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Special teams looms large as Vegas escapes San Diego for 7-0 start

Plenty of favorable bounces on failed two-point conversions helped the Vegas Knight Hawks escape Lee’s Family Forum with a win that kept the team undefeated nine weeks into the regular season.

Vegas outlasted San Diego, 68-64, Friday, May 10 from Henderson, California in the team’s first game as the outright No. 1 team in the IFL based on record. Entering play, the Strike Force were tied for third in the Western Conference setting up a matchup of IFL first half heavyweights.

“We’ve been able to start fast,” head coach Mike Davis said. “Our offense is being super efficient. We’ve hit some bumps in the road occasionally back-and-forth but when you are super efficient offensively, you can take some chances defensively – tonight, we knew we wouldn’t be able to take chances defensively.”

As the winning continues, the franchise-long win streak increases along the way. Sitting at 7-0, the team is currently two games up in the win column on the next closest team, Bay Area.

Vegas returns to the road next for a meeting with Tucson set for Saturday, May 18. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. from the Tucson Convention Center.

“We’re fortunate enough to be 7-0,” Davis said. “But 7-0 is not the goal, championships are the goal. We’re going to play some tough opponents. We’re going to enjoy this win and then we’ll play a tough one next week in Tucson.”

The Knight Hawks’ defense shined in spots while securing a win despite giving up a season-high in points.

Defensive back Bryce Hampton hauled in his fifth interception of the year on the first Strike Force drive of the game at the goal line. He now has interceptions in back-to-back weeks and in three of the last four outings.

Hampton now leads the league with those five picks.

“We all really have a good knack for the ball,” he said. “That’s why Coach Mike brought us in, if you look at everybody’s film that plays in the secondary at some point in time they were the interceptions leader on their teams.”

That first quarter interception by Hampton set up a 14-0 start for the home team. With a 20-6 score early in the second quarter, San Diego sparked a 20-point scoring stretch over the last 11:48 of the first half.

During that stretch, the visitors scored on a kick return which would serve as the first of two. Another touchdown during that span came on a pick-six thrown by Vegas quarterback Ja’Rome Johnson.

“I wouldn’t say that it was anything that they did,” Hampton said. “I think it was just us on the backend – we just needed to play better, just a little bit better.”

Despite the frequent scores, the Strike Force would only capitalize on one of the three extra point attempts in the second quarter. Ultimately, the team would miss eight total chances at extra points, oftentimes two points at a time.

“It’ll be interesting to watch the film and see how it all plays out,” Davis said. “I’ll probably get fined for this but our officials tonight were atrocious – on both sides. It wasn’t just in our favor.”

While the defense had ups-and-downs, the offense’s running game came to life at a much-needed time. Vegas opted to run the ball 10 more times than it threw in this one as it accounted for 76 yards and seven touchdowns.

“It’s lovely [to get the running game going],” running back Antonio Wimbush said. “But I’m not a selfish player like I’ve been explaining all week, ‘I’m going to do my role, when they’re ready to let me go, I’m ready when you are.’”

Wimbush led all rushers with 43 yards on 10 carries with four total touchdowns, three on the ground. Three of his scores came in the 30 minutes of the game as part of a 34-point first half for the home team.

“Just being patient with everything,” he said. “When my number is called I just have to make the most of it. I’m doing whatever I can for the team.”

Three other players scored rushing touchdowns including ones by receivers Caleb Holley and CJ Windham as the aforementioned Johnson found the end zone twice. Fellow receiver Quentin Randolph led all pass catchers with 123 yards on seven catches and a touchdown.

Johnson accounted for five total touchdowns versus his one interception on 12-of-17 passing for 173 all-purpose yards. He also scored the eventual deciding touchdown with just under two minutes left in regulation.

Vegas has not trailed since early in the second quarter of Week 6 and have now won its last three games in wire-to-wire fashion.


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