After weeks of talking about the improved personnel, the new-found dedication to conditioning, the rejuvenated commitment to winning and to showing their fans that this year’s program is bigger, stronger and faster, the Mid-Missouri Outlaws were finally able to put their money where their mouth is on Saturday.
They had talked the talk, and their 37-16 season-opening victory on the road over the Springfield WolfPack proved that they can walk the walk.
Kyle Middleton threw for three scores — two to Jacob Cahill — and no interceptions, the defense scored twice and, most importantly, a squad that went 1-5 on the road last season proved that it could win in a hostile environment. And win handily.
“I thought it was an outstanding overall effort,” Outlaws second-year coach and former receiver Ben Lyles said. “The front line was as advertised, Kyle played great, didn’t throw any interceptions and even threw it away a few times, and the defensive effort was just outstanding and the coaches did a great job.”
But Lyles concedes there’s still plenty of work to be done, specifically with ball security and on the special teams side.
Committing three turnovers and converting on just 1 of 6 extra-point attempts, the Outlaws struggled early and trailed 16-13 at halftime.
But assuming control early in the second half on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Middleton to Cahill, the Outlaws found their form. Gary Taylor later hauled in a 25-yard score as part of a six-reception, 85-yard day, Jajwan Shields took an interception to the house and Rod Thomas scored on a fumble recovery to cap the scoring barrage.
“It was a much better played second half,” said Lyles, who went on to say the turnovers have to be limited and the extra points have to be converted for this team to truly be successful.
Armed with a little momentum, the Outlaws next travel to Denver on Saturday for a 7 p.m. matchup with the Colorado Lightning, who joined the American Professional Football League in the offseason alongside the Cheyenne Warriors and Oklahoma Defenders.
What does Lyles know about the upcoming opponent, which has yet to play an APFL game?
But he does know the risks associated playing in the mile-high city.
“From our standpoint, the majority of our guys know playing in altitude is something we’ll have to adjust to,” Lyles said. “That means a little more focus on conditioning this week because you never know what to prepare for until you’ve played in that atmosphere.”