A strong fourth quarter secured the Chicago Rush's 10th win of the season as it defeated the Iowa Barnstormers 58-48 before 9,063 at the Allstate Arena on Sunday.
Rush wide receiver Reggie Gray scored back-to-back touchdowns on electrifying kick returns in the final quarter, pulling the team out of a 1-point deficit and putting the game out of reach. Aided by his teammates, Gray made the returns look easy.
"I don't think I got touched on either one, but the second one it was like I could've just walked through that big hole," Gray said.
The team recovered after a dismal first quarter, in which the Rush gave up 27 points and a fumble while putting only 7 points on the board. The second quarter started a 33-0 Rush scoring run that extended into the third.
"I never doubted that we were going to fight and get back into this football game," Rush coach Bob McMillen said.
The Barnstormers didn't give up easily. Scoring two straight touchdowns, they took a 41-40 lead, looking to swing the momentum back on their side.
Gray responded by scoring his first return touchdown, but the Stormers again had an answer and tied the game at 48-48. Gray repeated, giving the lead back to the Rush. Chicago tacked on a field goal near the end, and time ran out on Iowa.
Rush fullback Johnie Kirton played a key role with 2 touchdowns and 28 yards, setting a new Rush franchise record for rushing yards in a single season. The previous mark of 285 was set by McMillen.
Making his first professional start, rookie quarterback Dominic Randolph threw for 189 yards and 4 touchdowns with an interception. Wide receiver Charles Dillon contributed to 104 of those yards with 2 touchdowns.
"I'm proud of the way he played. I'm proud of the way he competed. He stayed in the pocket and took some big hits tonight, (and) he did a nice job," McMillen said of his young quarterback.
Randolph is playing in place of Russ Michna, who left the previous game at halftime with an ankle injury. He looks to be out for 8-12 weeks, but McMillen said Michna thinks he will be back sooner.
Quarterback JJ Raterink signed on last weekend following Michna's injury. A member of the Rush last year, Raterink is working to learn the new offense and may be ready for next weekend's game.
"JJ is a smart quarterback … he came in Monday. In six days he has learned a lot," McMillen said. "Once we feel comfortable about a guy, we're going to stick with him."
The Rush played most of the game without star defensive back Vic Hall, who was hampered by turf toe. Linebacker Kelvin Morris helped fill in for Hall.
"It's still ironman football because eventually somebody's going to have to go both ways and do something else in the league that maybe they aren't used to doing," McMillen said.
"We're fortunate enough that we've got athletes that can do that and contribute. I'm just proud of the whole team."