In his second start of the season, quarterback Luke Drone settled in quick to direct the Chicago Rush to its tenth victory of the year Saturday night in Milwaukee.
On the strength of his 7-touchdown effort, the Rush (10-7) defeated the Milwaukee Mustangs 57-54 in front of 6,284 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
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"I thought Luke did a great job tonight," said Rush coach Bob McMillen. "He played a great second half, controlled the offense like we asked him to and we got the victory because of him and the guys in this locker room."
Reggie Gray put a game worth of stats into the first half by catching 8 passes for 148 yards and 3 touchdowns. Leaping into the end zone for a score on the Rush's first possession, Gray followed things up by gliding down the field to catch a 45-yard touchdown in stride to put the Rush up 14-13.
It was a touchdown he didn't hold onto, however, that swung the momentum Milwaukee's way in the first half as the Mustangs' Marcus Everett tipped the ball out of Gray's hands in the end zone for his second red zone interception of the half.
The Mustangs' ability to go 3-for-3 on red zone opportunities to the Rush's 2-for-5 explained the hosts' 34-21 halftime lead.
On the opening kickoff of the second half, Gray weaved his way 54-yards for his third return touchdown of the season.
"Last year I was disrespected and didn't get Rookie of the Year, and this year the (league) said I wasn't even an option for Ironman of the Year," said Gray. "It's kind of disrespectful and I wanted to come out and show the league wrong."
Following the kickoff return score, Jorrick Calvin got his ninth interception of the year.
Gray's sixth touchdown of the game gave the Rush the lead 35-34, but Milwaukee (5-12) responded another scoring drive.
The Rush answered when Marquis Hamilton scored on a 9-yard touchdown catch three seconds into the fourth quarter.
The tipping point came with 10:48 to go in the fourth quarter as Milwaukee failed on fourth-and-goal at the Rush 4.
That set the stage for the game's quirkiest play. Drone tossed a pass that deflected off Mustangs defensive back Lance Caldwell and rolled on top of the side board where Rush defensive lineman Jeffrey Fitzgerald, positioned on the bench, grabbed the ball away to prevent the interception. That was a 15-yard penalty for interference, but it allowed the Rush to retain possession.
A few plays later Jared Perry used a wheel route to skirt down the sidelines for a 36-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-11. A successful faked PAT put 2 more points up and gave the Rush a 50-41 lead with 7:35 left.
Hamilton's second TD catch put the Rush up 57-48.
Drone finished with 327 passing yards and 7 touchdowns.
The victory gives the Rush their sixth season in franchise history with double-digit regular-season wins. They wrap up their season at Cleveland July 21.