Story by Joe Coles
WEST VALLEY CITY — It started with fireworks, flames and a lights-out introduction. The starting lineup ran down the stairs of the Maverik Center, high-fiving fans on their way to the field. The spectacle continued throughout the Salt Lake Screaming Eagles' inaugural game in the Indoor Football League, which the Screaming Eagles lost 78-47 to the Nebraska Danger in front of 8,191 fans.
Thursday's game was the first indoor football game played in Utah since 2013, when the Utah Blaze of the Arena Football League played their last game before folding. Fans of the Blaze will be familiar with the Indoor Football League – the field is 50 yards, walls circle the field (if a player hits the wall, he is out), and the game is fast-paced and high-scoring.
Before kickoff, the buzz surrounding the Screaming Eagles-Danger matchup was about the fan playcalling feature. When on offense, fans chose between four play options from head coach William McCarthy's playbook on an app. On first down and second down, the play the majority of fans chose was the play the Screaming Eagles would run. On third down, the fans decided if the team should run or pass, and on fourth down, the fans chose if Salt Lake would kick, run, or pass. Fans were also able to vote whether to kick an extra point or go for two.
Salt Lake fans' play calls were pass-heavy, with Screaming Eagles quarterback Verlon Davis attempting 30 passes, completing 19 attempts.
The first play from the fans was a read option that was kept by Davis for no gain. The fan playcalling got off to a rocky start, with the Wi-Fi at the arena going down for part of the first quarter. After access was restored, playcalling went off without much of a hitch for the rest the game. Fans were able to keep the footballs if they came into the stands, and players and fans sitting close to the walls interacted throughout the game. Fans were invited down on the field to mingle with players after the game.
In a game known for fast play and high-octane offenses, the first two scores at the Maverik Center were by Nebraska's defense. After a shaky start by the Screaming Eagles, an interception by Don Unamba set up the first touchdown in franchise history. Davis connected with Derwyn Lauderdale from five yards out, putting six points on the board for Salt Lake, and sending the Eagles' fans streaming onto the field in celebration. The fans celebrated on the field for about five minutes, dancing on the field and taking pictures with Screaming Eagles players while Nebraska players looked on.
"Seeing that touchdown when the fans got to rush the field, and just being out there with all those fans, this is the first of its kind, and everyone is excited about that experience," one of the team's owners, Sohrob Farudi said. "To me, that's what it's all about, what we're trying to do. Be different, get fans involved, let them experience football in a different way."
The Danger and the Screaming Eagles traded touchdowns throughout the first two quarters in front of the raucous crowd.
One of the highlights of the half came when Reed connected with Juawan Dotson for his second touchdown on the last play of halftime. The Screaming Eagles went into the locker room down 35-27, which prompted former Utah and Weber State coach Ron McBride to launch into an expletive-laden tirade at halftime, which was streamed live on Sports Illustrated's website.
The second half was all Nebraska, with the Danger outscoring Salt Lake 43-20 in the half.
Former Utah player Davion Orphey finished with five tackles, while former BYU receiver Devin Mahina finished with six catches for 54 yards and a touchdown.
"I think it's a work in progress, the offense just needs to execute. Those first two drives really killed us," Mahina said.