People doubted us all year,” said Francis. “When Coach King got hired, everything went smooth.”
Billings will now play at No. 1 Omaha (Nebraska) on June 10 in the semifinals. The Beef are 10-0 on the season.
Omaha has two victories over the Outlaws this season, winning 47-19 in the Outlaws' season opener in Nebraska and 45-12 on April 22 at Metra.
“Defense is key to a championship,” said the Outlaws Jamario Benson, who sporting pink gloves recovered a fumble by Sioux City that was caused by Francis with 2:52 to play and Billings leading 32-19. “We are going to take it to Omaha real soon. We owe them.”
Francis, whose interception occurred with 8:45 to play in the fourth quarter and Billings up 25-19, agreed with Benson’s assessment.
As to what type of game plan the Outlaws will have versus the Beef, Francis said, “Same thing. We owe them. The first game they got us and the second game they got us.”
Benson said Francis has been key for the Outlaws all year.
“No. 7 made a good hit and I picked up the ball,” said Benson of his fumble recovery. “I was in the right place at the right time.
“No. 7, it was a pretty good game for him. He’s always causing a turnover. He forces a turnover every game.”
With 1:23 to play, Billings was up 32-19. However the final 1:23 took 20 minutes to play and three touchdowns were scored in the last 43 seconds — including two by the Bandits.
Billings led by a 13-7 margin after one quarter as Lorenz Stefan passed for a 14-yard touchdown to Kris Lewis and D’Nerius Antoine had a one-yard scoring run.
Stefan and Kalib Woods hooked up for an 11-yard TD in the second quarter with 18 seconds left before halftime and the Outlaws led 19-7 at the break.
Sioux City did shut out Billings 12-0 in the third quarter before Billings outscored the Bandits 20-12 in the final stanza.
Antoine added another 1-yard scoring run for the Outlaws with 12:30 to play and Stefan found Woods for a 5-yard score with 4:30 left.
The Outlaws' final touchdown was on a 9-yard run by Josh Batiste with 37 seconds remaining.