Offensive lineman Antonio Ficklin back-flipped his way down the field, celebrating the Chicago Rush's 54-51 win over the Dallas Vigilantes in the first round of the AFL playoffs in Rosemont on Friday night.
"I believed we were going to win this game. I knew at some point in time, something was going to go our way," Rush coach Bob McMillen said. "I always believed … we were going to do something special."
The Rush led for only three minutes of the second half, but they were the most important three minutes of the game.
Down by 10 with just over four minutes left, quarterback JJ Raterink put together back-to-back touchdown drives in a two-minute span, aided by an onside kick by Chris Gould.
"You just hope for the opportunity. You realize you can only dictate so much, so you're sitting there and you're trying to stay as even-keeled as possible, but inside you are churning pretty good," Raterink said, thinking back to the game's final minutes. "You know time is running down unless you get the ball or something happens, the clock is going to run out on you … You're just hoping for something to happen."
Receiver Charles Dillon found the end zone first to close in on Dallas's lead, and a perfectly crafted onside kick by Gould gave the Rush the ball on their own 13.
They meant to wind down the clock a bit more, but a scoring opportunity opened immediately for Derek Lee, who broke a tackle and raced to the end zone, managing to stretch the ball across the goal line just before his knee hit the turf.
"The mindset was to maybe take some time, but it just didn't work out that way. Which is fine, because the defense … came through for us," said Raterink.
The first half saw eight lead changes, with Dallas taking the lead only two seconds before halftime. The Vigilantes held onto that lead until the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
The Rush defense forced Dallas to turn the ball over on downs with 52 seconds left, and the Rush was able to run out the clock.
"We're living our childhood dreams; we're getting to play professional football. If the money is hundreds or millions, it shouldn't matter … you should just be thankful to get to do this," Raterink said.
The next step for the Rush is TBA, but this much is certain: They'll play the winner of Friday's late game between the Arizona Rattlers and the Spokane Shock for the National Conference championship between Aug. 5 and Aug. 7.