Story by Steve Tappa - QConline.com
MOLINE — The Quad City Steamwheelers made their Indoor Football League debut a smashing success Friday.
Last year's Champions Indoor Football playoff qualifiers scored touchdowns on their first seven possessions, plus picked off three passes on defense, to strike down the expansion San Diego Strike Force, 67-49 at the TaxSlayer Center.
The IFL debut for both teams marked the first game of the league's 70-game, 2019 regular season.
While the 'Wheelers also debuted a new synthetic playing surface, and plenty of newcomers stood out for the locals, it was a couple of familiar old faces that highlighted the victory.
The incumbent starter, CIF all-conference quarterback E.J. Hilliard, rewarded second-year coach Cory Ross for giving him the opening day start.
Hilliard, who held off newcomer Dillon Turner in a fierce training-camp battle, rushed for a couple of touchdowns and passed for two more scores to help QC build a 43-28 halftime lead.
One of those TD grabs was by returning all-conference wideout Keyvan Rudd, with the Davenport Central grad making an acrobatic, one-handed snare while crashing into the end zone wall.
Returning wideouts Quinton Pedroza and Darius Hicks also made their presence known -- Pedroza with a team-leading 3 catches for 65 yards, and Hicks rushing for a pair of TDs.
Rookie running back Isiah Neely also scored a pair of first-half touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving, plus added another ground score in the fourth quarter.
Fellow newcomer Everett Nicholas V had a pair of third-quarter interceptions to protect the 'Wheelers lead.
Turner impressed, too, seeing fourth-quarter action, and making a bone-crunching run inside San Diego territory and leading a couple of touchdown drives.
NFL veteran Keith Lewis, another key new face, had the first QC pick midway through the second quarter to allow the 'Wheelers, who scored on the opening possession, to break from early ties at 7 and 14.
San Diego got as close as 36-28 on a TD with 38 seconds left before intermission, but QC answered only 22 ticks later, when Hilliard hooked up with Neely on a short scoring strike, and the Strike Force missed a half-ending, 43-yard field goal attempt.
The 'Wheelers scored the only TD of the third quarter, plus added a Jacob Stytz field goal and two more TDs in the final period.
The 'Wheelers return 11 players from last season, which was the first in nine years for the old af2 flagship.
QC revives an old af2 rivalry next weekend when they host the Iowa Barnstormers on Sunday, March 3.