Sully Richardson, Beat Writer
Banner image by J.R. Lawless
“I’ll fight like a wildcat until they nail the lid of my pine box down on me.”
Since the start of Season 13, the Chicago Wildcats have indeed been fighting like their namesakes for their playoff spot. Thanks to strong front office leadership, including Owner and Offensive Coordinator Shann Varner, Defensive Coordinator Ethan King, and General Manager Jessie Vick, Chicago has put together a dangerous 8-4 blueprint for their championship conquest. The ‘Cats finished Season 12 with a 6-6 record and a thirst for more success. The city of Chicago has had past glimpses of championship glory, having reached the game itself in their inaugural season before running into an unstoppable force. This season, however, the Wildcats are in the hunt, and seek to add the SFL Championship Trophy to their already storied franchise history.
Chicago had a strong start to their season, though not without its hiccups. They went on a 4-game winning streak to open things up, though the final two of those wins were nerve-wracking overtimes against Charleston and San Francisco, respectively. Chicago dropped their next game against the Pride, and subsequently, only lost to teams heading to the playoffs since (Baltimore, Houston, and Alaksa). The team has been ranked 7th overall offensively as well as defensively, so it would be fitting that they are slotted in at the seventh seed. They host their matchup against the Houston Hyenas this Saturday on Eleven Sports; the last time the two teams met was the start of Houston’s fairytale run-the-table push to the playoffs with a single point victory over the Wildcats. Expect the Wildcats to come much more prepared to the battle this time, though we wouldn’t be surprised to see yet another overtime game from these two powerhouse teams. Here are some other interesting things to note about the squad representing the Windy City:
– Since their inaugural season (Season 9), Chicago has made the playoffs 3-out-of-5 times, including the aforementioned first season Championship Game appearance
– Chicago non-contract rookies in the playoffs: #12 WR Chase Earl, #20 FS Ron Hoff, #45 FB Alex Perez, and K Jon Jazz.
– WR Buchanan Simons has been their go-to weapon of choice this season, racking up over one thousand receiving yards and nine touchdowns, as well as averaging 20.3 yards per catch
– Blake Craize has gone, well, Craize-y, with 151 total tackles on the season, including the most assists and second most single-tackles; he also has 3 interceptions as a linebacker
– Safety AJ Barnes is right there with him, with over 100 total tackles and 6 interceptions himself
Let’s take a look at Chicago’s offensive production. They’ve got veteran quarterback and former MVP E.T. King under center for yet another season, and with the number he’s been putting up, you can see why. A quarterback rating of 91.4 isn’t anything to thumb your nose at, nor is his positive TD-to-INT ratio (+4) and 2nd best yards per reception (8.2). With former Queen City rusher Ash Odom taking handoffs, Shann Varner’s team has quite the potent backfield. Odom hasn’t had the blockbuster season some other running backs might, but he’s been an effective go-to for short-yardage downs, while wide receiver Buchanan Simons is the man to see for long yardage. Simons, as mentioned above, has over one thousand yards for the season – and if he makes a catch, you can bet on it gaining roughly 20 yards. Wide receivers Cory Carter and JC Torres have 11 touchdowns between them, while team coach and tight end Shann Varner has put together a tidy little resume that includes an average of 11.6 yards per catch. Once these fellas start moving, it’s hard to get them to stop.
When it’s time to get the other team to stop, however, look no further than Chicago’s defense, ranked 7th overall in the league but already matching, if not setting, single-game records. As mentioned above, defensive star Blake Craize is on a tear through opposing offenses, going absolutely bonkers against the Charleston Predators for an astounding 16 tackles and 8 assists. His cohort, Clint Hendershot ended that game with 14 tackles and five assists, so opponents beware! Free safety Maurice Spurgeon is averaging close to 8 tackles a game and has 4 interceptions himself for the season, while his cohort on the field AJ Barnes has a 50-50 shot to pick the quarterback off in any given game. Rounding things out for the Wildcats are cornerbacks Jessie Vick and Gregory Gaines, who split 13 interceptions and 133 tackles between the two of them. No matter how you slice it, moving the chains is an uphill battle against this unit.
Back in Season 9, Shann Varner’s team fell just short of glory on the front page of Twitch. Every day since, they’ve kept that memory close to heart with the idea that no matter what the cards dealt them, they would make it back one day and prove to the league why they deserved to be there. This season they’ve been fighting tooth and nail – almost like a wildcat – to ensure they’ll have that chance. They roar as one, but will it be in redemption on the championship podium? Shann Varner can’t say, but the cat will be out of the bag before too long.