New year opens with offensive explosion from Knight Hawks
With The Dollar Loan Center packed on a busy Saturday night in Las Vegas, the Vegas Knight Hawks won their season opener to open the year 1-0.
Vegas beat the Iowa Barnstormers, 57-44, Saturday, March 25 from The DLC in the first-ever meeting between these two clubs. Last season, the Knight Hawks scored 50 points or more four times last season.
In addition, Vegas went 6-10 in their inaugural season last year. With that record, the VKH went 3-5 at home last season.
“Our coach told us that we want to win every home game this year,” receiver Quentin Randolph said. “In order to do that, we had to win this first one. Vegas popped out, fans went crazy, had to give them a good game.”
The tests immediately get harder for Vegas as it will now travel to Northern Arizona to take on the defending champion Wranglers. Northern Arizona won the IFL National Championship after winning one game the year prior.
Randolph played as a rookie last season with the Wranglers.
“That’s a big game for me,” he said. “It’s a little behind-the-scenes smoke with them so I’m excited to go back and put on another show.”
A 14-point swing late in the first half changed the complexion of the game for good, allowing the Knight Hawks to take control.
Cornerback Javon Jackson picked off Iowa quarterback Darius-Jam Peterson just before halftime to set up a quickstrike one-play touchdown by the Vegas offense.
Overall, the Knight Hawks defense forced three turnovers including a turnover of downs via a fourth down sack by defensive lineman Jalen Graves, who starred at UNLV.
“We came in the locker room and told the defense that we had their backs,” Randolph said. “We just needed two stops and we came out and got an interception and [sack on fourth down].”
Last year’s Knight Hawk team ranked third in overall defense.
The other turnover out of halftime was snagged out of the air by cornerback Mister Harriel, who’s game-changing play set up a third touchdown connection through the air from quarterback Daquan Neal to Randolph.
Randolph ended the night with 99 yards on five receptions with three touchdowns.
“I’ve got to shout out the [offensive] line first for holding it down,” Randolph said. “Shout out to Daquan Neal – MVP. And shout out to coach for calling the plays my way. When the ball is in the air, I’ve got to make the play.”
Neal made his team debut after recently joining the team following last year starter Cameron Dukes’ signing with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. Back in 2019, Neal won the league MVP award as a rookie. Last season as a member of the Tucson Sugar Skulls, Neal lit up Vegas for 300-plus yards passing and seven touchdowns in two appearances.
“He’s a two-time MVP for a reason,” head coach Mike Davis said. “As good as our quarterbacks were, we didn’t have somebody that had the experience and he has the experience. When you put him with some great weapons, he thrives off that and feeds off the crowd as well.”
In his first start as a Knight Hawk, Neal finished with 220 yards on 62% passing with six touchdowns, an interception and a fumble.
“Greatness,” Randolph said. “Same thing I’ve seen every year that Daquan has played. I was a rookie last year with [Northern Arizona] and we played Daquan up at Tucson and he gave us that work then too. So I’m just glad to come here and be on the same team with him.”
Neal was pulled late in regulation in favor of backup quarterback Joe Mancuso.
Second-year Vegas receiver Frank Brown played a huge role in Neal finding a rhythm early before ending up with 99 yards on a team-high six catches including a fourth quarter-touchdown.
Running back Davonte Sapp-Lynch racked up two touchdowns, one through the air and one on the ground, in the win for the Knight Hawks. His receiving touchdown midway through the second quarter tied the game at 21 apiece while his rushing touchdown put the team up 23 points in the third quarter.
Sapp-Lynch racked up 39 all-purpose yards on four carries and two touchdowns.
“Realistically, I’ve got to take my hat off to the defense,” Davis said. “A shutout in the third quarter and they let us stretch our legs offensively. When you do that with the weapons we have on offense, it makes things a little bit easier.
After having a full off-season to attempt to correct its kicking woes, Vegas put forth a nearly perfect kicking performance through the first near 50 minutes of the game.
Kicker Stevie Artigue was perfect through the first half with five made extra-points and even opened the second half with a deuce after booting the opening third quarter kickoff through the uprights.
Late in the game, a botch transition on the PAT attempt resulted in his first extra point miss of the game.
Artigue finished the game seven-for-seven on successfully attempted points after tries while missing his lone field goal from 58 yards out. Last season without Artigue on the roster, Vegas went 11-of-30 on field goal attempts and 51-of-72 on PATs.