OUTLAWS make afl premiere, dominate regulators 66-26

BY: John Letasky, Billings Gazette, 406MTSports


BILLINGS — It was the first contest of a 10-game Arena Football League regular season.

But if the Billings Outlaws’ performance in their AFL debut in front of 2,119 spectators was any indication, the good times may be rolling again for the home team at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark.

Quarterback Isaac Harker threw for seven touchdown passes in leading the Outlaws to a 66-26 victory over the Wichita (Kansas) Regulators, who were also making their AFL debut.

“It feels good,” said Harker as he signed autographs on the field for young fans after the game. “It was a culmination of a lot of people’s hard work and a good game plan. 

“Our guys were super conditioned and worked really hard and always put themselves in a place where they can get the ball.”

The Outlaws scored on every one of their possessions of the first half to lead 41-6 at the break. And it wasn’t just offensively where the Outlaws scored. Hunter Swoboda returned an interception for a score with 5:55 to go in the second half for a 35-6 lead. And kicker Bailey Giffen hit a kickoff between the uprights at 10:16 of the second quarter for a 28-6 Billings advantage.

Swoboda once again pulled the scoring trick on his kickoff to open the second half and Billings led 43-6.

The Outlaws also scored a pair of points when on kickoffs they twice tackled the Wichita ball returner in the end zone, once in the third quarter and again in the fourth.

“It was good. We started fast and made our plays,” said first-year Billings coach Cedric Walker.

Harker hooked up with Duane Brown on touchdowns of 18 yards and 14 yards in the first quarter as Billings led 20-0. He would also find Brown in the second quarter for a 17-yard strike for a 26-6 lead. A fourth TD from the Harker to Brown combination gave Billings a 57-26 lead with 13:52 to go in the fourth.

Harker would also find Arthur Anderson IV for a 13-yard pass in the first quarter for a 13-0 advantage. He connected with Derrick Harvey for a pair of touchdowns, one on a 17-yard strike as time wound down in the second quarter and another on a 12-yard score with 10:14 to go in the third for a 50-12 lead.

Anderson scored Billings' final touchdown on a one-yard run with 45 seconds remaining. 

Billings players reported for training camp on April 1 and Billings had a non-league exhibition game victory — 68-0 over the Denver Sharks — at the Metra on April 18.

“I would say it was preparation,” said Harker, who also credited his line and the team’s defense, of the Outlaws’ success as a team. “We finally got to play a game. We have a great group of guys.”

Wichita outscored the Outlaws 20-9 in the third quarter, something Walker said his team will have to work on.

“I thought we played well in the first half and we fell asleep defensively in the second half,” Walker said. “All-in-all in the fourth quarter, we came back and made some plays.”

The goal for team ownership and management has been to bring that excitement back to the Metra and the Magic City. On Saturday night, there was a magical feel at the Metra.

The young fans were running around with inflatable cheering sticks, spectators were cheering on big scores and stops, and for several of those over 21 years of age, the beer was flowing in the first AFL game at the Metra. The AFL was rebooted this year and the Outlaws joined after playing the previous two years in the Champions Indoor Football league.

Walker said he enjoyed the atmosphere of the game and hopes there is more where that came from.

“I loved it,” he said. “I loved it and the crowd believed in us and helped us out. We stumbled a little in the third quarter, but got it back together. “

The Outlaws will take the show on the road on May 4, visiting the Oregon Blackbears.

“This was a good starting point,” said Walker. “But we have a long ways to go.”