SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — The Nebraska Danger finds itself where it wanted to be — but just in the wrong city — for the 2014 United Bowl.
The Danger (11-4) will go head-to-head against the three-time defending champion Sioux Falls Storm (14-1) at 7:05 p.m. Saturday for the IFL championship.
The opponent and the site are both very familiar. The Danger faced the same Storm team a year ago at the Sioux Falls Arena — also known as the Storm Shelter in — Sioux Fall, S.D., for the IFl title.
But this isn’t the same Danger team as the one that maybe overachieved somewhat to make the championship game last year where it came up just short in a 43-40 loss to the Storm.
This Danger team is loaded with veterans who know what it’s like to play for a championship. A number of key players played in the United Bowl game a year ago including quarterback Jameel Sewell, receivers Kayne Farquharson, Andre Piper-Jordan and Marcus Barnett along with defensive back Darnell Terrell, linebacker Pig Brown, defensive linemen Adrian Davis and Claude Wroten and offensive linemen Darius Savage and D’Angelo McRay and kicker Joe Houston.
“We know what to expect,” Danger head coach Mike Davis said. “Last year we had a bunch of rookies and they were kind of overwhelmed by it. We still had a chance to win the game. If you would tell me right now that we would have the ball with a chance to win the game in the last minute, I’d take that right now.
“We could skip everything else and just go to the last minute.”
There is another big difference between the 2013 Danger and this year’s version. The Danger went 3-5 on the road a year ago — including the loss in the United Bowl. But the Danger is now 6-2 on the road this year after beating Colorado 45-15 for the Intense Conference title last week in Loveland, Colo.
That road record has to give the Danger some confidence heading into the championship game.
“We’ve said all year that the team that scares us the most is ourselves,” Davis said. “If we don’t play well, we’re bad. When we execute, we can be really tough and we can play with anybody out there.”
The most important thing for the Danger may be having Sewell healthy and ready to go. Sewell, the IFL’s most valuable player in 2013, played in 11 of 15 games this year, but a couple of those games he was far from 100 percent.
Sewell played in a 41-28 loss to Colorado on May 22, but was obviously hurting. He sat out the second game against Sioux Falls in Grand Island on May 31, a game the Storm won 45-20.
The Danger had an off week following that game, and that gave Sewell a chance to get healthy and ready for the stretch run.
“The problem was we weren’t going to play well in the playoffs unless we got healthy,” Davis said. “That’s why Jameel sat out the Sioux Falls game. That gave him a chance to get healthy because realistically I needed him for three games.
“We could have sat him out the Texas game too, but we wanted to knock the rust off of him.”
Sioux Falls coach Kurtiss Riggs said the Storm hasn’t faced the Danger at its best this season. He said the Danger is similar to last year, but there are differences.
“They have a back who is more multi-dimensional compared to last year,” Riggs said. “ I think right now, during the regular season they were quite a bit different because Jameel wasn’t playing quite a bit of the time.
“Right now, they’re really getting after it defensively. Their front is probably one of the best you’ll see. The true football fans, when they come to the game, they’re watching the battle in the trenches. They’re going to get their money’s worth.”
Davis knows the Danger faces a huge challenge. Sioux Falls will bring a 41-game home field winning streak into the game.
“They’re very similar,” Riggs said. “They have a back who is more multi-dimensional compared to last year. I think right now, during the regular season they were quite a bit different because Jameel wasn’t playing quite a bit of the time.
“Right now, they’re really getting after it defensively. The’re front is probably one of the best you’ll see. The true football fans when they come to the game they’re watching the battle in the trenches. They’re going to get their money’s worth.”
The Omaha Beef was the last team to beat the Storm in Sioux Falls. That was back in 2010 when Davis was a coach for the Beef.
Davis said pace will be important for the Danger.
“When they play in front of their home crowd they’re very tough,” Davis said. “They have a great offensive line. Their quarterback (Chris Dixon) is a veteran. He doesn’t make a ton of mistakes. For us to be successful, we have to push the pace on them.
“I relate it to fast-paced basketball. You’re pushing the pace on them offensively, then they have to turn around and do the same thing. We have the same mentality on defense. We have to push the pace and dictate what they do. If we can do that, then we’ll be just fine.”
Whatever happens Saturday night, this will be the last game in the Sioux Falls Arena. After 15 years in the Storm Shelter, the Storm will move to the Denny Sanford Premier Center next season.
“This is a great place to play,” Davis said. “Unfortunately we’ve been here too many times. It’s always a hostile environment. The fans are great. They put on a great show.
“As a competitor you want to try and beat the best in their own facility. Of course we would love to have it at home in Grand Island, but the chips fell where they did. We had a lot of injuries and came up a little short, so we’re up here.”