BY BRAD LOCKE
TUPELO – When the Tupelo FireAnts achieved their first-ever winning season (8-6) in 2004, they owed much thanks to the league's best running game, which accounted for 45 percent of the team's offense.
For former coach Bobby Hall, those line-crashing schemes had always won games at the high school and junior college levels, and they worked in the National Indoor Football League. John Fourcade, Hall's replacement this season, is a former Ole Miss and NFL quarterback. So don't look for Tupelo to be near the top of the rushing charts in its first season with United Indoor Football.
“This ain't Oklahoma or Nebraska, this is an indoor arena throwing league,” Fourcade said. “We're gonna run when we need to run, but we're not gonna constantly pound the ball.”
Fourcade's approach gets its first test at 7:30 tonight when Tupelo opens its season against the Lexington Horsemen at BancorpSouth Center.
In reality, Fourcade's passing attack will be little more than an extended running game. Screens to running backs and quick hitters to receivers will require the ball-catchers to make plays in the open field.
Tupelo has a trio of receivers that fits Fourcade's system perfectly. Veteran Darryl Carter (6-foot-3, 220 pounds) led the team last season with 35 catches for 642 yards and 24 touchdowns. He's joined by new signees Jamie Armstrong (6-0, 195), a former Ole Miss standout, and Anthony Rozier (6-2, 195) of Graceland University in Iowa.
“My thinking is just get the ball to the receiver,” said Fourcade. “They get paid to catch the ball and make touchdowns.”
Getting them the ball will be Tommy Miller, a 6-4, 215-pound Arkansas State product in his first year with Tupelo. Last season with the NIFL's Lubbock team, Miller passed for 1,203 yards, 22 touchdowns and four interceptions in seven games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.
Playing Lexington is a heck of an opener – the Horsemen won the 2004 National Indoor Football League championship, and like Tupelo defected to UIF.
Former Kentucky quarterback Dusty Bonner directs the offense. He was the NIFL's top-rated passer last year, throwing for 2,659 yards and 72 touchdowns. His favorite target is Chad Spencer (6-4, 245), who had 722 yards and 27 TDs.
Defensively, Lexington prefers playing a zone, which Fourcade thinks will play right into his hands.
In fact, Fourcade isn't intimidated at all by the Horsemen. He notes that they've lost a key running back and receiver from last year; that Spencer tires easily; and that Lexington has no clue what kind of team it's facing.
“Lexington didn't go out and blow everybody off the map (last season),” he said. “They won a championship, but it's a totally different league now. I'll take my chances with this group of guys.”